I generally don’t hold with designating individuals as heroes in any field of endeavor, much less honoring the efforts of combat participants, but I have no trouble understanding people’s need to acknowledge, recognize, and commemorate the deeds of the valiant. This is a short story about some Nebraska Medal of Honor recipients whose lives and valor were the subject of an exhibition a few years ago at El Museo Latino in Omaha. The institution was a good home for the exhibit because two of the state’s Medal of Honor winners were young Latino men: Edward “Babe” Gomez and Keith Miguel. A legend is also among their ranks in the person of William F. Cody, better known to some as Buffalo Bill. A once prominent politician now looking to reenter the political arena, former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, is also among the state’s Medal of Honor men.
Nebraska Medal of Honor Winners: Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
A new historical exhibition at El Museo Latino pays tribute to Nebraska’s Medal of Honor recipients. Among the honorees are Edward “Babe” Gomez and Miguel Keith and former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator Bob Kerrey.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military decoration. It is bestowed by Congress to armed forces members who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity,” risking life “above and beyond the call of duty” in action.
Nebraska’s accredited with 18 Medal of Honor recipients in conflicts as far back as the Civil War and on through two world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, received the Medal for his work as a civilian scout with the 3rd Cavalry during Indian campaigns along the Platte River in the early years of Nebraska’s statehood.
Otto Diller Schmidt of Blair received the Medal during peacetime when, while serving on board the U.S.S. Bennington, he displayed “extraordinary heroism” following a 1905 boiler explosion.
Gomez, an Omaha native, attended South High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps reserves at 17. He was called to active duty with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. During a fateful 1951 battle he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as an Easy Company ammunition bearer. When a hostile grenade landed amidst his squad, he sacrificed himself by absorbing the explosion.
Keith, a San Antonio, Texas native, moved to Omaha, where he attended North High. He fought as a Marine Corps machine gunner in Vietnam. During a 1971 attack he was hit multiple times but kept fighting to protect his unit’s command post until mortally wounded.
Kerrey, a Lincoln native, led a Navy SEAL team in Vietnam. During a 1969 mission to capture intelligence assets his team came under fire. Despite massive wounds he directed a successful counterattack. He lost part of a leg as a result of the engagement.
Eight recipients born in Nebraska have their Medal accredited to other states where they resided or enlisted. Among their ranks is the most recent recipient with Nebraska ties, Randall Shughart, a Lincoln native who entered the service in Newell, Pa., where he and his family moved. Shughart fought in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia as part of a Special Ops Army team inserted to rescue the crew of a downed U.S. helicopter. While under siege he applied fire that allowed the crew’s rescue. He sustained fatal wounds.
El Museo Latino director Magdalena Garcia says the exhibit highlights how America honor its military heroes and how Nebraskans contribute to defending freedom. The images and text, including Medal of Honor citations, help provide a timeline and context for the various wars and conflicts America’s fought, she says.
Outside of Bob Kerrey, perhaps the best known native Nebraska recipient is Gomez. One of 13 children, Gomez is recalled as “happy-go-lucky,” an “extrovert” and “a go-getter” by younger brother Modesto Gomez. He says Babe, a scrappy 5-foot-1 former Golden Gloves boxer served a year at the former Kearney reform school before turning his life around. He wore their father down insisting he be allowed to join the Marines.
A letter from Babe before his final, fateful mission seemed to signal his own foreboding. Eva Sandoval says, “He wrote, ‘Remind the kids of me once in awhile,’” referring to young siblings who had indistinct memories of him before he left for Korea.
Eva and her mother Matiana were at home when a Western Union messenger delivered the telegram announcing his death.
“My mother said I went into hysterics,” says Eva. “It was really a shock to me. He was just a year older than I. He was so young when he died. I couldn’t believe it. In my mind I’d say, Oh, he’s coming back — it was a big mistake. I didn’t want to accept he’s gone for good.”
Babe’s selfless actions reflected his upbringing, says Modesto. “He was prepared to do what he had to do because that’s just the way we were raised. ‘Get in there and get it’ my dad used to say. You just do the right thing.”
The Medal was presented to Babe’s family at an Our Lady of Guadalupe ceremony.
Gomez’s legacy lives on in a mural at the Nebraska State Capitol and in Nebraska Medal of Honor displays at the American GI Forum, Omaha-Douglas Civic Center and Durham Museum. A local school and avenue bear his name.
“All of these things they’ve done in his name have been a tremendous honor,” says Modesto.
Gomez is buried at St. Mary Cemetery in South Omaha.
- Medal of Honor recipient: ’68 award changed my life (utsandiego.com)
- Marines Have Received The Medal Of Honor For Incredible Acts Of Valor [INFOGRAPHIC] (businessinsider.com)
- Questions surround Army captain’s ‘lost’ nomination for Medal of Honor (kansascity.com)
- Yes, Bob Kerrey Wants to Go Back to Washington (nytimes.com)
From the Archives: Hadley Heavin Sees No Incongruity in Being a Rodeo Cowboy, Classical Guitartist, Educator and Vietnam Combat Vet
When I saw Hadely Heavin perform classical guitar at the Joslyn Art Museum in the late 1980s I knew I had to write about him one day, and in 1990 I sought him out as one of my first freelance profile subjects. I’ve culled that resuling story from my archives for you to read below. What I didn’t know when I interviewed him that first time is what a remarkable story he has. I mean, how many world-class classical guitarists are there that also compete in rodeo? How many are combat war veterans? What are the chances that an inexperienced American player (Heavin) would be selected by a Spanish master (Segundo Pastor) to become the maestro’s only student in Spain? I always knew I wanted to revisit Heavin’s story and nearly two decades later I did. That more recent and expansive portrait of Heavin can also be found on this blog, entitled, “Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy.” When I wrote the original article posted here Heavin’s mentor, Segundo Pastor, was still alive. Pastor has since passed away but his influence will never leave the protege. Heavin was still doing some rodeoing as of three or four years ago, when I did the follow-up story, but even if he has completely given up the sport he’ll always do something with horses because his love for horses is just that deep in him. The same as music is. I hope you enjoy these pieces on this consumate artist and athlete.
From the Archives: UNO Instructor Hadley Heavin Sees No Incongruity in Being a Rodeo Cowboy, Concert Classical Guitartist, Music Educator and Vietnam Combat Vet
©by Leo Adam Biga
Orignally published in the Omaha Metro Update
Hadley Heavin defies pigeonholing, The 41-year-old Omaha resident is an internationally renowned classical guitarist, but to ranchers in rural Nebraska he’s better known as a good rodeo hand. The University of Nebraska at Omaha instructor’s life has been full of such seeming incongruities from the very start.
Back in his native Kansas Heavin is as likely to be remembered for being a precocious child musician as an expert bareback bronc rider, star high school athlete and Vietnam War veteran. Today, despite lofty success as a touring performer, Heavin is perhaps proudest of being a husband and new father. He and his wife, Melanie, became first-time parents last year when their girl, Kaitlin, was born.
Music, though, has been the one unifying force in his life. His earliest memories of the Ozarks are filled with gospel harmonies and jazz, ragtime and country rhythms. Home for the Heavin clan was Baxter Springs, Kan., five miles froom the Oklahoma and Missouri borders.
“Basically I grew up with music and I’ve been playing it since I was 5. My father was a jazz guitarist and always had bands,” said Heavin. adding that his late father played a spell with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Heavin hit the road with his old man at age 7, playing drums, trumpet and occasional guitar at dances and socials.
“I was a little freak because I could play really well. I loved it, but it got to be a chore. I remember about midnight I’d start falling asleep. My dad would start to feel the time dragging and see me nodding, then he’d flick me ont he head with his fingertip and wake me up, and I’d speed up again.
“Most of my fellow students at school didn’t know I was doing this. I didn’t think I was doing anything special because everyone in my family were musicians. I grew up in that environment thinking everybody was like this. I couldn’t believe it when a kid couldn’t sing or carry a tune or do something with music.”
When Heavin was all of 11 he started playing rock ‘n’ roll, an experience, he said, that left him burned out on music, especially rock.
“I’m glad I got burned out on that when I did because I’ve still got students in their 20s trying to study classical guitar and wanting to play rock ‘n’ roll. They want to have fun,” he said disparagingly. “They just don’t realize rock is not an art form in the same sense. Classical guitar requires a lot of work and soul searching.”
Heavin doesn’t mince words when it comes to music. Since he studied in Spain with maestro Segundo Pastor, he performs and teaches the traditional romantic repertorie that originated there. He feels the music is a deep. direct reflection of the Spanish people, with whom he feels a kinship.
“Spanish people are much warmer than Americans. We’re not brought up with the passion those people are brought up with. That’s why I prefer listening to European artists.”
He said classical guitar “demands” a passionate, expressive quality he finds lacking in most American guitarists with the exception of Christopher Parkening.
“Who a student studies with makes a big difference. I don’t think I ever would have played the way I do if I had never studied with Segundo.”
Heavin feels Pastor selected him as a student because he saw a hungry young musician with a burning passion.
“He wouldn’t have been interested if he didn’t see things in my playing that were like his. Frankly, he doesn’t like very many American guitarists. He thinks they’re very shallow performers.”
The acolyte largely agrees, suggesting that part of the problem is most American musicians don’t face as many obstacles or endure as many sacrifices for their art as foreign musicians.
“My students are spoiled. How are they going to suffer for their art?” he asked rhetorically.
He said that when he turned to the classical guitar in the early ’70s, after seeing combat duty in Vietnam and having his father pass away, he knew what hard times were. “I suffered because by then my father was gone and my mother couldn’t support me. Somehow I played guitar and kept myself fed, but I didn’t have a penny, really, until I was 32. But I loved the guitar and I didn’t worry about those things. People are kind of unwilling to do that anymore.”
He dismissed the new guitarists who denigrate the traditional repertoire in favor of avant garde literature as mere technicians.
“I hate to say this but about all the concerts I’ve been to with the new guitarists have been very boring, driving audiences away from the guitar. It’s a real shame. They’re championing these avant garde works, which is fine, but they can’t play the Spanish and romantic repertoire at all. They just can’t phrase it. It’s not in them. They sound like they’re playing a typewriter.
“There’s a lot of great guitarists now, and they’re excellent technically, but there’s still only a handful of great musicians.”
He hopes artists like Parkening and Pastor help audiences “discern the guitarists from the musicians.”
It may surprise those who’ve seen Heavin perform with aplomb at Joslyn Art Museum’s Bagels and Bach series or some other concert venue that he as at ease on a horse as he is on a stage, as facile at roping a steer as he is at phrasing a chord, or as penetrating a critic of a rodeo hand’s technique as of a classical guitarist’s. But a look at his thick, powerful hands, deep chest and broad shoulders confrms this is rugged man. And he does work out to stay in trim, including working with horses.
“As a matter of fact this is the first year I haven’t rodeoed in many years,” he said. “The only reason I’m not this summer is that I’m in the middle of doing an album and my producer’s worried about my losing a finger. I team rope now because I’m too old to ride rough stock. If I do get out of roping to protect my hands I’m probably going to have to do cutting or something just to stay on a horse. It’s just that horses are in my blood. But it’s tough with this kind of career because it takes so much time.”
Heavin has competed on the professional rodeo circuit all over Nebraska. “It’s funny,” he said. “I draw good crowds at my concerts in western Nebraska because I know all the ranchers and rodeo people, and they’re curious to see this classical guitarist who rodeos, too. I was playing a concert in Kearney and there were some roping friends in the audience. After I was done I went up and said to them, ‘These other people think I’m a guitarist, so don’t be telling them I’m a cowboy.’ But it was too late. They already had. I try not to advertise it too much.”
Heavin took to the rodeo as a boy to escape the music world he’d run dry on. “I started riding bulls and bareback broncs. I wanted to be a world champ bronc rider,” he said.. He rodeoed through high school and for a time in college. He also participated in football, wrestling and track as a prep athlete, winning honors and an athletic scholarship to Kansas University along the way.
“I think my dad put pressure on me to be an athlete to some degree because he wanted me to be well-rounded.”
At KU Heavin played on the same freshman football team as future NFL great John Riggins, a free-spirit known for his rebel ways. “I’ve never seen a guy that trouble came to so quickly. We used to go to bars and there was always a fight and John usually started it. He had more John Wayne in him than John Wayne.”
Another classmate and friend who became famous was Don Johnson, the actor. Heavin hasn’t seen the Miami Vice star in years but stays in touch with his folks in Kansas.
It was the late ’60s and Heavin, like so many young people then, was torn in different directions. “I decided I really didn’t wamt to be in school but I had the draft hanging over my head. I took a chance anyway and dropped out…and I was drafted within two months.”
The U.S. Army made him an artillary fire officer and shipped him off to Vietnam before he knew what hit him. He shuttled from one LZ to another, wherever it was hot. “I was what they called a bastard. I was with the 1st Field Force. I was in the jungle the whole time. I saw base camp twice during a year in-country,” he said.
Heavin was shot in action and after recovering from his wounds sent back out to the war. Luckily, his tour of duty ended without further injury and he finished his Army hitch back home at Fort Riley, Kansas. While stationed there he began missing working with horses and on a whim one day entered the bareback at a nearby rodeo.
“I drew a pretty rank horse, plus I hadn’t ridden in years and I was still sore from my war injuries. I got hurt. When I got back to the base they were mad at me because I couldn’t pull my duty. They were going to court-martial me.”
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the incident was forgotten. “When I got out of the service my dad died shortly thereafter, and there was no music anymore.” Heavin had been working a job unloading trucks for two years when a friend suggested they see a classical guitarist perform. The experience rekindled his love for music.
“I was enthralled. And it just came over me like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “That’s how fast I made my deicison to play classical guitar.”
Until then Heavin said he had never really heard classical guitar, much less played it. He began by teaching himself.
“I worked really hard. As soon as my hands could take it I was practicing six to eight hours a day and working a full-time job — just so I could get into college.”
Heavin brashly convinced the chairman of the Southwest Missouri State University music department to start a degreed classical guitar program for him. “I said, ‘Look, I want to get a degree in guitar and I’m determined to do it. And I don’t know why nobody has a program in this part of the country.’ He said, ‘I agree, let’s try this and see what happens.’” As the pioneering first student hell-bent on finishing the program, Heavin graduated and he said the program has “grown into something really nice and become very popular.”
His chance meeting with his mentor-to-be, Segundo Pastor, occurred at a concert in Springfield, Mo., at which Heavin was playing and the maestro was attending on one of his rare American visits. Heavin was introduced to “this little old man who couldn’t speak English” and arranged to see him later. He played for Pastor in private and the master liked the young man’s musucianship. The two began a correspondence.
When Pastor returned the next year he asked to see Heavin. “I spent practically a whole day with him and I played everything I knew. Then he said, ‘If you come to Spain I’ll teach you for nothing.’ I didn’t realize then what this meant or how it was going to work out,” Heavin said. A university official aided Heavin’s overseas studies. But the student still had no inkling his apprenticeshup would turn out to be what he termed “one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.”
“When I arrive there was an apartment for me. The maestro’s wife was like my mom. His son was like my brother. And I realized only after I got there that I was his only student. He rarely takes them. There were Spanish boys waiting in line to study with him.”
Appropriately, the rodeoer lived a block from the Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting arena, and next door to the hospital for bullfighters.
“I lived in the culture. I wasn’t with Amreicans at all. My friends were all Spanish. I taught them English, they taught me Spanish. During the 10 months I was there I had a two-hour lesson from Segundo almost every day. He puts all of himself into that one student. That’s why he doesn’t take on many. It was really like a fairy-tale because the man literally gave me a career. The thing that’s odd about it is that I had only been playing about a year when the maestro invited me to Spain. It was confusing because there were Spanish boys who could play better than I.”
It was a question that nagged at Heavin for a long time. why me?
“The whole time I was in Spain I kept asking him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ and he would never answer it. The last night I was there he knocked on my door and we went to the university in Madrid. It was one of those romantic Spanish evenings. We were walking down a wet, cobblestone street and he put his arm on me and said, ‘Yeah, the Spanish boys are good guitarists but some day you’ll be a great guitarist,” recalled Heavin, still touched by the memory. “That gave me a lot of confidence to go on.”
Heavin often performs at Espana tapas bar in Omaha
During his stay abroad Heavin toured with Pastor throughout Spain, When the apprenticeship ended they performed duo concerts across the U.S., including New York’s Carnegie Hall. Heavin’s career was launched.
While the two haven’t performed publicly since then, Heavin said they remain close. “Now that I’m in the States he comes more often. When he visits we just have fun and enjoy ourselves. Two years ago he came with Pedro, a friend from Spain, and they did a duo concert here.”
Asked if in some way Pastor replaced his father, with whom he was so close, and Heavin said, “Oh yes. He’s like my father, no doubt. He’s my mentor, too.”
After earning a master’s degree at the University of Denver Heavin came to UNO in 1982. He heads the school’s classical guitar program, which he said is a good one. “I’ve got some students who play very well.”
Besides teaching Heavin performs 25-30 concerts a year, a schedule he’s cut back in 1990 to work on his first album.
“I’ve just finished doing the research on the pieces I want to put on. Now I’m learning the pieces. I’ll probably go into the recording studio in October or November,” he said.
As with Pastor singling him out for the chance of a lifetime, a patron has discovered Heavin and is helping sponsor him. “Another fairy-tale happened. A stockbroker heard me play and thinks I should have lots more recognition. He wants to get involved in my career.”
The guitarist is looking forward to touring more once the album is done. He has been invited to perform in Australia and Pastor has asked him to do concerts in Spain.
“People ask me why I live in Omaha and not on the coast,” he said. “I dearly love Omaha. I love the Old Market. I don’t like huge cities.”
Heavin, who practices his art about five hours daily, said success has little to do with locale anyway. “It’s an attitude. To do anything well requires an aggressive attitude. You have to just want to, and I’ve always done well financially playing guitar and teaching.”
- Journey Through Latin America with Classical Guitarist Michael Anthony Nigro (worldculturesaustin.com)
- From the Archives: Cowboy-turned Scholar Discovers Kinship with 19th Century Expedition Explorer (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
For many Nebraskans, myself included, Bob Kerrey has always been a fascinating figure. Unusual for a politician from this state, he exuded a charisma, some of it no doubt innate and genuine, and some of it I suspect the reflected after glow of our idealized projections. As a combat war veteran who overcame the loss of a leg in service to his country, he was a valiant survivor . As a brash political upstart and liberal Democrat in solidly conservative and old-boy-network Republican Nebraska his was a new voice. His good-looks and suave ways gave him a certain It appeal. When he landed in the governor’s office and struck up a romance with actress Debra Winger, who was in state to shoot scenes for the film Terms of Endearment, it only confirmed Kerrey as a rising star and player in his own right. His long career in the U.S. Senate is probably most memorable for the number of times he was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Democratic presidential nominee race. He did end up running but it soon became clear his magic did not resonate with the masses. More recently, he dealt with the unpleasant truth of hard things his unit did during the Vietnam War. He left the political arena for a university presidency only to find himself at odds with faculty and student groups who eventually called for his ouster. As he prepares to leave the world of academics for some as yet unnamed new venture, he seems like a lot of us who come to a point in life where it’s time for reinvention and renewal. The following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) is obstensibly a sampler of his views on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as it relates to active duty military and war veterans, but it also serves as a look into how he approaches and articulates issues. I also have him weigh in on the Tucson shooting. At the end of the piece I address some of the currents in his professional life that find him, if not adrift exactly, then searching for a new normal.
Bob Kerrey Weighs in on PTSD, Old Wars, New Wars, Endings and New Beginnings
©by Leo Adam Biga
Published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Vietnam war veteran and former Nebraska governor and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey will be in Omaha Jan. 31 to salute At Ease, an Omaha program providing confidential behavioral health services to active duty military personnel and family members.
Founded by Omaha advertising executive Scott Anderson, At Ease is administered by Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. Kerrey, whose embattled New School (New York) presidency ended January 1, is the featured speaker for the At Ease benefit luncheon at Qwest Center Omaha.
Reports estimate up to one in five Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans — some 300,000 individuals — suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Controversy over strict U.S. Veterans Administration guidelines for PTSD claims has led to new rules that lessen diagnostic requirements and streamline benefits processing.
Last summer Kerrey, a board member with the Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America (IAVA), publicly criticized a VA policy banning its physicians from recommending medical marijuana to patients.
“There are doctors who are strongly of the view that marijuana prescribed and monitored can be beneficial for a number of physical and mental conditions,” he says. “And in those states where medical marijuana is legal I think the VA should allow it.
“If a doctor can prescribe medical marijuana for somebody who’s not a veteran, it doesn’t seem to me to be right for that doctor not to be able to prescribe it for a veteran.”
Kerrey, speaking by phone, says he keeps fairly close tabs on veterans’ affairs.
“I would say I stay more current on veterans health and veterans issues than I do on other issues. I’ve made a few calls on the Veterans Bill of Rights that (Sen.) Jim Webb pushed. I get called from time to time to help people that are having problems. It’s much harder to help somebody when you’re not holding the power of a senate office or a governor’s office.”
Kerrey strongly advocates the work of IAVA, founded in 2004 by Paul Rieckhoff, a former Army First Lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq.
“It’s a very good organization for any Iraq or Afghan veteran that’s looking for somebody they can talk to,” says Kerrey. “They’re very careful not to duplicate what the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and the (American) Legion are doing.
“They don’t have buildings, they just have basically networks of Iraq and Afghan veterans who are trying to help each other.”
He suggests the number of veterans needing help for PTSD is so vast that only a combined public-private initiatives can adequately address the problem.
“You start off with an estimate of 300,000 PTSD sufferers from Iraq and Afghanistan and multiply by it two or three, depending on how many family members are going to be affected, and you’re talking about maybe a million people,” he says.
“This is a difficult thing for the Veterans Administration or other government entities to handle all by themselves. Non-governmental efforts are typically supplemental — all by themselves they’re not going to get the job done (either).”
He views At Ease as a non-governmental response that can help address problems at the local level.
“It’s hard to figure out what to do for a million, but if you’re talking about 50 or 60 or a hundred or just one, there’s something you can do, and that’s what At Ease is doing through Lutheran Family Services. It’s a great example of how when you say, I’d like to do something to help, there are venues, there are ways to help. It’s a terrific story.”
His remarks at the fund raiser will make that very point.
“My focus will be on how possible it is for a single individual, in this case Scott Anderson, a nonmilitary citizen with no direct contact with PTSD, to do something. And his program’ saved lives, it’s made lives better.”
In this belt-tightening era, Kerrey says nonprofit-volunteer efforts can make an especially vital impact.
“We hear so much about things unique to America that there’s a tendency at times to be skeptical. But our nation’s volunteer, not-for-profit efforts are unique in the world. The financial and volunteer time giving that occurs is a real source of strength that doesn’t show up on economic analyses,” he says, adding that veterans’ problems are “not going to be made easier if in a moment of budget cuts we cut back on mental health services.”
Attitudes about mental health disorders are much different now than when he returned from combat in Vietnam, where he led a Navy SEAL team. Kerrey was awarded the Medal of Honor. Thankfully, he says, the stigma of PTSD is not what it used to be.
“First of all, I think mental illness is seen much differently today — much more mainstream, much more comparable to physical illness. I think you’d probably have a hard time finding somebody in Nebraska that doesn’t have somebody who’s experienced a trauma producing some kind of disability.
“I would say the mental trauma is in a demonstrable way more disabling than the physical trauma. And the two can be connected. I think generally today people accept that. I’m sure there’s still a lot of people who think of PTSD as connected to Vietnam but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. The rule is it’s seen more broadly as a condition that can affect anybody, both in and out of combat.”
Repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghan, he says, have added new stressors for “guys rotating in and out multiple times. It’s one thing to go over your first time and wonder whether or not an IED is going to take you out, but to have to go over a second, a third, a fourth (time) — at some point it has to harden you when you get home. It has to have a terrible impact on you.”
He believes whatever care veterans receive must be personal and consistent.
“The most important thing is sustained support because what you need is somebody you can call when you’re having trouble,” he says.
Although he never suffered PTSD, he dealt with losing a limb and adjusting to a prosthesis. He endured physical pain and memory-induced night sweats. He says while recovering from his injuries “some of the most important things given to me were by volunteers who would just come in and say, ‘It’s going to be all right.’ It’s extremely important for another human being to be there and demonstrate they care enough about you to spend time with you.”
On other topics, Kerrey says the recent Tucson shooting may hold cautionary lessons. Alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner made threats against his target, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat sharply criticized by the Right. Kerrey says while rhetoric is part of this society’s free exchange of ideas, labeling an elected official a danger may trigger an unstable person to act violently.
Meanwhile, Kerrey, who was to have remained New School president through July, has given way to David Van Zandt. Kerrey remains affiliated with the school. His fate as president was sealed when senior faculty returned a 2009 no-confidence vote. Until last summer Kerrey had been in negotiations with the Motion Picture Association of America to become the trade group’s president.
About his New School experience, he says, “I’m grateful for the chance to have done it. I learned a lot. I got a lot done. I made a lot of friends.” He also ran afoul of vocal student-faculty blocs. His well-known political skills failed him in the end.
“I certainly didn’t expect my term as university president was going to be free of situations where something was going to be upsetting. I was not an altogether cooperative student when I went to the University of Nebraska. I’ve seen university presidents hounded, harassed, criticized before I became one, so it didn’t really surprise me.”
With the MPAA no longer courting him, Kerrey says he’s looking to do “something in public service — something I think is not going to get done unless I do it,” adding, “It’s much more likely I’m going to be spending more time back there (Nebraska).”
- PTSD Programs for Families (vabenefitblog.com)
- What are the signs of PTSD? (zocdoc.com)
- PTSD Affects Entire Families – Caring for the Caregivers (offthebase.wordpress.com)
- Advice for Parents of PTSD Soldiers (brighthub.com)
- Former SEAL Team Six Member Releases An Incredibly Well-Timed Memoir (mediaite.com)
- Bob Kerrey: Why Washington Isn’t Working for the American People (huffingtonpost.com)
Another of the unforgettable characters I have met in the course of my writing life is the subject of this story for The Reader (www.thereader.com). Jim Hendrickson is a Vietnam combat vet who went from looking through the scope of a rifle as a sniper in-country to looking through the lens of a camera as an art photographer after the war. His story would make a good book or movie, which I can honestly say about a number of people I have profiled through the years. But there is a visceral, cinematic quality to Jim’s story that I think sets it apart and will be readily apparent to you as you read it.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Combat sniper-turned-art photographer Jim Hendrickson is one of those odd Omaha Old Market denizens worth knowing. The Vietnam War veteran bears a prosthetic device in place of the right arm that was blown-off in a 1968 rocket attack. His prosthetic ends in pincer-like hooks he uses to handle his camera, which he trains on subjects far removed from violence, including Japanese Butoh dancers. Known by some as “the one-armed photographer,” he is far more than that. He is a fine artist, a wry raconteur and a serious student in the ways of the warrior. Typical of his irreverent wit, he bills himself as — One Hand Clapping Productions.
The Purple Heart recipient well-appreciates the irony of having gone from using a high-powered rifle for delivering death to using a high-speed camera for affirming life. Perhaps it is sweet justice that the sharp eye he once trained on enemy prey is today applied in service of beauty. For Hendrickson, a draftee who hated the war but served his country when called, Vietnam was a crucible he survived and a counterpoint for the life he’s lived since. Although he would prefer forgetting the war, the California native knows the journey he’s taken from Nam to Nebraska has shaped him into a monument of pain and whimsy.
His pale white face resembles a plaster bust with the unfinished lines, ridges and scars impressed upon it. The right side — shattered by rocket fragments and rebuilt during many operations — has the irregularity of a melted wax figure. His collapsed right eye socket narrows into a slit from which his blue orb searches for a clear field of vision. His massive head, crowned by a blond crew cut, is a heavy, sculptured rectangle that juts above his thick torso ala a Mount Rushmore relief. Despite his appearance, he has a way of melding into the background (at least until his big bass voice erupts) that makes him more spectator than spectacle. This knack for insinuating himself into a scene is something he learned in the Army, first as a guard protecting VIPs and later as a sniper hunting enemy targets. He’s refined this skill of sizing-up and dissecting a subject via intense study of Japanese samurai-sword traditions, part of a fascination he has with Asian culture.
Because his wartime experience forever altered his looks and the way he looks at things, it’s no surprise the images he makes are concerned with revealing primal human emotions. One image captures the anxiety of a newly homeless young pregnant woman smoking a cigarette to ward off the chill and despair on a cold gray day. Another portrays the sadness of an AIDS-stricken gay man resigned to taking the train home to die with his family. Yet another frames the attentive compassion of an old priest adept at making those seeking his counsel feel like they have an unconditional friend.
The close observation demanded by his work is a carryover from Vietnam, where he served two tours of duty. “With sniping, you had to look at the lay of the land. You had to start looking from the widest spectrum and then slowly narrow it down to that one spot and one moment of the kill,” he said. “You got to the point where you forced yourself to look at every detail and now, of course, I’m doing that today when I photograph. I watch the person…how they move, how they hold themselves, how they talk, waiting for that moment to shoot.”
Shooting, of a photographic kind, has fascinated him from childhood, when he snapped pics with an old camera his Merchant Marine father gave him. He continued taking photos during his wartime tours. Classified a Specialist Four wireman attached to B-Battery, 1st Battalion, I-Corp, Hendrickson’s official service record makes no mention of his actual duty. He said the omission is due to the fact his unit participated in black-op incursions from the DMZ to the Delta and into Cambodia and Laos. Some operations, he said, were conducted alongside CIA field agents and amounted to assassinations of suspected Vietcong sympathizers.
As a sniper, he undertook two basic missions. On one, he would try spotting the enemy — usually a VC sniper — from a far-off, concealed position, whereupon he would make “a long bow” shot. “I was attached to field artillery units whose artillery pieces looked like over-sized tanks. The pieces had a telescope inside and what I would do is sit inside this glorified tank and I would rotate the turret looking through the telescope, looking for that one thing that would say where the Vietcong sniper was, whether it was sighting the sniper himself or some kind of movement or just something that didn’t belong there. I’d pop the top hatch off, stand up on a box and then fire my weapon — a bolt-action 30-ought-6 with a 4-power scope — at the object. Sometimes, I’d fire into a bunch of leaves and there’d be nothing there and sometimes there was somebody there.” When the target couldn’t be spotted from afar, he infiltrated the bush, camouflaged and crawling, to “hunt him down.” Finding his adversary before being found out himself meant playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game.
“You look at where he’s firing from to get a fix on where he’s holed up and then you come around behind or from the side. You move through the bush as quietly as possible, knowing every step, and even the smell of the soap you wash with, can betray you. I remember at least three times when I thought I was going to die because the guy was too good. It’s kind of a like a chess match in some sense. At some point, somebody makes a mistake and they pay for it. I remember sitting in a concealed location for like three days straight because only a few yards away was my opponent, and he knew where I was. If I had gone out of that location, he would have shot me dead. So, for three days I skulked and sat and waited for a moonless night and then I slipped out, came around behind him — while he was still looking at where I was — and killed him.”
His first kill came on patrol when assigned as a replacement to an infantry unit. “I was the point man about 50 feet ahead of the unit. I heard firing behind me and, so, I turned to run back to where the others were when this figure suddenly popped up in front of me. I just reacted and fired my M-16 right from the hip. I got three shots into the figure as I ran by to rejoin the patrol. The fire fight only lasted two or three minutes, By then, the Vietcong had pulled back. The captain asked us to go out and look for papers on the dead bodies. That first kill turned out to be a young woman of around 16. It was kind of a shock to see that. It taught me something about the resolve the Vietcong had. I mean, they were willing to give up their children for this battle, where we had children trying to evade the draft.”
As unpopular as the war was at home, its controversial conduct in-country produced strife among U.S. ground forces.
“Officers were only in the field for six months,” Hendrickson said, “but enlisted men were stuck out there for a year. We knew more about what was happening in the field than they did. A lot of times you’d get a green guy just out of officers’ school and he’d make some dumb mistake that put you in harm’s way. We had an open rebellion within many units. There was officer’s country and then there was enlisted men’s country.”
In this climate, fragging — the killing of officers by grunts — was a well-known practice. “Oh, yes, fragging happened quite a lot,” he said. “You pulled a grenade pin, threw the grenade over to where the guy was and the fragments killed him.” Hendrickson admits to fragging two CIA agents, whom he claims he took-out in retribution for actions that resulted in the deaths of some buddies. The first time, he said, an agent’s incompetence gave away the position of two fellow snipers, who were picked-off by the enemy. He fragged the culprit with a grenade. The second time, he said, an agent called-in a B-52 strike on an enemy position even though a friendly was still in the area.
“I walked over to the agent’s hootch (bunker), I called him out and I shot three shots into his chest with a .45 automatic. He fell back into the hootch. And just to let everybody know I meant business I threw a grenade into the bunker and it incinerated him. Everybody in that unit just quietly stood and looked at me. I said, ‘If you ever mess with me, you’ll get this.’ Nobody ever made a report. It went down as a mysterious Vietcong action.”
He was early into his second tour when he found himself stationed with a 155-Howitzer artillery unit. “We were on the top of a gentle hill overlooking this valley. I was working the communications switchboard in a bunker. I was on duty at two or three in the morning when I started hearing these thumps outside. I put my head up and I saw explosions around our unit. Well, just then the switchboard starts lighting up.”
In what he said was “a metaphor” for how the war got bogged down in minutiae, officers engaged in absurd chain-of-command proprieties instead of repelling the attack. “Hell, these Albert Einsteins didn’t even know where their own rifles were,” he said, bellowing with laughter. What happened next was no laughing matter. In what was the last time he volunteered for anything, he snuck outside, crossed a clearing and extracted two wounded soldiers trapped inside a radio truck parked next to a burning fuel truck.
“First, I started up the fuel truck, put the self-throttle on, got it moving out of the unit and jumped out. Then I went back and helped the wounded out of their truck and got them back to where the medics were. Then, another guy and I were ‘volunteered’ to put a 60-caliber machine gun on the perimeter fence. We were on the perimeter’s edge…when I saw a great flash. A Russian-made 122-millimeter rocket exploded. The man behind me died instantly. The only thing I remember is the sense of flying.” Hendrickson’s right arm and much of the right side of his face was shredded off.
As he later learned, a battalion of Vietcong over-ran a company of Australians stationed on the other side of the hilltop and attacked his unit “in a human wave.” He said, “They ran right by me, thinking I was dead, probably because of all the blood on me.” The attack was knocked-back enough to allow for his rescue.
“I remember starting to come around as my sergeant yelled at me…I heard an extremely loud ringing noise in my ears. I knew something was extremely wrong with my right arm, but I didn’t know what. I couldn’t really see anything because my eyes were swollen shut from the fragments in my face. About that time the medic came along. They put me on a stretcher and pulled me back to a hold. That’s when I was told my right arm was blown off.
“I was just thankful to be alive at that point. Then, the rockets started coming in again and people were running around getting ready for the next human wave attack. I was lying there with the two guys I’d saved. Then I saw this big bright light in the pitch black. It was a chopper coming in to pick us up. The medics carried us up, threw us in and the pilot took off. As we lifted, I could hear bullets ripping through the chopper. We were taken to the nearest hospital, in Long Binh, about 50 miles away.”
While recuperating, Hendrickson was informed by his captain that of the 100-plus-man strong unit, there were only five survivors – the captain, Hendrickson, along with the two men he saved, plus one other man. “Apparently,” Hendrickson said, “the unit had been hit by a combination of rocket and human wave attacks that night and the day after and were eventually wiped off the earth. Years later, the historians said this was a ‘retreating action’ by the Vietcong. If this was a retreating action, I sure as heck would hate to see it when they were serious and advancing.” He said his fellow survivors are all dead now. “Those are four people whose names should be on that wall in Washington. Unfortunately, they’ll never be recognized as casualties of war, but yet they are casualties OF THE war.”
He spent the next several months in and out of hospitals, including facilities in Japan, before undergoing a series of operations at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco. Afterwards, he said, he entered “a wandering period…trying to find myself.” He made his home in Frisco, becoming a lost soul amid the psychedelic searchers of the Haight-Ashbury district. “I tried to resume a life of somewhat normalness, but it was like a whole separate reality.” He enrolled in City College-San Francisco, where he once again felt out of place.
Disillusioned and directionless, he then came under the guidance of a noted instructor and photographer — the late Morrie Camhi. “Morrie made that connection with me and started me on a pathway of using photography as a kind of therapy. It was a really great relationship that evolved…He became like a second father.” Years of self-discovery followed. Along the way, Hendrickson earned a master of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, married a woman with whom he got involved in the anti-war and black power movements and, following years of therapy in storefront VA counseling centers, overcame the alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered from after the war. While his marriage did not last, he found success, first as a commercial artist, doing Victoria’s Secret spreads, and later as an art photographer with a special emphasis on dance.
Helping him find himself as an artist and as a man has been an individual he calls “my teacher” — Sensie Gene Takahachi, a Japanese sword master and calligrapher in the samurai tradition. Hendrickson, who has studied in Japan, said his explorations have been an attempt to “find a correlation or justification for what happened to me in Vietnam. I studied the art of war…from the samurai on up to the World War II Zero-pilot. I studied not only the sword, but the man behind the sword. In the Japanese philosophy of the sword it’s how you make the cut that defines the man you are and the man you’re up against.” He said this, along with the minimalist nature of Haiku poetry and calligraphy, has influenced his own work.
“I try to do the same thing in my photography. I try to strip down a subject to the most essential, emotional image I can project.” He has applied this approach to his enigmatic “Haiku” portraits, in which he overlays and transfers multiple Polaroid images of a subject on to rice paper to create a mysterious and ethereal mosaic. While there is a precision to his craft, he has also opened his work up to “more accidents, chaos and play” in order to tap “the child within him.” For him, the act of shooting is a regenerative process. “When I shoot — I empty myself, but everything keeps coming back in,” he said.
A self-described “vagabond” who’s traveled across the U.S. and Europe, he first came to Omaha in 1992 for a residency at the Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts. A second Bemis residency followed. Finding he “kept always coming back here,” he finally moved to Omaha. An Old Market devotee, he can often be found hanging with the smart set at La Buvette. Feeling the itch to venture again, he recently traveled to Cuba and is planning late summer sojourns to Havana and Paris. Although he’s contemplating leaving Omaha, he’s sure he’ll return here one day. It is all part of his never-ending journey.
“I see photography as a constant journey and one that has no end until the day I can’t pick-up a camera anymore,” he said.
- How Snipers Succeed by Missing Their Targets (theqco.com)
- In the shadow of Vietnam: A close encounter with Karl Marlantes, US marine turned literary giant (independent.co.uk)
- Full Metal Jacket: history unzipped (guardian.co.uk)
- Darpa’s Super Sniper Scopes in Shooters’ Hands by 2011 (wired.com)
- Snipers targeting children in key Libyan city: UN (cbc.ca)
NOTE: The New Horizons is a monthly published by the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging. The paper doesn’t have a website of its own, but if you go to http://www.enoa.org/ you can click on the New Horizons tab and be linked to a web page where you can download a PDF of each issue. The paper has a wide distribution and following among the senior set, but I’m afraid it’s not as well known as it should be among the general population. We profile some dynamic individuals in its pages. My blog here contains many of my Horizons profiles — they include some of my favorite and best work. By the way, you can get a free subscription to the Horizons by calling or writing the paper.
Golf Shots: Pat Drickey Lives His Dream Photographing the World’s Great Golf Courses
©by Leo Adam Biga
As published in the current edition (August 2010) of the New Horizons
After working as an art, architectural, food and agricultural photographer, Drickey hit upon an idea for photographing the world’s great golf courses. He saw a market for indelibly commemorating the signature golf holes that make these green meccas and Elysian Fields iconic symbols for everyone from professionals to weekend duffers.
He appreciates the irony of being one of the world’s most in-demand golf photographers yet not having grown up playing the game. Though he plays now, he’s hardly accomplished as a 25-handicapper. But this “history buff” is well-versed in the game’s heritage. He knows its hallowed grounds, having trod many of those very links himself. He is schooled in its legends, many of whom he’s met and photographed, including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
He also enjoys reviving his own family’s golf legacy. His late maternal grandmother Helen Burmester was a local amateur champion in the 1930s. His mother didn’t play the game, therefore he didn’t. The images he makes today would have surely pleased grandma. He displays her antique clubs at Stonehouse.
His is the ultimate niche business specializing in panoramic images of picturesque places like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Drickey and his staff employ a rigorous production process to create archival quality prints imbued with painterly attributes. Customers collect framed Stonehouse prints the way some folks collect fine art works.
None of that was on his mind 44 years ago. In 1966 he was a bored Omaha Burke High School junior, just marking time before going off on some undefined adventure. He got what he wanted when he joined the Navy — both to see the world and escape the military draft for the escalating Vietnam War.
He counted on being assigned a cushy, scenic port of call out of harm’s way. He got his wish in Guam. Then in January ’68 he was sent to a naval supply facility in Saigon, where as “a storekeeper” he was in charge of procuring most everything for delta patrol boat crews and construction battalions.
“It was like being given the keys to the kingdom as an enlisted man,” he said. The job gave him latitude as the point person who could lay his hands on whatever people wanted. “Pretty much anytime anything needed to be greased, they’d come to me.”
He would apply that keep-everybody-happy skill set to his professional photography career, where pitching and pleasing clients is paramount.
He knew Saigon was far from the front line action and so he had little cause for worry.
“I had no idea what to expect, except Saigon was considered a safe zone, so I wasn’t that concerned about anything. We were at a place called the Annapolis, like a temporary Navy billet right outside Tan Son Nhut Air Base (the near Saigon base accommodated military personnel from each branch). From there guys would get assignments and be sent everywhere in the country. Because we were on temporary assignment they had us staying there. We would drive to the main warehouse compound early in the morning.”
On his third morning there he and fellow supply personnel left for the drive into Saigon, unaware the area they left behind would come under attack by Viet Cong forces in the Tet Offensive, which took its name from the traditional Vietnamese holiday it coincided with.
The VC flooded into the south by the tens of thousands. Fire fights and full scale battles erupted over a wide battlefront. Except Drickey and his mates didn’t know it was happening until almost too late.
“The morning Tet started we all piled on a two-and-a-half ton flatbed stake truck. The streets were dead quiet and we didn’t really think anything of it. There was no machine gun fire going off or anything like that. The three days prior the streets were filled and fire works were going off in celebration of Tet. That’s a big event for those people. Kind of like the Fourth of July in America.”
He and his mates figured the quiet was the post-holiday lull, but they were then jolted into reality.
“We went past the U.S. embassy and we noticed damage to the facade, like big mortar or artillery rounds hit it. We got down to the compound and the gates were closed, which was unusual. Then guards popped up from over the top, outfitted in flak jackets, brandishing M-16s. They asked, ‘What are you guys doing — haven’t you heard?’ We hadn’t heard anything.”
Strategic parts of Saigon were, Drickey said, “under siege,” a situation in which “anything could happen.” He recalled,,” We got in the compound and spent the next seven days isolated there. We did come under sniper fire. We had guard duty on all the perimeters. No (regular) food, we had to break out sea rations.”
Though the offensive was repelled, it put everyone on edge.
“You didn’t go anyplace after that without firearms,” he said. “I had my own vehicle, and they issued anybody who was driving a truck a sawed-off shotgun because the blast pattern was so big that all you had to do was point and shoot and it would take out anything.”
Drickey was stationed in Saigon during the Tet Offensive
Even his “sweet sawed-off” was no gauranteed protection against tactics targeting U.S. military. In those tropical climes he said it was standard practice to drive with vehicle windows rolled down, making drivers and passengers susceptible to a grenade or other explosive being thrown inside or someone taking pot shots at them. Drickey luckily escaped injury.
Indeed, he settled into a familiar, comfortable routine. Along the way, he was exposed to an intrepid band of men who inspired a new vision for what he might do with his life. The backdrop for this revelation were great big R & R bashes the local commander of Naval supply operations threw.
“The old man was interested in camaraderie among the troops,” Drickey explained. “There were seven warehouses in Saigon and once a month you’d get together at one of them for an afternoon of barbecue, volleyball, poker, and shoot-the-shit. It was also a time to get grievances ironed out. The food during those events was always top rate, and that was attractive to the AP (Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International) photographers, who would spend time in our compound.”
These photojournalists covering the war were a breed apart. Their independence and their enthusiasm for their work made a distinct impression on Drickey.
“I was just a kid and they were the first people I met who never complained about their jobs. They couldn’t wait to get their next assignment, wherever it was going take them around the world, and that intrigued me,” he said. “It was their attitude. I said, Wow, that’s the kind of adventure I want my life to be.”
Before encountering the lensmen, he’d never considered photography a career choice. He’d only fiddled with a Brownie back home. Until ‘Nam, no photographer served as a model he might follow.
“My only experience with a photographer was posing for one at a wedding or for high school portraits. I had absolutely no interest in that. But the adventure of photojournalism hooked me.”
Back home in the States in ’69, he pursued his new found aspiration. He used the GI Bill of Rights to enroll at the University of Nebraska at Omaha but between meager funds and a requirement he take writing-reporting classes, he dropped out. At the time, he said there was no focused photojournalism program or track at any area school, and so he pieced together his own by taking a course here and a course there.
“I wound up auditing courses for photography at Bellevue College and Creighton University. I took a course over at Iowa State specializing in architectural photography. My dad was a carpenter and contractor, so for me getting involved with buildings seemed like a natural choice.”
Drickey never became a news hound like those romantic figures who sparked his imagination. But he learned the craft bit by bit, carving out a place for himself that, while hardly heroic, made him a nice living and ultimately provided the freedom to find his passion and travel the world.
Early on, he identified himself as an art photographer.
“I was doing black and white still-lifes then. I had a show with Judith Welk (Omaha acrylic and oil painter) called “Fresh Produce,” all based on still llfes and a visit to Seattle. I was somewhat successful with that but I soon realized it wasn’t a career move for me unless I decided to get a degree and become a teacher.”
In the early ’70s Drickey immersed himself in the emerging Old Market counterculture scene. “I was always drawn to it. Everybody down there was very independent thinking. I was one of the founding members of the Artists Cooperative Gallery, when it was above M’s Pub. It was a true coop . You were required to work one period a month, typically a Friday night opening. It taught me the discipline of pulling together a show and what that takes.”
Other pioneering Old Market artists whose paths he crossed then included the late Lee Lubbers, installation artist Catherine Ferguson and the former Ree Schonlau, now Ree Kaneko. Ree’s husband is celebrated ceramic artist Jun Kaneko. Ree founded the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, whose artist-in-residency program has brought hundreds of artists from around the world to live, work, and exhibit in Omaha.
“Ree’s my all time hero in the city. Her vision for what could be, can be, is still amazing to me. She is just one-of-a-kind and an absolute Omaha treasure. She was one of four women who had an operation called the Craftsmen’s Guild. Ree was the potter. I was a young photographer looking for space and they had an upper floor open I considered doing a studio in. For whatever reason the deal fell apart but I maintained a relationship with Ree. She always had me photograph the artists’ work for the invitations.”
That led to contacts with other local artists. He’s collected their work ever since. His artist friends include Larry Sasso and the Kanekos. He was close to the late Kent Bellows, whose hyper realistic drawings are the basis for a fall Joslyn Art Museum retrospective Drickey’s helped organize.
The Old Market remains his artistic home. He’s maintained property in the historic district for years, always making his studio and office there, though never residing there.
“I started in a basement at 12th and Harney. Back then I paid $175 a month rent. It was affordable, it was doable, I don’t know that anybody can do that (starting out) today. I bought my first building at 14th and Howard.”
The two-story red brick building his Stonehouse Publishing occupies at 1508 Leavenworth was originally St. Philomena school. As he tells the story, a fire led to the third floor being removed. At some point, he said, a tractor supply company bought the entire block and combined that building with two adjacent ones. A porch addition was made to the original structure.
In the ‘70s Omaha businessman and politico Leo Kraft bought the complex, converting it into a home and studio (his wife Frances Kraft was an artist) . Drickey and his wife Karen, a Bryan High School art teacher, led efforts to preserve Tomlinson Woods as a public arboretum and they found an ally in Kraft, the then-Omaha City Council president.
“We came there for a brunch one Sunday with kind of an eclectic mix of people and I never forgot the space. That was the first time I’d witnessed anything like this,” Drickey said, referring to the urban loft space with exposed original brick and wood work.
Drickey’s appreciation for well designed historic buildings was instilled in him by his father and honed by the photography he did for HDR and for Leo A. Daly. His work for Daly sent him all over the country, photographing their projects.
When the Krafts passed away Drickey approached their son Marc about the property but, he recalled, “it was so close to the family’s hearts I couldn’t ever see a chance when they’d part with it.” In 2000 he saw a for sale sign out front. He acted quickly to purchase the site. He’s put much sweat equity into renovating the studio-office space. He and his three brothers learned the construction trades from their father.
“Construction is in our blood,” he said. “We all know how to do stuff. I know how to dig a footing and put up a building. There’s nothing I can’t do.”
His blue collar sensibility is why his closest relationships in golf are with the course superintendents.
“Let’s just say in the world of golf I probably get along better with the golf course superintendents than anyone else,” he said. “I’m more drawn to those guys. They’re the unsung heroes to me because they are the ones out there providing what it takes to make that course a beautiful challenge. I’ve made so many friends on the superintendents side.”
When he finishes a golf project he generally gives a limited edition print to the course super as a thank you for the courtesy and access they provide on a shoot.
Drickey’s pathway to golf photography came via ag photography. His apprenticeship included a five-year stint with Walter and Nancy Griffith and their Photographers Associated. He said it was under Walter Griffith’s tutelage “where I learned how to be a studio photographer. He had an extraordinary studio.”
One of Griffith’s big accounts was Omaha Steaks, and Drickey went on to build his own food clientele, including Godfather’s Pizza.
Griffith also introduced Drickey to the panoramic format for shooting outdoor landscapes by way of a panoramic camera he built himself for the ag business. When Fuji came out with a panoramic camera Drickey was one of the first in this area to get one.
“Whenever you looked at those panoramic images on the light table and studied them with a loop it was like you were standing in the field,” said Drickey. “I knew the power of that image. That had great impact on me.”
Subsequently, Drickey said, “I chased the ag business.” He felt at ease with the farmers and ranchers he met on projects, saying, “They just have a different quality about them.” He came to appreciate the unexpected similarities of how light and shadow fall on the contours of a food and ag landscape.
“It’s funny because I aways heard that shooting food is like shooting landscapes, just on a different scale, and it’s true. A successful food shoot is a landscape, in how it’s lit, all of the elements are there.”
Reinventing himself as a golf photographer came about in a mother-of-invention way. A client, Cushman, a leading manufacturer of golf carts and lawn maintenance equipment, put out an annual calendar using “the tool girl” concept of a Playboy centerfold posing with products. “It worked for years,” he said. When a new, female marketing director asked him to take the calendar in a whole new direction, he hit upon the idea of picturing Cushman products against the backdrop of the world’s best golf courses.
The marketer loved the idea but then Cushman was sold and the new owners ditched the campaign. Fortunately for Drickey his idea was shared with Cushman’s advertising agency. They liked it so much they pitched the idea to another client, Rainbird Irrigation, which serviced many top courses, and they bought it.
“The next thing I knew I was on a worldwide, whirlwind tour of all the world’s best courses, starting with Pebble Beach,” Drickey said.
That very first assignment at Pebble Beach in 1995 proved pivotal. He was there to get a shot of its famed No. 7 hole, only the weather didn’t cooperate.
“I waited there in the rain for six days for it to stop raining, and on the seventh day the sun shone and I got a beautiful panoramic shot.”
The shot remains the best-selling print in the Stonehouse archive. When 600 prints of that image sold at the 1996 AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he said, “that’s when I knew this could be a business. it’s been a fun ride, a bit of a roller coaster, but a fun ride ever since.” He sold his ag-food photography business to form Stonehouse, whose name comes from the field stone lake house he kept in Iowa.
The USGA (United States Golf Association) saw the image, and, he said, “they embraced it and put in their catalogue and it was like the top selling item for six consecutive issues.” That exposure, he said, “got the attention of some folks at The Open (the British Open), and I wound up doing all of the British open rotation courses, including some of the historic ones, like Royal Port Rush in Northern Ireland.”
This year Stonehouse was selected as one of the official images by St. Andrews Links, which runs the course on which the 2010 Open at St. Andrews was played. Contestants autographed the picture for permanent display in the St. Andrews clubhouse, a rare honor accorded a Yank photographer.
“It validates my career in the manner Kent Bellows was validated when the New York Metropolitan Museum acquired his work for their permanent collection,” said Drickey.
He’s also been privileged to do special projects for living legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The Nicklaus project involved Drickey documenting Jack’s last round as a player at St. Andrews.
“That turned out to be great, but totally unnerving for me because it’s not something I specialize in. I was like, OK, what are you going to do to capture this icon within an icon in a panoramic format? You preview these things in your head, what you expect, where you’re going to be, where he’s going to be, and it’s not a matter of, Hey Jack, look over here. You don’t get that opportunity.
“I took my son on that and that was a great experience for him.”
It turned out one of Nicklaus’s sons caddied for Jack that day.
Drickey failed to get a hoped-for element in the shot but made up for it by nailing another: “Jack was playing with Tom Watson and Luke Donald. I wanted the leader standard in the shot to show where the players stood in the tournament, but when Jack lined up for his putt on No. 1, I was limited to where I could be, and I couldn’t control where those guys were.”
Thus, the leader standard ended up out of frame. But Drickey did get Jack in the sweater he wore when he won his last British Open. Picturing the golf god in it took on added importance when Jack then removed it, giving Drickey one of the only shots of the Golden Bear in that sentimental garb on the Old Course.
“It’s the shot I’m the most proud of,” said Drickey. “We did a big print of it and sent it down to Jack, and his people called me and said that Jack added the prints to his personal collection.”
At the storied Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Penn. the course that Palmer’s father designed and where Arnie learned to play, Drickey got to contribute to the Palmer lore by shooting an assignment there. He said the only instruction given by club officials was “to pay special attention to the back nine, where the covered bridges are — those are real special to Mr. Palmer.”
“I knew it was significant to the Palmers. I walked out on this course…I had misty early morning light. Then I got to No. 11, and the sun came out in such a way that it kind of highlighted the bridge, with the mist rolling back. That’s how Pennsylvania people see their countryside all the time in their mind’s eye. and I got the shot. I said, I don’t need to do anything else on this course, this is it.”
The framed print was sent to Palmer, who invited Drickey to a licensee event at Latrobe. It was there Drickey learned his print made quite an impact.
“I ate dinner with his brother Jerry, and I had brought these mini-prints I give out as examples of who we are, and he said, ‘Oh you’re this guy, I gotta tell you this story: When you sent that framed print Arnie’s assistant put it on an easel for him to see it and all of us were standing around just to see his reaction. Arnie looked at it, he had a tear in his eye, and he said, Boy did you ever think this place could look this good?’”
Drickey said he was told Palmer got so “emotional” that he purportedly declared, “When I’m dead and in a coffin one of those prints is going to be buried with me.” The photographer also learned some of his images hang in Palmer’s office. Having Palmer as a fan, he said, has “opened some doors for us like you can’t believe.” For example, the Golf Channel did a piece on Drickey and now carry Stonehouse prints online.
In addition to being endorsed by some of golf’s top names, Stonehouse is licensed by major courses, by the USGA and by the PGA, giving him access to virtually any fairway and green. From Pinehurst to Medinah to many other championship courses with rich histories, Stonehouse and Drickey are recognized names with carte blanche access.
“Which is a significant deal,” he said, ”because we are becoming that embedded in the lore of golf.”
Additionally, he said more than 600,000 Stonehouse prints are now in circulation.”We’ve branded the panoramic format for golf,” he said “That belongs to Stonehouse. One of the things I like about what I’ve been able to do is carve out a niche that goes beyond the confines of Omaha.”
Employing all-digital equipment in the field and in the studio, Drickey applies exacting standards to his imagemaking not possible with film. Digital enhancements bring clarity from shadows and achieve truer, more balanced colors, he said. Even a sand trap can be digitally raked.
“It’s just incredible what you can do — the control you have,” he said.
The refinements or touch-ups accomplished in the post-production process are why he calls what he does “more photo illustration than straight photography.”
He said Stonehouse has adopted the fine art Giclee process to its own printmaking methods, which entails using expensive pigmented archival inks on acid free watercolor paper to ensure prints of lustrous, enduring quality.
“I want to produce a product that’s going to be around for a long time. The color hits that paper and stays with it — it will not fade,” he said.
He feels another reason for Stonehouse’s success is its images portray the timeless characteristics that distinguish a scenic hole or course. He strives to fix each scene into a frieze that expresses the design, the physical beauty, the tradition. His eye for detail helps him bring out “the architecture” of it all.
The clubhouse is often featured in shots because club members expect to see it.
Getting the composition just how he wants it means “waiting for the right light,” he said, adding, “Even a tree shadow coming across the green will change the dynamics of that composition.” Waiting for magic time can mean hours or days.
Much care and research go into finding the one idyllic, golden-hued shot that will speak to avid golfers. That’s who Stonehouse prints are marketed to. He said a typical customer wants a print of the famous hole or course they challenged, much like a hunter wants the head of the game he bagged.
Building-updating Stonehouse’s image collection keeps Drickey on the road several days a month. He’s half-way to his goal of photographing the world’s top 100 courses. One he’s still waiting to shoot is Augusta, home to the Masters.
“That’s one of America’s crown jewels. We are present at the other majors and we’d like to have a presence there. It’s just a matter of time. Those introductions have been made,” he said.
Stonehouse prints grace books-periodicals-calendars and other publications. Some of its images are included in the coffee table book, Planet Golf.
Not all his assignments are outside Nebraska. He often shoots in-state courses, at least one of which — the Sand Hills Golf Club near Mullen — is regarded as world-class. Its managing partner, Dick Youngscap, said Drickey “does all of our work. He’s a premier photographer. He’s the best I’ve been around. Pat seems to have an empathy for not only the golf course but the physical environment — the scale and the scope of it. He’s just special, both as a human being and as a talented artist.”
Whether trudging across the Sand Hills or the Scottish Moors, Drickey always brings his clubs along in case the mood strikes to shoot a round or two. He said club officials “always offer” an invitation to play. “They assume I’m a golfer first and a photographer second, and that’s not true. I am a photographer first. I love the game, not that I have what I would call a game. I just like being out there. I don’t keep score. I stopped a long time ago. It makes it a much more enjoyable game. What’s the point? I guess to see if you’ve improved, but I know when I’ve hit a good shot, and that’s all I care about.”
Just like he knows when he’s composed a winning photograph.
He realizes how lucky he is to visit such oases for his job. “They’re beautiful places, absolutely stunning,” he said. It’s his dream job come true.
“I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”
Visit the Stonehouse website at http://www.stonehousegolf.com or call 1-800-949-7274.
- How to Photograph a Golf Course (brighthub.com)
- Masters 2011: Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy Remind Us of the Human Side of Golf (bleacherreport.com)
- Fairways Where Golf Becomes the City Game (travel.nytimes.com)
This is a story I did about a play whose subject matter brought me into contact with some women who fulfilled various capacities during wartime service, whether as nurses or USO performers. The women I interviewed are sort of the real-life equivalents of some of the characters in the play.
The story originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com), and I hope you find the words of the women, fictional and nonfictional alike, as gripping as I did.
Lauro Play ‘A Piece of My Heart‘ Dramatizes the Role of Women in War Zones
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
As U.S. military action in Iraq unfolds, old war stories take on new capital. With women now on the front lines, their wartime roles gain added import. While their presence on the battlefield is new, American women have participated on the sidelines of war — as nurses, clerks, reporters, missionaries, performers — for generations, only their legacy seems lost in the heat of combat.
But since the 1993 dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C., a bronze sculpture by artist Glenna Goodacre of three fatigue-wearing females comforting an injured soldier, women have begun writing and talking about their wartime service as never before, the fruits of which can be seen in the acclaimed play, A Piece of My Heart, running now through April 27 at the Blue Barn Theatre.
Playwright Shirley Lauro based the characters of her impressionistic drama on interviews with real-life veterans, including those profiled in a book of the same name by Keith Walker. Lauro uses fast-moving vignettes to tell the larger story of American women in Vietnam. The six women characters represent varied backgrounds, roles and attitudes. There are military nurses, from stalwart Martha to sweet young Sissy to flower child Leeann. There’s the aristocratic Red Cross “donut dolly” Whitney. There’s the hard-ass intelligence officer Steele. And the playful, soulful USO trouper MaryJo. Whether sewing sutures, spreading cheer or performing on stage, they are angels of mercy for soldiers trapped in a hellish quagmire.
The women cope with laughter, tears, booze, pot. Some erect “the wall.” Others fool around. The nurses regret not knowing what happens to the boys whose bodies they patch up and spirits they boost. They fear no matter how many lives they save or how many smiles they elicit, they never do enough. Then, when their wartime service is over, they return home as forgotten as their G.I. brothers, wanting to put the war behind them but finding they can’t.
Even though each character tells her own story, they really all speak in one voice about the shared female experience of being thrust into the surreal, carnage of war. Regardless of where they hailed from or did their tour or what job they held or beliefs they espoused, they were all volunteers who elected to go there.
“The common ground we had, which is why I felt so strongly about honoring these women, was that not a single one of us had to be there,” said Diane Carlson Evans, a veteran in-country Army nurse who spearheaded the creation of the women’s memorial. “We were not drafted. We were not conscripted. Nobody put a gun to our head and said, Go to Vietnam and do your duty. We could have stayed home, got our master’s degree, had our kids, played golf and tennis and had a good life. But every one of us — Red Cross, military, USO — said, I want to do my part, and did during a very unpopular war. We didn’t have a lot of support from home, from peers or from our country…We just thought it was the right thing to do.”
Evans, who made remarks before the Blue Barn’s April 5 show, used her appearance to givr tribute to “the diverse contributions women made” in the war. “I am proud of the women I worked with and how hard I saw them work and how they asked for nothing in return. It was always, Do I need to give blood? Or, Can I work an extra shift? It was that always going above and beyond and never complaining because we had a job to do. I saw how these women saved lives at the risk of their own. And I just believe so strongly they deserve credit from a grateful nation. A grateful nation that needs to acknowledge they participated in a really extraordinary way.”
The story of women’s wartime service is, for many of us, unknown. “I’m just so glad this story’s being told because I lived through Vietnam and I didn’t hear nothing about the nurses…not a thing,” said Omaha actress Phyllis Mitchell-Butler, who portrays Steele. “The nurses went through as much as any of the soldiers. They saw the devastation first-hand. I’m just amazed how long they kept themselves together with all that inside them. All they had was what was inside and they had to keep that. They couldn’t let it go.”
In her role as state commander of the Nebraska Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, Dottie Barickman, who served at Offutt Air Force Base in the Vietnam era, has come to appreciate what women did in that war.
“I’ve never walked in their shoes, but I’ve heard their stories and I understand what they mean when they say they sacrificed their youth and their emotions. They were the nurturing ones for a lot of young boys hurting over there. Combat soldiers always mention to me that if they ever saw a nurse it was like Welcome Home, and that is what these women were…a touch of home that took them away from that war zone for a few hours.”
The stories in A Piece of My Heart echo those of thousands of women that served in Nam or nearby environs. Diane Carlson Evans is one of them.
“I was 21…right out of college…and I was assigned first to the 36th Evacuation Hospital in a beautiful place (Vung Tau) right on the South China Sea beach. I didn’t feel the war there as much as I did when I was transferred up north…to Pleiku, in the central highlands jungle near the Cambodian border,” Evans said. “I was with Two Corps supporting the 4th Infantry Division (in the 71st Evacuation Hospital).
“The war was very different there. It was the spring of ‘69…a pretty bad time. The 4th Infantry had something like a 75 percent casualty rate. I was made head nurse in a post-surgical unit where the patients were very sick. We had them on respirators and blood transfusions and chest tubes. It was very hard to see so many young men with such horrific wounds. We had to deal with patients dying on us and, in triage, we had to deal with setting aside dying patients to attend to the most salvageable ones. We blamed ourselves. We carried the guilt. And we were young…and so on our little time off we filled our days in human ways, whether it was playing volleyball or getting drunk or doing drugs or going on dates or falling in love.”
Playwright Shirley Lauro
In addition to the stress of dealing with crushing trauma patient loads, the threat of death was ever near. “Pleiku was not a safe area. We were under attack many times. We got to know the difference between the outgoing artillery and the incoming rockets and mortars that would fly in and hit our hospital, sending shrapnel everywhere. We were not only worrying about our patients — we had concern for our own safety,” said Evans, a Helena, Montana resident.
Since getting the Vietnam women’s memorial installed, Evans, whose efforts to make it a reality took 10 years, has become THE champion for female volunteers in that conflict, focusing her efforts on “encouraging women who served to share their stories…so we can understand what the memorial is all about.”
She helped start a storytelling program at the memorial site and on the web that invites women to speak their piece. She said telling it like it was is “very painful. It takes a lot of courage for women to admit how scared they were some young soldier was going to die on their watch or how they were so tired they could have made a mistake or how they were sexually assaulted or harassed. All of this anger and anguish comes out in the play.”
An admirer of the Lauro work, which had its debut in Philadelphia and has been performed across the country, Evans feels it gets to the heart of women’s Vietnam odyssey. “It does not show our service through rose-colored glasses — that we were all these heroic young women who went off to save the world and wore white halos — but instead it shows we were young women who went to Vietnam and did the very best we could amid all this crazy stuff going on. That’s what makes it very real, very authentic.”
As the war in Iraq rages on the director of the Blue Barn show, Susan Clement-Toberer, feels the conflict lends the play added urgency.
“Knowing that it’s happening now it brings it all very close and deepens everything we’re doing,” she said. “It’s real, just like the stories of these women are all real…taken from a myriad of interviews with different women.”
Cast member Erika Hall, who plays the USO entertainer, said, “You know, before it was important to do this piece, and now like it’s necessary.” Most of the cast and crew are too young to remember the war and therefore have immersed themselves in it via books, articles and tapes and by talking to actual veterans.
“What an interesting learning experience this is for me,” Hall said. “I was born after Vietnam and, you know, you read about it in school but you don’t really understand what they (vets) went through.” In her own research Clement-Toberer said she was surprised to learn “the extremes the women survived. I knew Vietnam was a dirty war, but I just didn’t realize they (the women) saw such extremes so quickly. I understand now why these women went and what they mean by honor…they believed in their country. It’s just a very strong feeling in what is right and what is true and what needs to be told.”
The characters have real-life counterparts in Nebraska. Lincolnite Judy Knopp, a former Army nurse at Camp Zama, Japan, treated G.I.s choppered in from Vietnam; Martel native and longtime Lincoln resident Brenda Allacher toured Nam as a member of the all-girl country-western band The Taylor Sisters; and Marie Menke of Superior, Neb. was a fellow Army nurse with Diane Evans at the 36th evac in Vung Tau, regarded as an in-country R & R site except for the grueling recovery and care that went on there. For vets like these, Vietnam seared into their memories and hearts the best and worst of humanity.
“I joined the Army nurse corps and in six weeks did my basic training at Fort Sam Houston and went straight to Japan…Camp Zama, 35 minutes southeast of Tokyo and an hour by chopper from Saigon. I was charge nurse in the orthopedic ward of a 1,000 bed hospital,” Knopp said.
“Back then, we had to make our own IVs and pump our own blood and everything. After the Tet Offensive we were working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. They used to call us the zombie squad. We didn’t even eat. We went home and slept…then came back. We’d have 30 to 40 evacs a day…20 to 30 surgeries a day, just on my ward. One-half of our cases were dirty wounds…shrapnel wounds or single and multiple amputees. Guys with half their faces blown off. One young man I especially remember…Billy. He was 18. He’d stepped on a land mine and everything was gone from the belly button on down. He was unconscious. We were pumping him full of blood. You wanted to save him but…you wanted him to go, too, because there was no way he could live.
“The guys, they were so young. They used to call me grandma and I was 22. They were all like little brothers. We used to stay up with the guys at night who were crying over having killed women and children. They had a real hard time dealing with what went on over there and the stuff they had to do to survive. A lot of ‘em came back injured and a lot of ‘em we never saw again. We never knew what happened to ‘em. The ones going back to the states we’d iron their uniforms, sew on their patches and go to the chopper to kiss ‘em goodbye. I have very fond memories of the guys and just atrocious memories of the wounds.”
She still regrets how, when her ward was busy, “there was no time for dignity with death…to get patients prepared and stay with ‘em and see ‘em through it. It was like, OK, this one’s dead, clean out the bed…there’s another one coming in.”
A Piece of My Heart cast members marvel at what women like Knopp endured at such a tender age. “They all have stories of their first day…just like in the play where my character takes off a soldier’s boot and his severed foot is in it,” Christine Schwery said. “They were so fragile and so young and yet they survived,” Julie Huff said. “With a lot of alcohol and a lot of drugs,” Schwery chimed in. “Yeah, but they survived and they saved a lot of lives,” Huff added.
Riverdale, Neb. native Marie Menke, then Daake, was a 22-year-old nursing school grad when she got to Nam. Nothing could prepare her for what she saw:
“I was pretty naive about the war. It was very shocking to most of us to see the kinds of wounds and the tragic loss of life,” she said. “It just shouldn’t be. My thoughts about the war didn’t matter because we were there and people were getting hurt and we had an enormous job to do. We were tremendously needed. It was beyond comprehension almost. The nurses did do a lot but most of us downplayed it. We were just there to do our job and to take care of patients and to support them.”
Besides caring for American G.I.s, nurses treated Vietmanese, including children.
An estimated 265,000 American women service in support of the war. U.S. Army estimates place the number in-country between 10,000 and 12,000. Most were nurses, either Army or Marine enlistees or even civilians attached to field hospitals or more rear echelon units. American Red Cross volunteers were so-called “donut dollies” — a sort of comfort girl corps boosting morale with their short-skirts, smiles and care packages. Others were entertainers touring under the auspices of the USO or, like Brenda Allacher, as contract entertainers via private booking agencies that provided minimal security and scant creature comforts.
Blue Barn Theatre’s Susan Clement Toberer
Allacher, then known as Allyn, got to see a lot of Nam during her three-and-half month tour in ‘69. She has bittersweet memories of her time in Chu Lai, a central coastal area manned by the Americale Division:
“That was one of our favorite places because we had privacy taking a shower. I remember the commanding officer, ‘Big Daddy’ Richardson, said, ‘I’m going to work your butts off, but when you come back at night your favorite food and drink will be sitting in front of you.’ And it was, too. Lobster and blackberry brandy and Cuttysark scotch. We’d do five and six shows a day for that man,” she said. “The men, they just wouldn’t let us quit and we weren’t about to leave those boys. The guys were just absolutely beautiful. They called me Crazy Legs…I’d do wild dancing and kick my legs up. They just went bonkers.
“We’d come back exhausted. One night, we’d come back from a show and a few of us were in the officers club drinking when there was a loud CLAP and the building just shook. A G.I. grabbed me and threw me down under the bar.” It was the start of a prolonged mortar attack. “We took 16 rounds over a period of four or five hours. We just laid there on the floor and got drunk. I was so scared. Around daylight a young man came running in, shouting, ‘They got a nurse at the 312 Surg-Evac,’ which was like a block away.”
The victim, 1st Lt. army nurse Sharon Anne Lane of Canton, Ohio, was the first Army nurse to die under hostile fire in Southeast Asia and one of 67 American women in all — military and civilian — to die in the conflict. The incident shook Allacher to her core.
“What really gets me is it very easily could have been me, and not her.” she said. She recalls happier times there, too, like when the Taylor Sisters did an impromptu show for Nebraska National Guard troops, leading off with There’s No Place Like Nebraska. “The tin roof went off on that quonset hut. They just went nuts.” Or when she was secreted away to give a private performance for some special ops forces who, upon her finishing, “lined up and saluted me” she said tearfully. “As I was walking out, the commanding officer placed his Green Beret on my head.” She still has it. “I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.”
Allacher and Knopp have made the recognition of women’s work in Vietnam a personal mission. Together eith Evans they are featured in a NETV documentary, Not On the Frontline, that follows their story from the wartime service they rendered to the emotional “culmination” of seeing the women’s memorial dedicated, something Knopp worked for as state coordinator of the project. More recently, Allacher, who describes herself as “a straight shooter…full of piss and vinegar,” was instrumental in bringing A Piece of My Heart to the attention of local theaters. She and her big booming laugh have become fixtures at the Blue Barn.
For Allacher, Knopp and Evans, the stories told in the play and documentary are part of the healing that’s taken place after the war. Acceptance of women’s service has come slowly, even as they have died alongside their veteran brothers from Agent Orange-related illnesses and have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Evans said there was once resistance to honoring women’s war record because “I don’t think people wanted to look at women as warriors — as soldiers. But women are soldiers, too. We fought just as hard as the men. We just fought with different instruments.” Or, as Judy Knopp puts it, “The guys were on the physical front lines, but we were on the psychological front lines trying to hold it all together. And we did it with a loving heart.”
- Woman who says she was nurse from WWII photo dies (dailycaller.com)
- Honouring nurses (bbc.co.uk)
- What did many American Women hold jobs as (wiki.answers.com)
- Walking Behind to Freedom, A Musical Theater Examination of Race (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
I first met Hadley Heavin 20 years ago. He was one of the first profile subjects I wrote about as a freelance journalist. I loved telling his story then, and I always knew I would return to it. I did a few years ago. Upon catching up with him, I found him and his story just as intriguing as I had before. It’s not often you find someone who combines the passions he does, namely competing in rodeo and performing classical guitar. He is a singular man whose twin magnificent obsessions make him one of my favorite and most unforgettable characters.
Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy
©by Leo Adam Biga
Traditional Spanish classical guitar follows certain lines. It flows most directly from the source of this passionate art form, Francisco Tarrega, the father of Spanish classical guitar at the turn of the last century. Tarrega passed on his legacy to his musical progeny, a few prized pupils, who in turn taught it to select disciples, and so on down the line.
Improbably, this line of maestros, the great interpreters of Spanish classical guitar, includes a longtime area resident and an American to boot, Hadley Heavin. He grew up a cowboy, jock and blues-rock lead guitar player in Baxter Springs, Kansas. He learned guitar at 5, began riding horses soon after, adding rodeo, football, basketball, track and baseball. The Vietnam combat vet has been a University of Nebraska at Omaha music instructor since 1982.
Beginning in the late ‘70s, Heavin became the primary student of the late Segundo Pastor. Decades-before, Pastor was the favorite student of Daniel Fortea, once the anointed disciple of Tarrega himself. So it is this direct Spanish line goes from Tarrega to Fortea to Pastor to Heavin.
“… there’s a real lineage that goes to the source of classical guitar in Spain that’s been handed down to me, almost by rote. Not even Spaniards have that,” Heavin said. “That’s why Spanish music is it for me. And when I play Spanish music I play it very much probably how Tarrega played it, because it was passed down that way. I’m probably just one of a handful of people in the world that got that experience.
“It isn’t so much about reading the notes and learning the music as it how the music is played.”
As if not’s unusual enough an American should be part of that rare Spanish line, then consider that at age 59 Heavin still competes in rodeos and horse shows around his busy teaching-performing schedule. The fact he’s both a concert-level artist and competitive roper never fails to surprise.
“It’s so odd to people that I do these two things,” he said.
He and his daughter Kaitlin share a small, white, wood-frame house on a 25-acre spread he rents in Valley, Neb.. He’s at home there with his dogs, horses and steers. There are barns for storing hay and boarding horses as well as pens, a round and an arena, complete with box and chute, for working stock and practicing roping. He has a horse trailer and a truck parked there. His precious guitars, a Brune for classical and a Cordoba for Flamenco, always near.
Much like his boyhood home, when impromptu family concerts broke out, the sound of Heavin playing and Kaitlin singing often blend with the music of cicadas, crickets, meadow larks, steers and horses.
In a kind of dual life he alternately spends weekends playing paying guitar gigs or riding-roping for prize money. One weekend might find him performing solo or with his new Latin-influenced band, Tablao, at trendy Omaha spots like Espana and the Corkscrew. Kaitlin is Tablao’s lead vocalist. Another weekend might find him competing in American Quarter Horse Association or Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association team-roping events in such Nebraska backyards as Wilber and Burwell.
At home in his frayed tank-top undershirt, dusty jeans and worn boots, he’s the Marlboro Man. For a big guy he sits light in the saddle. The way he expertly handles a horse makes clear he’s no weekend warrior playing cowboy. He’s the Real McCoy. With a pull of the reins, a bump of his spurs or the command of his voice, his old bay, Champ, obeys instantly as he puts the animal through its paces, starting at a walk, building to a trot, then going at a full gallop. Rough stock is in his blood.
Cut to Heavin, the artist, this time in a freshly-pressed flowered shirt, clean jeans and polished boots, making love with his guitar at the Espana tapas bar in Benson. As he sits on stage, cradling and stroking the instrument like a woman in his thickly-muscled arms, he is every inch the maestro. His posture erect, his fingering precise, his feel for the music complete, he makes the expressive sounds his own. From soft, gentle trills to full crescendo runs, it is a seduction. Given his roots in the music, when Heavin plays, one hears echoes of past maestros Tarrega, Fortea and Pastor, a privileged connection he’s ever conscious of.
His sound is so much like Pastor’s, he said, a good friend from Spain named Pedro once got upset that a gringo like him should be able to master it.
Pastor entered Heavin’s life at a key juncture. The then-angry young American was not long removed from a war that “scarred” him. Then, his father, “an incredible guitarist,” died at 47. “And there was no music anymore…” he said.
At the time Heavin worked a job unloading trucks in Springfield, Mo.. On a whim one night he went to see a classical guitarist perform, and Heavin’s life changed.
“I was enthralled and it just came over me like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Right then and there I knew what I was going to do with my life. The feeling that came over me fulfilled me more than anything else ever had up to that time.”
“Well, for a lot of reasons. A part of it was the war had scarred me and right after that my father passed away, and I needed something,” he said. “Classical guitar was the thread that gave me something to hang onto just to get through life and the pain I had lived with. The guitar was my salvation.”
He began by teaching himself via recordings and books. When he exhausted those he found an instructor, who soon did all he could for such a prodigy.
“I worked really hard,” Heavin said. “As soon as my hands could take it I was practicing six to eight hours a day and working a full-time job.”
He then brashly convinced the music dean at then-Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State) to start a degree guitar program with him as its first student.
“I had such a passion for it that I was going to find a way…whatever it took.”
Then, a meeting changed his life. Pastor was touring the U.S. and saw Heavin play a late ‘70s concert on campus. Pastor asked to meet Heavin.
Mind you, Heavin was just a beginner in classical guitar, yet the maestro plucked him from obscurity to make Heavin his sole student and the privileged inheritor of a rich music lineage he now passes onto his own students.
Heavin and Pastor enjoyed a decades-long friendship that saw the American study under the maestro in the U.S. and Spain. Heavin arranged for Pastor to perform UNO and Creighton concerts. They toured together. Heavin once performed with him at Carnegie Hall. Their friendship deepened.
“He was like a father and a mentor to me. He not only gave me a career, he gave me back myself,” Heavin said.
It’s not unlike how Heavin became a vessel for his father’s and his family’s legacies.
In his small hometown fast on the Oklahoma-Missouri border, Heavin was weaned on Ozarks culture. Music, horses and sports were family inheritances. From early childhood he excelled at them all.
His father, Ernest played with such bands as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Several uncles played, too. Heavin played trumpet and drums in bands his father led, traveling to gigs at VFW post and American Legion hall dances, performing swing, jazz, ragtime and country. The family home was alive with music, too.
“Making music,” Heavin said, “was just something we did. I grew up with music and I was a little freak because I could play really well. I grew up in an environment thinking everybody was like this. I couldn’t believe it when a kid couldn’t sing or carry a tune or do something with music.”
The life he leads today balancing music with rodeo is not so different than the one he knew as a youth. Heavin’s father paid him for the band gigs he played as a boy. Child or not, young Hadley was expected to carry his own weight.
“I remember about midnight I’d start falling asleep,” he said. “My dad would start to feel the time dragging and see me nodding. Then he’d flick me on the head with his fingertip and wake me up, and I’d speed up again.”
The paying dates made Heavin rich compared to his friends. “I’d be sitting with $20 in my pocket where everybody else would have a quarter.”
The grind of playing “got to be a chore.” He flirted with blues-rock groups for a time, but got “burned out” on music.
Classical was not even a possibility. Early ‘60s rural Kansas had few outlets for it. Heavin still recalls the first time he heard it. A Rachmaninoff concerto playing over a music store loudspeaker enraptured him on the spot. That was about the extent of his exposure until years later.
Sports and horses became his new means of expression. Athletics, like music, were another Heavin family forte. An uncle, Charles “Frog” Heavin, played minor league ball with Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. Heavin’s own mother was a catcher in the women’s pro circuit immortalized in A League of Their Own.
He was introduced to horses courtesy his grandfather — a horse shoer and blacksmith — and youth rodeos. His first brush with rodeo came at age 12, an experience as dramatic for him as when he first heard classical guitar.
“I was at the fairgrounds and these guys were bucking out stock. Just practicing. I was sitting on the fence watching and I asked if I could ride one. They said sure. The first animal I rode was a bare back bronc, Mae Etta. I sat on her and I was kind of nervous and they told me what to do and that horse came out and started bucking and I rode her about three jumps and got bucked off.
“I just jumped up and said, ‘I gotta try that again.’ And I tried it again. I couldn’t wait…It was like the biggest rush I ever had in my life. Then I rode a bull. I loved that, too. That’s where it started.”
He progressed from Little Britches events to amateur competitions on up, earning his spurs along the way riding bulls and bare back broncs.
His folks “didn’t understand it,” he said. But he stuck with it. He’d found something of his own. “The thing I remember as a teenager is…I wasn’t really sure who I was, and rodeo really gave me a defining sort of picture of…what I needed for my own life. And that’s why I still do it on some level.”
As a teen he moved with his family to Lawrence. Kansas, where he lost himself in sports. He possessed enough talent that he owned state sprint records and got a look from Kansas University as a football halfback.
“I played every sport in high school but rodeo was my favorite. Once I got into roping and horses, I’ve just never gone back,” he said.
He enrolled at KU in 1967 with the military draft on his mind. He walked-on for football and made the freshman team.
The huge campus and sea of strange faces were “a major culture shock.” He took his chances with the draft and in ‘68 had the back luck to be an Army conscript in an increasingly unpopular war.
Heavin was in-country 1969-70 as a forward observer and artillery fire officer with the 1st Field Force. He was shuttled from one LZ to another — wherever it was hot.
“I was what they called a ‘bastard.’ I would work with all different units. They would just send me wherever they needed me. I was on hill tops, some I can remember like LZ Lily. I was at Dactau and Ben Het during the siege. We were surrounded for like 30 days. I was in so many places I can’t remember them all. I was in the jungle the whole time…mostly in the north, in Two Corps, close to the border of Laos and Cambodia. I saw base camp twice,” he said.
Wounded by an AK47 round in a fire fight, he came home to recover. Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, he impulsively entered the bare back at a local rodeo.
“I drew a pretty rank horse, plus I hadn’t ridden in years and I was still sore from my war injuries.” he said. “The horse came out and was bucking and bucked towards the fence and my spur hung in the fence and hung me upside down, facing the opposite way. He was kicking me in the back as he was bucking away from me. I got hurt. I could hardly walk that night. When I got back to the base they were mad at me because I couldn’t pull my duty. Here I was a decorated combat vet, and they were going to court-martial me.”
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the incident forgotten.
Back home he struggled with memories of the war and his father’s death. He floundered, looking to get his head right. He’d seen cruelty in the jungle. Fraggings. Buddies killed. Rapes, mutilations and killings of innocent Vietmanese women and children. “Emotionally, I was a mess from the war,” he said. “I had some years there where I had a hard time because I felt I was part of something that was wrong.”
He felt angry over what he viewed as U.S. betrayal of the South Vietmanese people. He wanted to forget it all, but couldn’t. He’d prefer to put it behind him today.
“When people find out I was in Vietnam they start asking a lot of questions and I find myself not wanting to deal with that issue at this point in my life,” he said.
He harbors hard feelings about U.S. military adventurism. “I’m not as patriotic as most people,” he said, “and that’s the one thing that gets me in trouble with my cowboy friends.”
He was in such a funk after the war he quit music, roping and riding for a time. He rediscovered music first or as he prefers to think of it, music found him.
It all began with Heavin’s classical guitar epiphany. But the real journey commenced when Pastor heard Heavin play in college and the great man befriended the green American. The Spaniard was unlike anyone he’d met before.
“I was introduced to this little old man who couldn’t speak English. He was very kind but very formal, very upper-crust European society. There was a definite respect one had to acquire. I spent an entire afternoon playing for him. He was helping me, showing me some things, and then he’d play. I think he saw in me that I was wide-eyed and open and very grateful that he would spend this time with me.”
More than Heavin could dream came next.
“He played a concert that night and it was awesome. He dedicated a song to me,” Heavin said. “Before he left he said, ‘When I get to Spain I’m going to send you some music.’ About two weeks later I got a big stack of music I started working on. He came back the following year and this time he worked with me for 10 days in Springfield. All this music I’d worked on I played for him. I studied some more. And at the end of the 10 days he said, ‘If you come to Spain, I’ll teach you for nothing. You’ll be my only student,’ and I was.”
At the time though, Heavin said, “I didn’t know what this meant or how it was going to work out.” A university official aided Heavin’s overseas studies by finding grant monies for him. But Heavin still had no inkling his apprenticeship would turn out to be, “with the exception of my daughter’s birth,” he said, “one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.” Off to Madrid he went.
“When I arrived there was an apartment for me. The maestro’s wife was like my mom. His son was like my brother. And I realized shortly after I got there that I was his only student,” he said. “He rarely took them. There were Spanish boys waiting in line to study with him.”
Heavin immersed himself in all things Spanish. “I lived in the culture. I wasn’t with Americans at all. My friends were all Spanish. I taught them English, they taught me Spanish.” Ironically, the one thing this former bull rider didn’t care for was bullfighting, yet he lived a block from the Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting arena, and next door to the hospital for bullfighters. He’d watch the injured fighters come out “all bandaged up,” but felt even worse for the bulls.
Mostly his life revolved around the music.
“During the 10 months I was there I had a lesson from Segundo almost every day,” he said. “He put all of himself into that one student. That’s why he didn’t take on many. It was really like a fairy-tale…”
To this day Heavin’s unsure what Pastor saw in him to make such a commitment. “Maybe it was my sound,” he speculates. He feels it must have also had something to do with “the fact I loved Spain and I loved to play guitar and I loved that music.” Even when Heavin struggled to get the music right, “he never gave up on me.”
“The thing that’s odd about it is that I had only been playing about a year when the maestro invited me to Spain,” he said. “It was confusing because there were Spanish boys who could play better than I.”
It nagged at Heavin the whole time he was there.
“I kept asking him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ And he would never answer it. The last night I was there he knocked on my door and we went to the university in Madrid. It was one of those romantic Spanish evenings. We were walking down a wet, cobblestone street and he put his arm up on my shoulder and he squeezed it and said, ‘You keep asking me this question. True, the Spanish boys are good guitarists, but you’ll be a great guitarist.’ You see, I was too naive to know if I was any good or not. But he knew. It gave me everything I needed to go forward.”
Not only did Pastor give him a career, Heavin said, “he gave me back myself.”
Pastor’s high praise for his student — “A brilliant guitarist…he likes to make poetry out of music” — has been seconded by others.
After graduating from Southwest Missouri State Heavin received a fellowship from the University of Denver and after getting his master’s there he joined the UNO music department. Wherever Heavin lived, he continued to visit Pastor in Spain and to spend time with him in the states.
In 1993 Pastor fell ill. Heavin flew to Madrid to be with him. When he got there he found the maestro confined to a wheelchair — weak and having not spoken for weeks. Heavin said when Pastor’s wife announced, “‘Look, maestro, Hadley’s here,’ his face just lit up. It was great. That night I slept on the other side of the wall from him. The next night I walked in his room, and as I was standing over him, looking at him, he awoke with a start. He rolled over on his back, pulled my face down to his chest and patted my head. He started talking. He said, ‘You know I love you. I hope some day you’re blessed like I have been with a woman. When my mind clears I’m going to write a great piece for you.” Those sentiments were the last words the maestro uttered. He died within a couple weeks.
Pastor’s gone now but Heavin keeps alive the tradition. He said the students who excel under him today are the ones who appreciate the gift Pastor gave him that he now passes onto them.
“It’s not just me they’re getting it from, they’re getting it from all of us in the line. The students that figure that out and treasure that are the ones that go off to other schools and blow everybody away,” he said.
One such student is 2002 UNO grad Mike Cioffero, an award-winning player and now a teacher at the prestigious New York City Guitar School.
“To have that direct connection is so important and wonderful,” Cioffero said. “Hadley definitely establishes that.”
Heavin’s “day job” is at UNO. He works one-on-one with students and ensembles and serves as a graduate lecturer. Some students have gone on to a good bit of success, like Cioffero. Teaching is something he loves. He’s not so fond of navigating academia’s politics and personalities. “I’ve stayed,” he said, “because of my students.”
In his 30s Heavin resumed roping and riding. “I started missing the horses, the competition and my cowboy friends,” he said. Without them, he was incomplete. As “the Good Lord saw fit to give me an extra shot of adrenalin,” he said, he needs both extremes in his life.
“Playing the guitar is a very disciplined, very quiet, very by-yourself, very sedentary thing. Mentally it isn’t, but physically it is. I couldn’t just sit on my ass and play guitar all the time — it’s too boring. When I was back from the war and just playing guitar, I was a little crazy, a little anti-social. For me, rodeo satisfied something in me that made it possible for me to play guitar. I think it helps me play a lot better.”
At first glance it appears as if he leads dual lives. Yet so intertwined are these pursuits with who he is, he can’t separate them. Each is an expression of himself.
“For me that’s my balance,” he said. “One balances out the other.”
Then there’s his hell-bent for leather nature. “I’ve learned to try anything,” he said, “but it wasn’t like I chose those things, it was like those things chose me. I was meant to do those things.”
He doesn’t just dally in one endeavor or the other. He’s trained by masters in each and performs at “a high level” whether in the concert hall or the horse arena.
His maestro, Pastor, toured the world as “Spain’s representative on guitar.” He had his own television show in his homeland. He was the subject of books. One book, printed only in Spanish, devotes a chapter to the Pastor-Heavin relationship.
Similarly, Heavin was schooled by roping-riding gurus D.K. Hewitt, Kent Martin and Jim Brinkman, “some of the best in these parts or anywhere,” according to Heavin.
Knowing the proper way of doing things is no small matter for a man whose art depends on his hands and yet who puts them at risk in a sport where injuries are common. Whereas, he said, “a lot of my friends are missing a thumb or fingers,” he’s never seriously hurt his digits. “I’ve skimmed up my little finger a few times heeling. Those coils are the dangerous things. It just cauterizes it when it burns through.” Every time he ropes he puts his music career in jeopardy.
“Lots of people tried to talk me out of roping,” he said. Pastor was not among them. He actually fancied his cowboy ways. “ He thought it was cool,” Heavin said.
Despite the hazards, Heavin’s confident in his training.
“If I was going to lose a finger it probably would have been the first year I was roping,” he said. “But for me the secret is being a good enough horseman. Like one time I was heading and the rope was wrapped around my wrist and I felt it coming tight against the horns. It would have broken my wrist pretty badly but I just kicked the horse up so I could get it (rope) undone, which saved me. Most guys when they get pain they stop their horse. Your horsemanship is the key… I’ve learned to do it correctly. There’s an art to it.”
He’s so adept he once qualified for the AQHA world horse show finals in Oklahoma City.
Plus, he’s never found anything like the thrill of running down a steer on horseback, swinging his rope high overhead, throwing it with a quick snap of his wrist and hitting his mark with a perfect figure-eight loop.
“The fact is I’ve tried everything. I mean, I’ve tried racquetball, golf, every sport, just so I wouldn’t take a chance on losing a finger, but nothing works for me,” he said. “When I’m running full-speed on a horse it’s exciting as hell. No matter how long you do it it’s always a rush.”
There’s a shared ebb-and-flow, give-and-take to his pursuits. “Music is like that, riding is like that, roping is like that,” he said. “It’s knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off.” In music, it’s as much knowing when the silence needs to be there between the notes as it is filling the silence. In the saddle, it’s letting a horse circle around or move forward or backward before getting him settled in the box for a run. For team roping, it’s the timing of the heeler working in tandem with the header to rope the bull.
“It’s figuring out when to do what,” he said.
There’s no where Heavin would rather be than home. At the end of a long day riding, roping, baling hay, caring for animals, he relaxes with his guitar. The instrument and the music he makes on it provide the counterbalance he craves.
“I pick up my guitar at night, when it’s quiet, and it calms me right down.”
- Spanish Fandango, classical/blues nexus (hermenaut.org)
- Could Chicago Guitar Festival in October 2010 Boost Local Scene? (thecontrapuntist.com)
- Guitar music that justifies the guitar. (ask.metafilter.com)
- Classical Guitar – Summer Listening List (kenekaplan.wordpress.com)
- Tarrega’s Gran Vals – The Nokia tune (merlinsnewrags.wordpress.com)