How This Project Began

In summer 2015, Dr. Bruce Kelly, a physician at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, approached John Wood, an anthropologist at UNC Asheville, about doing a photovoice project with Vietnam War-era veterans. Photovoice is a type of oral history, often working from photographs, designed to empower participants by helping them tell (and show) stories that need to be told. A project much like the one Kelly envisioned had already been done with veterans of more recent conflicts at the Philadelphia VA.

Wood said he couldn’t do the project by himself. He offered instead to teach a course on photovoice methods, in which the students would work with the veterans and, in that way, learn a chapter of history about which they had only the dimmest notions. This web page began with materials generated by that class.

The project in fact began a year earlier, in the winter of 2015, when the same veterans participated in a writing workshop with former NC poet laureate Joseph Bathanti. There they began to write about their experiences during war and since, and in that way they learned to open up and share their stories. To this day, they talk about how the writing workshop, and the subsequent photovoice class, took them on a journey through their memories that they have found therapeutic and meaningful.

The veterans who worked with the initial photovoice class are George Durden, Butch Gudger, Wayne Heflin, John Hoffman, Michael Ireland, Ed Norris, and David Rozzell (bios to follow below). The students were David Dickerson, Bailey Ethridge, Annelise Ferry, Arthur Kelly, Tatiana Miller, and Colin Wiebe (bios to follow below).

The veterans opened up to the students, and doing so honored them with their trust. The students, for their part, sought to listen, to witness, to express curiosity and respect. The class gave the veterans a chance to reflect on their service in the company of students who were as young as the veterans had been when they set off to war. Different as they were in generation and experience, they gave each other the gifts of their shared humanity.