My Brother’s War
In 1967 my brother, Gary, a soldier in the U.S. Army, was sent to the American war in Viet Nam. Because our parents were ill and Gary was our caretaker, he made a request to Senator Stuart Symington seeking his help to avoid the order. A letter arrived on October 9, 1967, informing him “We regret that it could not have been more favorable to your wishes.” He was instructed by the Commanding Officer to report to the United States Army Overseas Replacement Station in Fort Lewis, Washington on October 31st for further assignment overseas. On November 4th, my brother arrived in Qui Nhon, Viet Nam. It was my eighth birthday. Because my parents could no longer care for me, I was sent to live with numerous relatives. When my brother and I said our good-byes it would be the last time we saw one another for years.
Gary wrote many letters home while he was stationed in Viet Nam. Pictures arrived. Although in his letters he spoke of his living quarters and told us about the helicopters he flew into the front lines, he rarely discussed the dangers that he faced, so as not to cause us more worry.
Honorably discharged from the army in 1969 with a “service connected nervous condition,” we later came to know his problem as “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” My pre-war brother, a normal and well-adjusted person had become, according to the Veterans Administration, 50% disabled. He took his own life ten years later.
More recently, while perusing Gary’s Vietnamese/English dictionary, I found hand-written declarations of love from a Vietnamese woman. The two had fallen in love and I have since confirmed their plans to marry. Gary returned to Viet Nam in early 1970 to live and work at Lear Siegler as a civilian. He never told any of us of his love. Gary’s reasons for leaving Viet Nam that second time and returning home again remain a mystery.
A memo pad I found among my brother’s belongings reveals the names and addresses of his wartime friends. Thirty-five years after the war, I have contacted some of them. Many of his friends are now deceased—having died young. In an attempt to better understand what happened to my brother, I made these photographs and journeyed twice to Viet Nam where I retraced Gary’s “footsteps” using his letters and photographs to serve as guides.
When I began this series, my first impulse was to photograph Gary’s letters and belongings, made in-camera, from the point of view of my childhood memory. They became Chapter 1, The Remembrance. After beginning this work, I became somewhat preoccupied with unraveling the mystery behind Gary’s life and death and to better understand the brother I never really knew. Our father, Lee Grainger Hines, made the drawings of battle when he was a child during World War I.
I continue to make discoveries about wartime in Viet Nam as experienced by its veterans. The visual record of those experiences continues to unfold. In titling this series, My Brother’s War, I make reference to the other families worldwide who have lost and are presently losing loved ones in war.
Artist and storyteller Jessica Hines, uses the camera’s inherent quality as a recording device to explore illusion and to suggest truths that underlie the visible world. At the core of Hines’ work lies an inquisitive nature inspired by personal memory, experience and the unconscious mind. Hines began to cultivate her creative disposition early in life and her love of the arts led her to attend Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Continuing to pursue her interests, she studied photography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she received a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Hines’ lectures and exhibitions have taken her work worldwide and most recently she received The Kolga Award for Best Experimental Photography, a Humanitarian Documentary Grant in the WPGA Annual 2010 Pollux Awards, First Prize in Fine Art Portfolio in the World Wide Photography Gala Awards 2010, Grand Prize for portfolio in the Lens Culture International Exposure Awards 2010 and exhibited in the New York Photo Festival 2011 PhotoVisuara’s In Love and War.