Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bernie and the Healing of Memory

Bernie Duff is going to Vietnam for the third time.

The first time he was just a kid, an American soldier like so many others, new and innocent, thrust into the torturous horror that is war. He was nineteen.

The second time was last year. This time he was over 50, and a disabled veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And this time he went because of a painting.

Bernie has sent much healing to his inner wounds through painting. He paints his memories. Sometimes he paints his nightmares, the images that stalk him in the night. The painting above is called "Price Tags". Yesterday's posting about Stacy reminded me of this painting.

He has a site on the web called "Paint and Suffering" that is a mixture of moods, with some of the paintings not easy to view. (If you are a vet, or someone sensitive to violence, please be cautioned that some of the paintings on this site might trigger difficult feelings.) The site is found by clicking here.

One of the paintings he did was of Sharon Lane, the only US female military nurse who died from hostilities in the Vietnam War. To make a long story short, Sharon's family has built a local clinic in Chu Lai, Vietnam in her honor; Bernie donated the painting; the family invited him to be in Vietnam at the dedication of the clinic, and placed one of Bernie's paintings of Sharon there.

I cannot imagine the courage it took for Bernie to get on the plane, let alone to be back in the place that caused such deep wounds. The healing of memory is not a trivial thing. It is the deepest of journeys into the deepest wilderness of our souls. It takes a courage and a faith deeper than many of us will ever have to know.

Here is what Bernie told me after I emailed him asking for permission to discuss his site here :

One of the things that I began doing after returning from Vietnam on my last trip there was to begin mixing beachsand from Vietnam (places like China Beach and Quy Nhon, where I spent a lot of time) with my acrylic paints. Now, when I have them in shows and the kids here come walking by, I have them rub their fingers across the surface of the painting. Afterward, I tell them that they have just touched a piece of Vietnam, which always leads into further discussion. It also allows me, as well as many other vets, to become more "involved" with the painting itself, as well as it's image. Another thing that I've noticed, it allows those vets who say they will never return to Vietnam a chance to be there, without leaving the security of being here.

Now Bernie is going back with some other vets for several months to build a school for 1,000 children. Here are his words again:

I and a number of Vietnam veteran friends plan to return again to Vietnam to build, not only this school, but bridges between out two nations.

I am not a proponent of the current philosophy that we should be deterring terrorism by becoming terrorists ourselves. I have had a belly full of war and those who use it as a tool to align our world the way that it suits only our own interests and needs.

My paintings, although they display images of war and it's pain, speak against wars, past, present and future. Many say that peace is only a dream, but nobody ever claimed that life was an easy proposition. I'm sure it cannot be any more traumatic than war.

So, my friends and I seek another way. We build a small school to educate kids who otherwise may never have had an opportunity to get a basic education. We are looked upon there as angels, when for us, it is the opposite that is very evident. Sleepless nights once so full of truer than life images of death and destruction are replaced by gentle laughter.

I want to help out. I hope you do as well. I'm going to mention where you can send money. But if you don't want to do that, or cannot do that, may I ask that you send your prayers and positive energies to this effort? We can help heal, too. We can be a part of something that we know is real and tangible and decent. Donations to aid Bernie and his friends in this effort can be made to :

Spring Valley Rotary
P.O. Box 59
Spring Valley, N.Y. 10977
Att: H.Goldin
All checks should be made out to Spring Valley Rotary Club
and in the memo section put "Vietnam Project."


Blogger samtzmom said... powerful a story Mata. What a lovely man to be able to return and spread good in a place of such painful memories. I am sure it sort of takes it's power away to be a reminder of the confusion there, and demystifies it, for it's a fragile place just like many, with children in need, and citizens caught in the crossfire of politics.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Samtzmom - It's a fragile place this old world of ours, but one that seems to have such power to renew when it is loved.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

hey mata. wanted to say that I've deeply appreciated your "series" on Vietnam. peace and peace efforts, for me, are absolutely top priority in this global village world that we now inhabit.

the positive lessons we can learn from Vietname has got to help the peace efforts of today. this is a serious part of my on-going prayers.

so what you are bringing in you blog to us about Vietname has helped me very much with the details of why I am so committed to the peace effort.

today's blog especially was poignant. when I read Bernie's words about being seen as an angel but feeling the opposite, the nightmare images they carry with them, YET their choice to build bridges between the cultures, and his group CHOOSING not to use terrorists tactics against terrorism...left me with a deep resonating sense of hope mixed with fierce determination.

thank you so much for bringing this very subject of Vietname to us

best regards, Maggie

5:13 AM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

I've no idea why I was typing Vietnam with an "e" at the end. silly me.

too much intensity, by half I think


5:15 AM  
Blogger Miss Eagle said...

Mata Bernie's story and the fact that he was only 19 when he first went to Vietnam reminded me of a song by one of Australia's great singer/songwriters, John Schumann. It is called "only 19" and you can read the lyrics at

3:55 PM  

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