Felipe Gonzalez, a Vietnam veteran with an interest in art, sparked the first project that Bettie Ringma and I undertook upon returning from Holland. A few months earlier the Nieuwe Revu had published an article featuring the drawings of genitalia that I had collected and exhibited in the early 1970s along with Bettie's analyses of the drawings based on her training in art therapy. This inspired us to seek other ways to bring "projective drawings" into the context of popular journalism. Felipe’s drawings of his experiences in Vietnam marked the start of "Unforgettable Moments," a collection of drawings of psychologically-charged, real-life events drawn by the people who had experienced them. War drawings and first-person accounts by Felipe and other veterans were featured in a 1981 Nieuwe Revu article designed to strip bare the horrors of war.
This drawing shows an American airstrike in Vietnam. I was in a 'copter heading back to the base when we were radioed that there was Viet Cong activity in a certain rice paddy. There were seven of us on the plane. I served as a back-up for one of the machine gunners. The plane also had rockets and a mini-gun that could shoot one thousand rounds in three seconds. The Viet Cong were heading towards a village but we caught them before they got there.
It was October, 1968. My commanding officer said, "Yell and if the Viet Cong don't come out... shoot." Nobody answered so I pulled the curtain from the door. I had my M16 automatic gun cocked and pulled. In one motion I sprayed the hull. I it the whole family. There was the old gray grandmother. she got hit first. then there was her daughter. She got impaled on the inside of the hut. and there was a teenage boy. He got hit the worst. He was in the middle. Next was the papa. He got hit twice in the face. And there was a little boy. He was four years old. That one hurt me the most because I really love kids. It really upset me. I vomited. I dropped my M16 and I just stood there shaking. The medic had to give a tranquilizer. They said, "Don't worry... you'll get used to it... one less gook to worry about." I get nightmares about this. I see the bodies lying there and I see the blood.
When I got hit I was scared. I was dizzy. I wiped my face because I had mud on it and I saw blood. I called "Medic" and a chopper picked me up and picked Jones up. I was lucky. He got hit very bad. After I was wounded I was flown to the Medvac or MASH unit. The helicopters had sleds on them on which the wounded were carried. There was a large circle called the PATH which was made of orange ribbon. Choppers would land and the wounded would be slid out. Then the chopper would take off and another one would land. It was like a taxi stand. Some days were busy, other days were not.
Felipe Gonzalez talks about a horrific scene in Vietnam (3'39)
This was my last day in Vietnam. This is a picture that will stick in my mind for the rest of my natural life. On the left is a French/Vietnamese graveyard. On the right are rice fields with mortar craters. In the middle is the grass hut that my friend and I were in. I was wounded. Just as I crawled out of the hut the whole thing blew up with my friend still in it. There was a crypt and next to it was a tree. This North Vietnamese soldier was standing beside it. I could see the glare in his eyes. I said, "You son of a bitch, I'm going to get you!" And I did... There was nobody to help me. They were all either dead, wounded or running. Out of 200 men maybe 35 of us made it. I was wounded. In full combat gear I had to crawl across this 6' deep bomb crater. It was five miles to the DMZ. The next morning I woke up in bandages.
This is an incident that took place in Cambodia. In a place called the Plain of Reeds. Some people were wounded. I was a medic and I'm running to help them. The helicopters will help us evacuate the wounded. These men had hit a daisy chain. That is one grenade wire hooked up to fourteen grenades so if one person tripped the wire all the grenades would go off. We were about 500 meters away. I heard the explosion and I immediately took off running. I would run a couple of steps and jump up in the air hoping that I was jumping over a booby trap. Fortunately I got over there. This situation turned out well. Nobody died. That was very important to me. Being a medic I believed that I could not permit anyone to die. It was a heavy responsibility. I was 18 years old.
This is a pedicab that you find in the cities. A little coach. Maybe two or three people can sit in the front and this poor guy has to pedal. It was a cheap sort of taxi. This was an escape for a lot of us when we would get into town away from the action. We would jump into these things and ride all over town... drinking. Trying to forget. I'm in the front. I have a drink in my hand. Sometimes we would get carried away. We would get a couple of these cabs and make the drivers sit in the front. Then we would pedal and race each other. If you paid extra you could do anything. I could have drawn bunkers or concertino wire... But this has more pleasant connotations for me.
I lived in this place with my Vietnamese girlfriend. I lived with her a little over a year. It had a tile floor... to the right is the entrance door... this is the kitchen. When I would come in this is the way she would greet me. She would treat me like a man. She acted like a woman. She'd make supper and when the meal was done she would do the dishes. She made a real home. We had a baby but it only lived three weeks. Died in the crib. That really hurt. I tried to take my girlfriend back to the States but all the government did was give me a big runaround. Her parents would have to sign and they were against it from the beginning. It died right there. I loved that girl. I really did. I wish it would have worked out. Today I think a lot about my dead kid. That really hurt.
When we came back from Vietnam that what they gave us... a balloon. We got it on the plane right before we got off. It seemed there was no concern for who we were, what we had done, where we were coming from. There was nobody at the airport that we knew personally, but at least somebody could have said, "Welcome back." But they didn't want to give us any sort of recognition. There was me and another guy. That's me sitting there with the balloon. Terrific huh? Glad to be back. Not even a hello, just a balloon. I had been in Vietnam for five years. When I got back it seemed like everything had changed. People looked different. And you kept on feeling that their attitude towards you was really negative. That's what struck me when we came back.