The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August/September 2004
FEATURE ARTICLE
 
 

Voices, Visions:
A Multimedia Look At The Vietnam War

BY JIM BELSHAW

In November 2001, Brian McKinsey, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine, visited the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. He'd heard about it and was curious; he left overwhelmed. McKinsey spoke of the museum only in superlatives: "impressed,'' "amazed," "bowled over.'' He spent three hours there. It felt to him as if he'd gone to a national memorial.

"That's where the seed was planted," he said.

Back home in Albuquerque, the memory of the museum turned to action. This fall at the University of New Mexico it will culminate in a three-month symposium, "Vietnam Voices and VisionsUnfiltered." McKinsey calls it a "public history."

Originally, McKinsey sought only to bring the art exhibit to Albuquerque, but even before that, he had a more personal decision to make. He returned home after the museum visit and looked at his own history. He read letters he had written when he was a young Marine in Vietnam, examining a life which he'd not looked at in a long time. A convergence of circumstances seemed to push him in a new direction.

At some point in the art museum, the 56-year-old McKinsey said, for the first time since the war, he "became" a veteran.

"All of a sudden, I did a 180-degree reversal," he said. "I started telling people I was a Vietnam veteran. I started wearing Marine gear, as opposed to the denial all those years. Had it happened a year earlier, none of this would have followed. I still wasn't a vet then. But it happened just when you might say I was ripe. I had just started to talk to a few vets about Vietnam."

McKinsey had just sold a successful business and was looking for something to do after returning from Chicago in the fall of 2001. Concluding that he needed to do more than simply bring the art exhibit to the Southwest, he decided to expand upon his original idea. He wrote a symposium grant proposal to the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, which was awarded in March 2002, and McKinsey began working on pulling the components together.

Sponsored by the VVA New Mexico State Council and the New Mexico Veterans Service Commission, the symposium will stretch over three months, from October 15 to January 16, 2005. More information may be found at www.vietnamvoicesandvisions.org

"I've always been the kind of person who jumps into the middle of things," McKinsey said. "In the course of all this, a few people have suggested that I'd bitten off more than I could handle and that I couldn't do all of it. Of course, that sort of attitude and talk has always worked well for me my whole life. I love it when somebody says, 'You can't do it.' You want to motivate me? Tell me I can't do something."

The symposium components include:

  • An art exhibit from the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, the only museum in the world with a permanent collection focused on the Vietnam War.
  • "Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side,'' an exhibit from the National Geographic Society's Explorer Hall Museum. It features 113 photographs taken
    by North Vietnamese combat photographers who documented the French and the American wars.
  • Letters written home by New Mexico veterans.
  • The Wall That Heals, an outdoor, half-scale replica of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on display November 19-22.
  • A series of author talks and book signings at the University of New Mexico Bookstore, along with an exhibit that will be maintained throughout the symposium.
  • A series of films presented by the Southwest Film Center Theater on the university campus.

Immersed in the project for two and a half years, McKinsey said he'd learned more about the Vietnam War by cracking open books and reading the letters he had written home.

"In the beginning with the art exhibit and a few components, I thought veterans would enjoy it, and the public would understand the war better,'' McKinsey said. "As I worked on it more, I came to look at it as an educational thing, a public history. It's not a Vietnam veteran project. That's only one part. It's a symposium on the Vietnam War. It's not just about veterans. I want to throw a lot of stuff out there from many perspectives. I'm starting to feel better as it gets closer. I'm starting to see that snowball hold snow and grow more and more.''

   

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