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Art & War

 
Veterans Day
 
Veterans Day is an official United States public holiday, observed annually on November 11, that honors military veterans; that is, persons who served in the United States Armed Forces.

Did you know?
 
Owner of Collins Visual Media, George Collins, is a veteran. He was drafted into the Army when he was 21, he completed his duty and received an honorable discharge.
“This photo was taken in one of those old-fashioned photo booths with me being a no smiling tough guy who had just gained 50 lbs.” – George
His Story “Art and War”
   “My youth was all about art and I immersed myself in it fully, but then allowed myself to be drafted into a war because I was patriotic and chose to serve my country.  I believe that we each possess within us a sane and strong desire to be a part of and protect our country, no matter what.  This is to honor Veterans who stood up for what they thought was the best thing they could do to help their country.
In contemplation of writing this story I found that combining art and war is an impossible task. They are a rigid and contrasting dichotomy, one is a social insanity, but the other represents everything good in life. War is communication by force.  Art is aesthetic communication about creative success and joyous life. Regardless, here is my story about how I tried, as an immature kid, to combine them.

   October 1, 1968.   I couldn’t help noticing the scuffed-up white
heels of the TWA stewardess walking down the narrow aisle, who also wore an annoying  frown for me and the 250 other teenage Marines making her life miserable.  Here we were, flying at 35,000 feet and headed straight for Vietnam.
   I looked around again and saw fear in some faces so I started getting a little nervous too.  But then I just thought about it, computed a few percentages about going back home alive, factoring in all relevant circumstances, and then relaxed a bit.
A few days later I was choppered in to a place called Barrier

Island. This island was a jungle with some places carved out for sleeping tents and artillery pits. We were hit the first night. I was now officially a member of Whiskey 1-11, a mortar battery, firing shells about 4″ in diameter and about 18″ long.  There were very few times when our guns weren’t firing. It was like “Stand by…BAM!!!” 24 hours a day about once every three to six minutes, their range about three miles out.

   Soon after that, we moved to a nicer place called Hill 10 surrounded by rice patties and jungle. It had been overrun a few months earlier in the famous TET Offensive of 1968. We’d been there about  four months and I had worked hard and gotten a couple of promotions. Then this First Sergeant came to me and said he had stumbled across information that I was an artist and painter.  Oddly enough, such a type of person as that apparently didn’t exist in the Marine Corps, from what I had seen.  He asked if I could make a big sign, in Marine Corps red and gold, that said Whiskey Battery 1-11 and a picture of a 4.2 mortar gun. Sure, I could do that.
   I asked for supplies with no luck, because the Marine Corps doesn’t rate or get building materials or paint OR ANYTHING because they are a landing force. I looked around, asked around-nothing. I started in anyway to try and make something.  My sign supplier back in Kansas for lettering paint and brushes was Sherwin Williams, so I wrote them a brief letter with an itemized list, and mailed it off.
   I found an old rotten board and painted it with red lacquer paint thinned with brake fluid (if you don’t believe me try it) which I had found down at the motor pool. When the brushes and paint supplies arrived, I got to work and painted the sign.  It came out perfect!  Even I was impressed. No one had seen it yet. I went scavenging around some more and found old 4×4 posts, painted them white, and on my own put this display up at the entrance to Whiskey Battery.  The new high-tech look of 1969. There was nothing like it anywhere in Vietnam. When colonels and generals came to inspect us, it was the first thing they saw coming up the hill from the landing zone, and they’d never seen that level of professionalism on any Marine Corps sign. They just had to have it.
   Four of them came to me with offers to come to their area and make more of these beautiful signs.  They just wanted me to be in charge of aesthetics and to make things more presentable. So I took the best offer which was having my own house all to myself and only taking orders from one person, Colonel Reid. My job was strictly to do art, displays and make the area more aesthetic. This, my new home, was Hill 55; we just called it Battalion as I recall.Again there were rice patties and jungles all around us, the big guns were still firing with the same frequency, there was guard duty and patrols of which I was still a part of.
   I got to work. For example the Enlisted Men’s Club was a pitiful shack (whereas the Officer’s Club was pretty posh) so I did up an architectural rendering in color for improvements. I needed supplies so the colonel set it up so that I could take a big, five-ton truck into DaNang anytime I needed stuff. He and I both had an idea where the big supply yards were.
   Turns out, the Army, Navy and Air Force had vast lumber and supply yards that would have put Home Depot to shame, like half a mile long.  So, the first time I muscled my way in through the guard gates I showed them my drawing of the EM Club, played on sympathy and that got me 100 sheets of half-inch plywood,  for free. I continued to go back for more and more stuff, but at one point they refused and said, “Hey, this is dicey for us and we could get in trouble, and it takes coordination”. They also inferred that I might be selling it on the black market. I had to find out what they wanted.  A case of Seagram’s Crown Royal got me enough tile to complete the big floor of the EM Club. The Air Force yard guys wanted a case of C-Rations in exchange for 6 doors, hinges, doorknobs and a hundred sheets of plywood. An AK-47 got me a lot of different supplies, more Plexiglass for signs, lots of lumber plus another 100 sheets of plywood.
   I had a working party of 15 to 20 Vietnamese that I taught how to lay tile and install plywood and doors. Like I knew how or just faked it, but they did real well. They truly became my best friends there and they counted on me to help them too. They showed up at my house every morning. We finished the EM club. Outside my hooch (house) I had to install a fence around what now amounted to my own lumber yard packed full of supplies.
   Inadvertently, I became very popular in this compound of about 350 soldiers. The reason is this: about 20 soldiers are assigned to each hooch.  Pretty tight quarters.  Soldiers and officers alike wanted a piece or two of plywood to put between them and the next guy’s space. It gave them more privacy, a place to tape up pictures, hot calendars and letters from home. This space was their HOME for a year.  Guess who had all the plywood.
   While I was making signs and being loaned out to other areas for signage and doing portraits of generals and colonels, two more projects took my attention. One, there was a leader of a humanitarian group who came to me. They were creating an orphanage for displaced Vietnamese children in that area right outside the compound and needed building supplies for it, so that almost cleaned me out and it was back to the Navy yard to replenish.
   You may wonder where I got all the cash and goods to trade with. The answer is, many bribes and dangerous black market activities. For example, I had caught the mess sergeant and the PX director red-handed with a jeep full of about sixteen cases of cigarettes. Highly illegal. Think brig and dishonorable discharge. It was about 1 AM when I walked out of the shadows and right up to them. Boy, were they shaken up! I observed them closely, commented on the jeep full of cigarettes and then just asked if from time to time would they mind helping me with a few things? They were very scared and completely thrilled to give me anything I wanted from there on out.  But I never did any of it for personal gain.
   The last thing I helped create was a communications bunker. Except for sandbags, I supplied everything else from 12×12 beams to beautiful murals, to decorative wood and finally, a dedication plaque to Colonel Reid, and I helped get it all built.
   Then I took the Freedom Bird home, landed in America, and the excitement began to build as I walked down the ramp to the tarmac and with great sentiment fell down on the ground and kissed it.” – George Collins
This Veterans Day, Collins Visual Media
would like to honor all of those who served.

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