The Original Exhibit

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In the beginning of the oral history project before we transitioned into mixed media, there was an exhibit that travels with the project that consisted of war photographs, books, military documents, diaries and letters, military clothing, tools, weapons, etc. This exhibit always had the power to spark interesting conversations and stories between the veterans. For example, at a recent program in Richmond. VA, the veterans arrived and began viewing the exhibit. One veteran pulled a small can opener from his pocket and asked another if he remembered using one. The other veteran took the can opener in his hand and looked at the other and responded, “Let me show you how to gut a man with one of these.” As I was listening, I found what they shared quite fascinating, so I decided to ask about the can opener. The veteran responded, “Let me show you how to use this.” So he grabbed a can of c-rations from the display to show me how to operate the tiny can opener. The story changed because the listener was different. I acknowledge their secrecy and their bond. My father and uncle, who are both Vietnam Veterans, have always shared a special connection. When I often overheard them talking about things that happened during the war and I attempt to interrupt and inquire about their conversation, they quickly resorted to silence or change the conversation altogether. My father once told me that there are certain things that children do not need to know about their fathers, especially the things they had to do during war. Another veteran shared that there are some things that he can share but there are many others that he will take with him to the grave.

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