A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

April 2001/May 2001

Arts of War

Combat Artist Ed Orr Traded His Grenades For Graphite Mid-Tour

By Marc Leepson

A funny thing happened to Ed Orr in 1967 while working as a U.S. Navy radioman doing coastal surveillance work in Dong Ha, just south of the DMZ. The Navy discovered that he had artistic talent. Orr was soon transferred to the Naval Support office in Da Nang where he spent the rest of his tour as a combat artist and photographer, traveling throughout I Corps. His job was to portray the Navy's role in Vietnam through his drawings and photographs.

"It was an interesting tour," Orr told us. "I went all over the place: Hue, Phu Bai, Khe Sanh, Dong Ha, and many other cities, villages, and hamlets." Orr's pencil drawings and photos were published worldwide in many military and civilian newspapers and magazines. "Just about every civilian reporter I talked to brought home one of my drawings, and the Navy sent my work out to anybody and everybody," he said.

Orr extended his tour for an early out and came home on Veterans Day 1968. He soon developed a severe case of readjustment blues. Chronic PTSD prevented him from continuing with his art and photography in civilian life. The good news is that Orr, who lives near Seattle, has recently resurrected his artistic talents.

The process began last year when he created The Grenadier, a bronze bas relief that won a gold medal in the VA's 2000 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition. Orr dedicated The Grenadier to those who served in Vietnam and did not return home. On October 18, 2000, he presented the sculpture to his alma mater. Stivers High School in Dayton, Ohio, had World War I and II memorials, but none honoring Vietnam or Korean War veterans.

"I decided to take it upon myself to do the sculpture and present it to the school," Orr said. "I paid for the sculpture out of my own pocket. I thought it was the least I could do to honor Stivers graduate Joe C. Paul [a Marine who was killed in action near Chu Lai in 1965 and received the Medal of Honor] and all the others."

Orr recently put together an illustrated book of his Vietnam War poetry called Cracks in the Wall and is looking to pick up where he left off 31 years ago. "I'd really like to get back into sculpture," he said, "and I may pick up that camera again."


Clayton Rye has been involved in making films and teaching film and television production since he completed his higher education after coming home from Vietnam in 1970. Rye, who today is a professor in the Television Production Department at Ferris State University in Michigan, served as an RTO in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1969-70.

Rye worked in the film industry in Los Angeles and as a public TV producer and director after receiving his MFA in cinema from the University of Southern California in 1977. Since then, he has written three full-length film scripts and has made a dozen films and videos. That includes three award-winning works dealing with the Vietnam War: Ten Vietnam Vets, a one-hour 1983 television documentary; "F.N.G.," a 13-minute Vietnam War drama; and "Boom," an animated short. The latter two are available on line at www.atomfilms.com 

Rye's latest work is Drawing Flies, a hard-hitting drama he wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited. Drawing Flies tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who loses part of his hand in an industrial accident. The veteran spins out his tale in a stream-of-consciousness style while recuperating in the hospital. In flashbacks to the war, Rye makes evocative use of archival footage. The story rambles back and forth through time and at times is not easy to watch. But it's a from-the-gut tale that effectively conveys one man's war and postwar traumas.

Drawing Flies has been submitted to several film festivals and Rye hopes exposure will lead to a distribution deal. If you'd like to contact Clayton Rye, email clayton_b_rye@ferris.edu  or call 231-796-1176.


This year's national Memorial Day concert in Washington will feature Ossie Davis, Walter Cronkite, Charles Durning, Travis Tritt, John Schneider, and Tom Bosley, along with Erich Kunzel and the National Symphony Orchestra. The concert, to be broadcast live on Sunday, May 27, on PBS, will feature a tribute to the World War II generation and will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the tenth anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. The event, a blend of musical performance, dramatic readings and archival footage, also will include the story of Jim Drappeaux, a Marine who fought at Khe Sanh and was later homeless.

The documentary Breathe In, Breathe Out follows three Vietnam veterans with readjustment problems back to Vietnam with their adult children where the veterans confront their pasts. The documentary, made by filmmaker Beth B, was shown March 29 at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison.

David Willson and Bruce O. Solheim have resurrected the Viet Nam War Generation Journal. Vol. 1, No. 1 of the new and improved journal features an impressive collection of short fiction (by Ruben Quintero, Walter Jones, and Marc Levy, among others), essays, memoirs, reviews, and poetry. The journal will be published quarterly. For subscription and submission information, write: 23630 201st Ave. SE, Maple Valley, WA 98308, or go to the website www.vwarjournal.com 

The most recent WLA: War, Literature & the Arts journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, includes "Goodnight, Saigon," a lecture given by Philip Caputo at the U.S. Air Force Academy, along with an interview with the former Marine lieutenant who wrote the seminal Vietnam War memoir, A Rumor of War. WLA is published by the Air Force Academy's Department of English and Fine Arts. The editor is Donald Anderson (donald.anderson@usafa.af.mil ). WLA's web site is www.usafa.af.mil/dfeng/wla.htm 

Wayne Karlin, the novelist, essayist, and college literature professor whose work is strongly influenced by his service as a Marine in the Vietnam War, gave a presentation at Tulane University April 16. Karlin's talk focused on the Holocaust and My Lai, subjects that were at the heart of his critically acclaimed memoir, Rumors and Stones. The talk was sponsored by the university's Hillel organization and the Fertel Foundation. "Wayne is one of the finest writers to come out of the war and the key editor today of Vietnamese fiction in translation," says Randy Fertel, who teaches a course on Vietnam War literature at Tulane.

Mara Wallis, the producer of the documentary Entertaining Vietnam, a film about performers who entertained the troops on both sides of the Vietnam War, tells us that she has completed the film and that it will soon be distributed. For more information on the documentary, which was shot in the United States, Australia, and Vietnam, go to www.entertainingvietnam.com 

Ibiblio.org, the cultural web site that is a collaboration of the University of North Carolina and Center for the Public Domain, contains a multimedia tribute to Radio First Termer, the pirate FM radio station that operated in South Vietnam in the early seventies. The host of Radio First Termer, Dave Rabbit, provided a decidedly countercultural contrast to the Pentagon-produced AFVN. Rabbit played Jimi Hendrix and other non-AFVN rock music, and offered off-beat, often raunchy newscasts. The web page includes sound clips from a broadcast of Radio. To listen, go to: www.ibiblio.org/lawhome/rft.html 

The annual Joiner Center Writer's Workshop will be held June 17-29 at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus. The faculty includes top Vietnam War veteran writers Larry Heinemann, Tom O'Brien, Yusef Komunyakka, and Bruce Weigl. For information, contact T. Michael Sullivan at 617-287-5850; e-mail: Michael.Sullivan@umb.edu 

O'Brien and Stewart (The Names of the Dead) O'Nan are among the novelists, poets, and playwrights who will be offering workshops at this year's Sewanee Writers' Conference, which will be held July 17-29 in Sewanee, Tennessee. For more information, go to www.sewaneewriters.org  or call 931-598-1141.

The U.S. Postal Service will release a new stamp in May in honor of the nation's veterans. The new first-class, 34-cent stamp, designed by Carl Herrman of Carlsbad, Calif., features a billowing American flag against a blue background with the words "Honoring Veterans" at the top and "Continuing to Serve" at the bottom. The stamps and first-day postmarks may be ordered by calling 800-STAMP-24.

Audio news: BDD Audio this spring released four Vietnam War nonfiction books on cassette: Death in the Jungle: Diary of a Navy SEAL by Gary R. Smith and Alan Maki and Papa Bravo Romeo: U.S. Navy Patrol Boats in Vietnam by Wynn Goldsmith, both read by Eric Conger, and Diary of an Airborne Ranger: A LRRP's Year in the Combat Zone by Frank Johnson, read by Don Leslie, and LRRP Company Command by Kregg P.J. Jorgenson read by Don Lewis. Each consists of two two-hour cassettes and retails for $9.99.

On line: You can read all of Gary Jacobson's novel, One Soldier's Story, online. Go to: http://PZZZ.tripod.com/Nam.html  Correction: Last issue we misreported the address of Prof. John K. Swensson's De Anza College Vietnam War course. The correct address is: http://saturn.fhda.edu/instructor/swensson/ewrt2vn.html 


For help with verisimilitude in a novel in progress, Stan Oliver would like to hear from former Vietnam War Army medics and infantrymen. The novel "revolves around Army soldiers and my questions regard the training they received in AIT after basic training, before going in-country," Oliver tells us. E-mail: cdsworkroom@aol.com  and use the word "Hero" in the subject line. Or write to: Custom Design Studio, P.O. Box 2071, Salem, MA 01970.

For a book aimed at those under thirty, Adam Navis is looking for Vietnam veterans' war stories written by veterans themselves. All stories should be previously unpublished. Contact: Donald Hettinga, English Dept., Calvin College, 3201 Burton S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49546, or e-mail: anavis18@calvin.edu 

For a documentary film, British filmmaker Judith Clough is in need of home movies taken in Vietnam during the war. Contact: Available Light Productions, 3A Boyces Ave., Bristol, BS7 8EW, United Kingdom; e-mail: jclough@availablelight.tv  or call (44) 117-908-4433.


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