Drawings of naked women were scrawled alongside off-color jokes, racist cartoons and prayers for survival by U.S. servicemen being shipped out to the Vietnam War on the U.S.N.S. General Nelson M. Walker.
Some of their graffiti has been preserved and is on display at the University of Maine at Augusta until Friday.
The Vietnam Graffiti Project, supported by the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, features an actual eight-bed sleeping area from the Walker that troops used as a canvas.
“The Walker troopship was a vessel whose passengers were knowingly being delivered to war and possible death. The images and writings they left behind are full of love, anger and dark humor,” said Gregory Fahy, dean of Arts and Sciences at UMaine at Augusta. “They provide a vivid, candid portrait of one of the most turbulent times in American history.”
In one preserved scene, cartoon character Charlie Brown says “Good grief” while standing beside one slanty-eyed character wearing the same clothes who says “Ah so” and another who holds a hand grenade and says, “So Solly.”
The transport ship, which was capable of carrying 5,000 soldiers and Marines, made the trip to Vietnam several times during the war, the project website states. Decades later, the vessel was a virtual time capsule that had Vietnam War regulations and notices still tacked to bulletin boards and pillows and sheets still on its bunks when movie designer Jack Fisk, now known for his work with “Revenant,” wanted a tour in 1997 to do architectural research for a movie.
Fisk took along military artifact historian Art Beltrone, who along with his wife, Lee, created the Vietnam Graffiti Project to preserve the autographed and graffiti-covered canvas bunks.
More than 700 items were saved from the transport vessel and now are on display at the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and other museums around the county.
To honor and thank veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services is hosting a “Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony” at the exhibit on Thursday.
Maine lost 341 troops in the Vietnam War. At Thursday’s ceremony, Vietnam Veterans from Maine will receive the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services’ Vietnam certificate and coin, in addition to a lapel pin from the national 50th Commemoration celebration.
Under a presidential proclamation by Barack Obama, a 13-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 13-years-long Vietnam War started on May 29, 2012.
The Vietnam Graffiti Project’s traveling exhibit will be on display until Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Jewett Hall at 41 Jewett Drive in Augusta.
To register Vietnam veterans for Thursday’s “Welcome Home” ceremony or for more information, contact Laura Allen with the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services at 207-430-5816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.