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The Lucky Coin: How a Vietnam War memento is helping American military return home safe from overseas deployment


The Lucky Coin

How a Vietnam War memento is helping American military return home safe from overseas deployment

 

photos by Bill Sitzmann

story by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May-June edition of Omaha Magazine (https://omahamagazine.com/articles/the-lucky-coin)

 

 

In the aftermath of the 1969 Tet  Offensive, U.S. Marine Pat Peterson found a Vietnamese coin on the ground while serving a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. The date on the coin was 1966—the same year he graduated from Holy Name High School in Omaha. That persuaded Peterson to adopt the memento as a personal good luck charm. He carried it with his dog tags.

As the runt of his infantry squad, Peterson was often lowered by his ankles to inspect openings in underground tunnels. If he saw mounds of steaming hot food below, the tunnel was in active use by Viet Cong. Then they would pull him out and toss grenades inside. One time, after the grenades dropped, screaming women and children fled from the other end of the tunnel. That image—and other horrors—seared into his mind.

He battled post-traumatic stress from Vietnam for the rest of his life. But Peterson was a fighter; he endured, even surviving a bout with cancer.

The coin got Peterson safely home in 1970. He punched a hole in it and wore it on his keychain. He threw himself into veterans affairs. Two decades elapsed before he passed the coin to another serviceman going off to fight in the Gulf War.

So began a tradition that saw him give the coin to deploying servicemen—always on the condition they bring it back. They all did.

Homecoming and a Funeral

The last recipient to return with the coin was National Guardsman Cody Rauch, who carried it to Iraq and Afghanistan while deployed with the U.S. Army.

Now, the coin is in the hands of its latest recipient, Air Force officer Dave Shonegal.

Rauch returned the coin to Peterson in 2017. The coin’s owner passed away the following year. Peterson was 70 when he died from a brain hemorrhage in December. Rauch came to pay his respects. At the reception following the funeral at Holy Name Church, he said, “It got back to its rightful owner in time, and that’s what’s important.”

Rauch also recounted his part in the coin story. He was on leave between tours when, by chance, he and his mates ended up at Nifty Bar on the Radial Highway. The neighborhood watering hole was such a regular hangout for Peterson that a brass plate with his name engraved in it is screwed into the bar at his traditional spot.

The two men met as strangers. By the time the gregarious Peterson swapped war stories with Rauch, and everyone had washed down salutary beers and shots, they were buddies. Peterson offered his coin with the usual stipulation, “Bring it back in one piece.”

“Do you mean bring myself back in one piece, or the coin?” Rauch asked Peterson.

“Hopefully both,” Peterson replied.

Rauch accepted.

Supporting Fellow Soldiers

Peterson’s concern for active duty or retired military extended to serving as a Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander (VFW Post 2503) and as a volunteer services representative at the VA Hospital.

“He was very active in everything veterans,” says Teresa Burks, Peterson’s longtime partner who has worked as a nurse at the hospital for 32 years. “He cared deeply about veterans. He would come to the hospital for a veterans service meeting and stay there for two hours afterward just going around talking to people. ‘Hey, are they treating you right? Anything I can do?’ It was pretty cool.”

Although Teresa and Peterson never married, her son Jed Burks considered him his stepfather. Jed’s children called Peterson “Papa Pat.”

Peterson’s devotion to loved ones was rivaled only by his commitment to fellow vets.

“He would go to the end of the world to especially help another military member,” Jed says. “If he couldn’t help you, he knew enough people to direct you to whatever you needed. It didn’t matter.”

Peterson proudly wore his patriotism—bedecking himself and car with American flag symbols. His father Bernie Peterson was a wounded World War II veteran.

“You knew from way down the road that Pat was coming your way,” recalls Jed, whose oldest daughter may be entering the military in a year.

Peterson’s goodwill went beyond vets.

“He seemed to hone into people who needed help,” Teresa says. “If he knew of someone having trouble paying their utilities, he would give them some money. If somebody asked him for two dollars, he’d give them two dollars even it was his last two dollars. He was very generous.”

When it came to vets, no request was too much.

“He made sure, if anybody had surplus medical equipment, he’d get it to the VA—wheelchairs, walkers, canes,” she says.

Peterson and a fellow Marine veteran, Nick Sloan (who died in 2015), organized an annual Marine Corps birthday party at Nifty that packed the joint. The Nov. 10 bash celebrated the birth of the Marine Corps.

The Coin’s Journey Continues

The coin tradition was another aspect of Peterson’s giving.

“I thought it was a huge rite of passage to send it off with somebody else and then to get it back,” Teresa says. “I thought it was beautiful. He didn’t brag about it or anything. If he heard about somebody going, he would approach them and ask, ‘Can I give this to you as long as you bring it back?’ He felt like it was a good luck charm. But it wasn’t something he kept to himself—he shared it. It was part of his nature to care and share.”

At his standing-room-only funeral Mass, Teresa shared the tale of handing the coin off to those bound for overseas duty and her desire to continue the tradition in his memory. A nephew, Eric Peterson, knew a friend, Dave Shonegal, who was set to leave for Afghanistan in March on his sixth deployment. The nephew connected Shonegal with Teresa.

Dave Shonegal, who currently has coin

Dave Shonegal, the current keeper of the lucky coin

“She asked me if I wanted to keep on the tradition,” Shonegal says, “and I told her, ‘I’m honored to even be asked to do something like this. I’ll gladly accept this, take it on my trip, and bring it back.’

Shonegal is the coin’s seventh recipient in a tradition now spanning multiple generations, different military branches, and various theaters of war.

Teresa entrusted it to Shonegal on Feb. 16 at a going-away party at American Legion Post 374 in Millard.

The legacy he inherited is not lost on him.

“We’re talking 50 years. I don’t think I’ve heard of anything like this that longstanding, especially getting passed onto strangers,” he says. “It’s kind of crazy, but at the same time really cool. A responsibility comes with it. It’s now my responsibility to carry on this tradition. There’s a  little nervousness about that. I don’t want to be the one that loses it after all these years.”

Shonegal says the legacy will continue after his return from deployment.

“It’s something I hope that, even after I give it back, continues for as long as it can—until we’re done deploying or there’s just nobody left to give it to,” he says. “It’s a really neat story and something I really feel needs to be shared as much as possible.”

Teresa agrees.

“I feel honored, absolutely honored,” she says, “and very, very proud. Pat would be proud.”

She says it was important for her to convey to Shonegal what kind of man Peterson was “because he’s carrying a piece of Pat with him.”

“I told him, ‘I want you to know who you’re carrying,’” she says.

The Legacy of a Lucky Coin

Shonegal is sure he and Peterson would have made fast friends.

“He was for the vets, and I can always stand with a guy like that,” Shonegal says. “That’s really where I feel like I’m heading. When I hang up the uniform, my next purpose is to help veterans in many of their situations.”

Jed learned about the coin in the wake of  Peterson’s death, and it only confirmed what he already knew about his stepfather.

“Learning about the coin was awesome,” he says, “but it didn’t change anything for me because that was him. Not one part of the story of the coin surprised me because he always went above and beyond the call of duty to pay it forward to military members.

“For me, it embodied what Pat was about—taking care of people. That good luck coin got him through Vietnam, and that’s why he passed it on—to take care of others. For me, it showed that even when you’re done [serving], you’re not done. You still take care of your brothers and sisters in the military. It’s a family.”

Inspired by Peterson’s example, Jed began practicing mindfulness.

“I’ve changed a lot of things about myself as far as showing more gratitude, telling people I’m proud of them, thanking them for being part of my life—things that Pat did and that I didn’t tell him enough,” Jed says.

He’s also taken a cue from Peterson’s charity.

“There have been multiple times when I thought, I wish I could help, but I can only do this,’” he says. “Well, why not only just do that? Maybe that’s more than enough. To me, it might be small, but to somebody else it might be huge.”

Meanwhile, Teresa is keeping Peterson’s legacy and wishes alive through the coin. After traveling around the world multiple times, surviving dangerous treks, and escaping so many life-and-death firefights, she says there is still plenty of life left in this memento from the Vietnam War.

“It was very important to him to keep it going, so I’m not going to let it go,” Teresa says.

She suspects many of us carry a protective token.   

“Maybe you don’t know what your good luck charm is,” she says. “If you do, hold that piece dear and share it with others.”

An internment for Pat Peterson is pending at Omaha National Cemetery. The date was not confirmed when this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press.


This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Vietnamese coin

Life Itself XV: War stories

August 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself XV: War stories

In their own words – The Greatest Generation on World War II

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/02/in-their-own-wor…-on-world-war-ii/ 

The tail-gunner’s grandson: Ben Drickey revisits World War II experiences on foot and film

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/02/the-tail-gunners…on-foot-and-film/

Love affair with Afghanistan and international studies affords Tom Gouttierre world view like few others

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/21/love-affair-with…-like-few-others

Retired warrior, lifetime scholar John Nagl became U.S. Army counterinsurgency guru

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/09/30/retired-warrior-…rinsurgency-guru/

 

The Reader Oct. 3, 2013

 

Iraq War veteran Jacob Hausman battles PTSD and finds peace

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/10/31/iraq-war-veteran…-and-finds-peace

Retired Omaha World-Herald military affairs newsman Howard Silber: War veteran, reporter, raconteur, bon vi vant, globetrotter

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/retired-omaha-wo…nt-globe-trotter/

Milton Kleinberg: Omaha resident who survived little-known chapter of Holocaust history releases new edition of memoir

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/11/07/milton-kleinberg…on-of-his-memoir

Joseph Dumba and his Healing Kadi Foundation make medical mission trips to South Sudan

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/01/03/joseph-dumba-and…s-to-south-sudan/

Jacob Hausman, ©photo by Bill Sitzman

Cover Image OM1212

 

Having survived war in Sudan, refugee Akoy Agau discovered hoops in America and the major college recruit is now poised to lead Omaha Central to a third straight state title

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/01/having-survived-…ight-state-title

From wars to Olympics, world-class photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke shoots it all, and now his discerning eye is trained on Husker football

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/23/from-wars-to-oly…-husker-football

 

By land, by sea, by air, Omaha Jewish veterans performed far-flung wartime duties

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/22/by-land-by-sea-b…g-wartime-duties/

Bob Kerrey weighs in on PTSD, old wars, new wars, endings and new beginnings

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/27/bob-kerrey-weigh…d-new-beginnings

Ben Kuroki: A distinguished military career by a most honorable man

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/17/ben-kuroki-a-dis…st-honorable-man/

The Two Wars of Ben Kuroki: New book out about Nebraskan who defied prejudice to become a war hero

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/30/the-two-wars-of-…ecome-a-war-hero

 

Ben Kuroki

Ben Kuroki

 

 

Bill Ramsey, Marine: A Korean War Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/26/a-korean-war-story-2/

Brenda Allen’s real life country music drama took her from Nebraska to Vietnam to Vegas

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/01/brenda-allens-re…vietnam-to-vegas

Lauro play “A Piece of My Heart” dramatizes role of women in war zones

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/a-piece-of-my-he…women-in-wartime/

From the Archives: Hadley Heavin sees no incongruity in being rodeo cowboy, concert classical guitarist, music educator and Vietnam combat vet

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/17/from-the-archive…etnam-combat-vet

 

Brenda Cover (reduced)

Brenda Allen wearing the green beret and insignia

 

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial

 

The life and times of scientist, soldier and Zionist Sol Bloom

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/06/the-life-and-tim…ionist-sol-bloom

Kitty Williams finally tells her Holocaust survivor tale

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/04/104

Holocaust rescue mission undertaken by immigrant Nebraskan comes to light: How David Kaufmann saved hundreds of family members from Nazi Germany

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/10/david-kaufmann-a…escuer-from-afar

Art trumps hate: “Brundinar” children’s opera survives as defiant testament from the Holocaust

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/art-trumps-hate-…om-the-holocaust/

 

 

Kitty Williams prays at her mother’s grave

 

UNO Center for Afghanistan Studies plays role in multi-national efforts to restore Afghan educational system

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/25/uno-center-for-a…ucational-system/

UNO Afghanistan Teacher Education Project trains women educators from the embattled nation

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/20/uno-afghanistan-…embattled-nation

 

Afghan teachers training at UNO met with First Lady Laura Bush

 

James Martin Davis – A Self-Styled Gladiator in the Halls of Justice

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/james-martin-dav…halls-of-justice

Combat sniper-turned-art photographer Jim Hendrickson on his vagabond life and enigmatic work

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/combat-sniper-tu…d-enigmatic-work

Jesuit photojournalist Don Doll of Creighton University documents the global human condition – one person, one image at a time

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/23/jesuit-photojour…-human-condition

 

Don Doll

 

A Long Way from Home: Two Kosovo Albanian families escape hell to start over in America

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/18/a-long-way-from-home

War and Peace: Bosnian refugees purge war’s horrors in song and dance that make plea for harmony

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/18/war-and-peace

Thomas Gouttierre: In Search of a Lost Dream, An American’s Afghan Odyssey

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/in-search-of-a-l…s-afghan-odyssey/

Three old wise men of journalism – Hlavacek, Michaels and Desfor – recall their foreign correspondent careers and reflect on the world today

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/three-old-wise-men-of-journalism

 

 

John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/02/john-and-pegge-h…n-correspondents/ 

“Casablanca” – Film classic still enchants as time goes by

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/casablanca-a-fil…-as-time-goes-by/

 

John Hlavacek

John Hlavacek

 

Billy Melton served with Omaha’s “Sweet Sixteen” in the all black 530th Quartermaster Battalion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/omahas-sweet-six…master-battalion/

Omaha’s Tuskegee Airmen

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/the-tuskegee-airmen/

 

14379473632092.jpg

 

Chuck Powell: A Berlin Airlift Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/a-berlin-airlift-story/

From the Archives: Veterans Cast Watchful Eye on the VA Medical Center     

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/08/from-the-archive…a-medical-center

 

 

Bringing to light hidden heroes of the Holocaust

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/bringing-to-ligh…of-the-holocaust/

Ben Nachman’s mission

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/ben-nachmans-mission

Ben Nachman: At work in the fields of the righteous

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/at-work-in-the-f…of-the-righteous

Rescuer curriculum gives students new perspective on the Holocaust

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/29/rescuer-curricul…on-the-holocaust

The Artful Dodger: Lou Leviticus survived the Holocaust as an escape artist

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/the-escape-artist

Walter Reed: Former hidden child survives Holocaust to fight Nazis as American GI

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/19/walter-reed-from…-in-world-war-ii

 

Walter Reed with a close friend who would
perish not long thereafter

 

The Hidden Child revealed: Marcel Frydman, Fred Kader, Tom Jaeger share childhood survival stories in gathering like no other

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/the-hidden-child…kader-tom-jaeger

Lola’s story: Out of the ashes, destined to live

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/lolas-story-out-…destined-to-live

Holocast survivor Helena Tichauer: Destiny’s child

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/holocast-survivo…r-destinys-child/

A not-so-average Joe tells his Holocaust story of survival

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/08/a-not-so-average…tory-of-survival

Sisters of the Shoah: Three survivor tales, three golden fates, three iron wills

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/18/sisters-of-the-s…three-iron-wills/

Bea Karp: Holocaust survivor feels obligation to share painful memories

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/15/bea-karp-holocau…painful-memories

Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action

June 3, 2011 8 comments

I love University of Nebraska at Omaha theater professor Doug Paterson’s passion. In the following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) I profile how he’s melded his art and his social activism in a seamless way through Theatre of the Oppressed, a theater form he’s mastered under founder Augusto Boal. My story appeared in advance of the international Theater of the Oppressed Conference that Paterson and UNO hosted a couple years ago. I am posting the story here to highlight different aspects of Omaha theater in the wake of the 2011 Great Plains Theatre Conference, which wraps up June 4.

Hey, you, get off of my cloud

Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of  art as social action

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Doug Paterson’s always used theater as an instrument of his insurrectionist principles. As a student in the 1960s he actively protested against the Vietnam War and other burning social issues and gravitated to progressive theater that challenged the status quo.

But it wasn’t until he saw Brazilian Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in action that his social activism and his art merged into a philosophy and a way of life. Seventeen years later the University of Nebraska at Omaha professor is a leading adherent, practitioner, facilitator and teacher of T.O., as much a political movement dedicated to social change as a form of theater.

Much of T.O.’s work involves developing scenarios with audiences around the issues of racial, gender and class inequalities. The idea is to spark dialogue among citizens in a living or social theater environment. The end goal is to generate dialogue with decision-makers in the real world as a framework for addressing these matters with concerted action, even legislation.

It is meant to be an empowering process.

“We see something that affects us. Some oppression or injustice or wrong and we identify with it, we understand it and we yell, ‘Stop.’ To Boal the very act of saying we can stop this is by itself important,” Paterson said.

The premise of T.O., he said, is that the oppressed are “dictated to” by a privileged, power-wielding elite. “They’re not in the loop of determining what’s going to be the agenda of their life. They’re told what it’s going to be and often through force of violence.” What T.O. helps people do, he said, is “learn techniques and methods to interrogate the world. It’s developing a critical sensibility so they can talk to power and demand dialogue.”

Why theater as a device to elicit participation in the political process?

“Boal’s phrase is, ‘We’re all theater.’ We can all do this. We’re all doing it all the time because we’re all actors who can change the world,” Paterson said. “In Theatre of the Oppressed we just give it a little bit of shape — to help draw the power out of a person or a community, because it’s already there.”

Theater also provides a well-founded structure for protagonist-antagonist conflicts.

The UNO educator has studied with Boal, a short-list nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and “jokered” dozens of workshops with him and his son Julian Boal. Paterson’s led T.O. workshops in about a dozen states as well as in Canada, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Africa.

T.O.’s organic, democratic system for giving the disenfranchised a voice is the focus of the May 22-25 International Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Omaha. Both Augusto and Julian Boal will give workshops using exercises and games that lead into T.O.’s Forum, Image, Invisible, Cop in the Head, Rainbow of Desire and Legislative theater.

The public’s invited to a free demonstration of Legislative Theatre at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22 in the Omaha City Council Chambers.

Six area elected officials will convene a mock legislative body to hear a set of scenes developed over three days of Forum workshops. These scenes built around local issues will be enacted and the floor thrown open for anyone to discuss, intervene, offer solutions. By the end of the session “legislation” will be devised and presented to the “council.” Paterson said Boal will then pose a question to the panel: “Would you support this legislation proposed by this temporary community?” That’s when the real dialogue and debate begins.

Paterson said to expect “a room “humming with activity,” lively discussion, laughter. “Nothing is coerced,” he said.

 

 

 

 

The dynamic interplay needs no formal introduction or explanation.

“If you see it you understand it immediately what it is and you can participate,” Boal said by phone from New York.

For Boal, T.O.’s not about finding solutions to problems but engaging people in exchanges that at least explore ways to combat or relieve oppression.

“I always say we should strive to have peace but the worst enemy of peace is passivity,” Boal said. “We must abolish passivity to try to do things in order to have real peace.”

True believers like Boal and Paterson believe in fighting oppression in whatever form it takes — violence, discrimination — through “the solidarity of the oppressed.” It is a movement of individuals and groups banded together in the belief that change is possible.

 

 

 

 

Paterson, who’s previously brought Boal to Omaha for this same conference, is a founder of the P.T.O. organization that puts the event on. This makes the seventh time Omaha’s hosted the event. It may also be the last, as Paterson plans to let new leadership take over.

The Omahan’s first direct exposure to T.O. came in Seattle in 1991. He was familiar with the tenets of Boal’s work but merely reading about it didn’t captivate him the way a demonstration did. Although Paterson had engaged in grassroots theater through the Dakota Caravan in the Black Hills and the Diner Theater in Omaha, he was still largely bound to traditional theater and its imposed world view that offer no mediation in or deviation from the end result.

Standing in stark contrast to that approach is T.O., which does not respect any fixed narrative or resolution. It’s all about inviting audiences and participants to intervene in and alter the story as a means for confronting and, if possible, ending oppression. Where traditional theater’s a monologue, T.O.’s a dialogue.

“I never got it,” Paterson said. “It sounded too serious. But then I saw it and it was so much fun and so interactive and so liberating that I said, ‘That’s it — I found where I’ve been heading for all my life.’ It just opened up possibilities. It’s asking through educational theater is it possible to transform the world to an equitable place economically, socially and politically.”

In Paterson’s view T.O. provides a structure for affecting change.

“Dealing with oppressed populations requires real dialogue…negotiation,” he said.

The goal, he said, is creating “a fair, equitable, humane world, a rational world where people have enough food and safe shelter, where crime is not encouraged by the economy, such as it is here, where poverty is not enforced, where violence is not the way of life. That’s what we want and all of us believe it’s possible.”

More than an academic or aesthetic construct, the work’s designed with real life applications in mind. Boal applies its techniques and forms to all kinds of community organizing, including his early-1990s bid for and election to the Rio de Janeiro city council as a member of the left-wing Workers Party. He used T.O. as an on-the-streets forum that gave people a sounding board to tell him what they wanted changed and he introduced legislation to try and bring about that change.

The more Paterson immersed himself in this new theater the more committed to it he became. The better he got to know Boal his conversion only deepened.

 

 

Augusto Boal

 

 

“I know Augusto as a mentor and quasi-father figure,” Paterson said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with him and we’ve talked far into the night. I really admire his work. I admire the mind that conceived of this and just kept relentlessly developing it. By continuing to work he made a path.”

Boal overturned his own traditional theater background in the ‘60s in response to oppressive military regimes in Brazil. At the time he headed the country’s national Arena theater, whose members began to resist the censorship and other government imposed strictures. Caught up in the struggle, Boal became politicized to a more militant, even radical stand. Branded a troublemaker, he was arrested, interrogated and tortured. Pressure from the West got him released but he soon became a political exile in Argentina and France.

He devised T.O. while in exile, drawing much inspiration from the late educational theorist Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Boal was little known in the U.S. outside “a very narrow circle” when Paterson first contacted him and brought him to the states for the 1992 Association for Theatre in Higher Education national conference in Atlanta, Ga.

“Boal came to the conference and just carved a whole new channel for how to make theater and who to make theater for in the United States,” said Paterson. “It was a wonderful experience and we had a wonderful connection.”

T.O. is now practiced around the globe. It operates centers in several countries. Where the movement got scant media notice a decade ago it’s well covered today.
Paterson said there’s some resistance to the movement because “the word oppressed scares people.”

In Boal’s homeland, where he lives once again, the Workers Party-controlled state government has a program called Cultura Viva (Culture Alive) that, Boal said, “helps us spread the Theatre of the Oppressed all over Brazil.” The program enables T.O. to work with schools, mental health facilities, prisons and other entities.

“This is the first time the government has supported the work that we do,” said Boal, an outspoken critic of Brazilian government since the ‘60s.

Just as for Boal the work is not an abstraction, neither is it for Paterson or for conference registrants, who include theater educators and community activists from across the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

Locally, Paterson hopes it’s a model groups adopt for presenting grievances to local elected officials that address some of Omaha’s long-standing oppressions. He referred to African Americans’ disproportionate poverty here.

“We’ve really violated their human rights and we need dialogue,” said Paterson, noting Omaha’s high incidence of black on black crime and sexually transmitted diseases and the ongoing segregation that divides blacks and whites. “There’s so much to do.”

James Martin Davis – A Self-Styled Gladiator in the Halls of Justice

September 2, 2010 1 comment

 

Courtroom One Gavel

 

 

Every city of any size has its flamboyant attorney who lives and practices law out loud, making bombastic statements, courting the media so as to influence public opinion, and generally raising his voice to be heard above the din.  Omaha‘s attention-getting criminal defense and personal injury star lawyer is James Martin Davis, who is very good at what he does, which is grabbing headlines, winning cases or making deals, and indulging his appetite for the finer things. He has a rich back story that includes combat action in Vietnam, a stint in the Secret Service, the tragic death of his only son, and his own close brushes with death.  Those extreme, vulnerable moments contrast with his public person and it is that dichotomy that attracted me to telling his story.  I did this profile a few years ago for The Reader (www.thereader.com), and I am happy to report that Davis is still busily playing the self-styled gladiator role he casts himself in and still living life to the fullest.

 

James Martin Davis – A Self-Styled Gladiator in the Halls of Justice

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

When Omaha defense attorney James Martin Davis calls himself “a gladiator” doing pitched battle in the arena of the courtroom, you’re inclined to chalk it up as just so much bombast. His penchant for taking on high profile cases and playing the media with his voluble, quotable, hyperbolic comments, has led him to be dubbed “the prince of the one-liners and the king of the sound bite.” He even enjoys repeating the dig, his jowly, bulldog mug breaking easily into a smile or scowl from behind the big oak desk in his uber office across from the Douglas County courthouse, where he engages in legal warfare almost daily.

He loves to speak about himself. And why not? He knows he’s good copy and knows he can spins stories for maximum effect from his rich life. Whether it’s tales from the courtroom, the battlefield, the White House, the deep blue sea or the mean streets of organized crime, he’s seen a few things in his time.

Not even death can shut Davis up. On June 17 his wife Polo rushed him to Methodist Hospital after he awoke with chest pains. In the ER his heart stopped — twice. Not until the eighth jolt from a cardiac paddle did his ticker restart for good. Classic heart attack. As he likes to recount now, “When I came to I asked a nurse, ‘What happened?, and she said, ‘You died and we brought you back to life.'” Hours after an angioplasty cleared a severe arterial blockage he was already angling with docs to leave the sick house and plea-bargaining to preserve some portion of his now banned nightly cognac-cigar ritual.

Despite the close call he was in the office less than a week later and exactly one week after the incident he was on the road for a case.

He went through something like this back in 1995, when he ended up having a quintuple bypass. His bum heart doesn’t worry him, just as the prospect of death doesn’t scare him. When it’s his time to go, he’ll go. He just wasn’t ready yet. He said as he regained consciousness in the ER and saw all the white coats rushing around, he realized “this was serious.” Even though death was near, he said, “I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t in pain. I was just totally serene. I basically decided I want to live.” Whether he cheated death or not, he  knows his number will be up again. He’s just not making any dietary concessions. His vices are too ingrained.

“It’s not going to get me down. Life is to be enjoyed,” he said.

The 61-year-old Omaha native doesn’t mind being called a headline-grabber. His hunger for publicity got a good going over during his Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor induction/roast in 2004. He can afford a sense of humor about himself given his success. Attired in one of his sharp suits, he comfortably wears the image of his own high living figure. With his round ruddy face and gourmand pot belly, he’s the picture of self-satisfaction as he lights up an Arturo Fuente cigar, leans back in his plush chair to draw on it and tells war stories drawn from his experiences in the courtroom and the jungle. The trial lawyer is also a Vietnam combat vet. A great raconteur, he punctuates his mix of flowery and profane speech with emotional inflections and dramatic pauses.

He is one well-cured ham.

James Martin Davis
His richly adorned wood and glass offices in the Farnam Plaza building downtown bespeak the high “overhead” of his practice, including a staff of clerks and a team of investigators. He said he must gross $360,000 a year “just to keep the lights on — before I take a penny.” He boasts, “My overhead is well over what most lawyers gross.” Everything about the place announces him as a well-heeled Old School barrister, from the chandeliered conference room/library to the prints hanging on the walls to the life-sized statue of Miss Liberty holding the scales of justice in one hand, a sword in the other and her feet stomping evil serpents.

“This is not a facade,” he said. “That’s what it is, that’s what I am, that’s what I believe. This is a real, old time lawyer’s office.”

He sees himself in the mold of the Clarence Darrows and F.Lee Baileys of his profession.

The prints depict vintage dockside scenes of his beloved Bahamas, where he vacations fours weeks a year. Scuba diving caves, blue holes, James Bond dive sites, shark waters and Spanish Main treasure wrecks is one of his many indulgences. Hunting quail, pheasants and wild turkeys is another. Besides the Caribbean, he enjoys traveling to Europe, Florida and an annual Las Vegas pilgrimage.

Always one for the action, he said, “there’s never been a period of total calmness in my life. I’m not an adrenalin junkie, but by the same token I like doing things that are interesting and exciting. God gives you a cup when you’re born and it’s up to you to fill it…”

“He does like to be in the middle of the action,” said U.S. (D-Neb.) Sen. Ben Nelson, a frequent hunting companion of Davis’. “He does have a high energy level.” Nelson’s known Davis for 40 years. They were in the same law school class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “He is still the same Jim Davis I met the first day in law school back in 1967,” Nelson said. “Still a go-getter, a character, with a great sense of humor. Very outgoing. Can be the life of the party. But a very, very sincere, good friend as well.”

As for his large appetites, Davis said, “I suppose a lot of it is maybe never growing up. You know, playing war or playing cops and robbers, only doing it for real.”

Davis ends his days with a nightly repast of cognac and Graycliff cigars, which he smokes at $25 a pop. “My monthly cigar and cognac bills are more than most people’s house payments,” he said with a mite too much of a smile.

All around him are artifacts from his “full life.” There’s a faded Polaroid of his Army combat brothers in Vietnam. At the end of the ‘60s he did a year in-country, leading a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP)-trained team that infiltrated enemy lines to insert sensors on trails frequented by the Viet Cong. Then, from a safe post, his team monitored the devices. Once the sensors were “tripped” and VC movements confirmed, his team called in artillery fire on the positions. It was part of a classified Army intelligence project whose “black bag” jobs gave him top secret clearance and the autonomy to work outside the normal chain of command.

There are signed pics of him guarding heads of state as a Secret Service agent in the early ‘70s, when he was assigned the Nixon White House and had run-ins with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, whom he recalls as a “flaming ass hole.” At various times Davis protected the President, the First Lady, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a plethora of ambassadors. He was in Washington when Watergate broke. Other images show him with some of his mover-and-shaker friends.

Prominently on view is a portrait of his and his wife Polo’s late son Jimmy, who was killed in an auto accident at 16. Recounting the loss brings Davis to tears in the course of a long conversation.

A framed front page of a newspaper is emblazoned with the results of an organized crime strike force Davis led in Indianapolis. Finds from the scuba diving trips he makes, including cannon balls, a pistol and coins, lay inside a glass case and atop a credenza. A pedestal displays a copy of a book he authored on conducting raids.

A reminder of what makes possible his living so well is a plaque that reads, “Show Me the Money.” This tough opponent and loyal advocate is a pricey defender of right. “I charge a lot. I’m expensive,” he acknowledges. Although he represents folks of lesser means and does some pro bono work, he has just as many well-to-do clients — doctors, lawyers — that he bills full-rate. If someone has trouble affording his fees, he said he tells them, “I suggest you go to your family or friends or Mastercard or Visa or your bank to borrow that.”

He also moves in circles of power that seem at odds with his persona as a “champion” for the underdog, although he sees no contradiction in railing against the system in one breath and buddying up to establishment figures in the next.

A failed Democratic candidate for Congress in 1996, Davis is on the party’s short list of prized race horses each election cycle, but publicly says he’s sworn off making another political bid. Still, with good friends like Nelson bending his ear, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Davis did run again given his high visibility and gift for gab.

Davis is known for the unabashed way he speaks his mind, whether addressing juries, judges, prosecutors, witnesses, clients or reporters. He doesn’t mince or parse his words. Instead, he tells you exactly where he stands and usually has the facts to back it up. That quality is what made former Girls and Boys Town executive director Rev. Val Peter retain him to defend GBT from sexual abuse allegations.

Peter said he found Davis to be “very bright, very thorough. He knows what he’s looking for, finds it, will report it accurately…unvarnished. And I like all of that. I like frankness. I like real honesty. He’s just got a way for getting at the facts.”

Davis’ live-out-loud style can rub some the wrong way. No one, however, questions his Legal Eagle status. He’s known for doing his homework. The few times his cases do go to a jury trial, he puts up a fierce defense and his cross examinations are legendary, as his withering assaults can break witnesses in the box.

“It’s entertaining to watch but it would not be pleasant to be on the receiving end of that,” said Patricia Bramhall, a former prosecutor turned-defense-attorney who was co-counsel with him in the GBT cases. Bramhall said he’s also quite effective in front of juries. “He’s got a natural ability to just say what he wants to say and you-can-take-it-or-leave-it. He’s articulate.”

Last year, Davis said, he went 6-0 in trials.

“The knock is that he is flamboyant and outrageous, but when he gets in the courtroom he’s very well prepared and very professional,” said Douglas County prosecutor Leigh Ann Retelsdorf, who’s opposed him in numerous cases over two decades. “He does a good job for his clients.”

Bramhall, who squared off with him in the past, said, “You have to bring your A-game” against him. “He keeps you on your toes. It’s a challenge.”

Still, Retelsdorf said, “as an opponent he can sometimes drive you crazy because he’s pretty flamboyant.” Some might even call what Davis does grandstanding. “Some might,” Retelsdorf said, “but, you know, I don’t think he stands alone in that. That’s become more the trend the last 10 years for defense attorneys. You see them more on television…using the media. Of course from my perspective I don’t like it. As a prosecutor I’d rather try the case in the courtroom.”

When you listen to Davis’ first-hand accounts of war or front-line law enforcement work or hear his tirades against miscarriages of justice you realize he really believes he’s a do-gooder. The irony, Retelsdorf said, is that its prosecutors like herself, working on behalf of victims, who typically think of themselves as champions of the people, not attorneys representing criminal defendants.

Clearly, though, his credo of being a gladiator for the people is not an abstraction or pose. First as a soldier running special ops, then as a Secret Service and undercover agent, once passing himself off as Wise Guy “Jimmy D,” and then as a young Indianapolis prosecutor heading organized crime and police corruption task forces targeting “stone cold bad guys,” he put his life on the line for his God, his country, his commander-in-chief and the leaders of the free world.

For him, his work today as an Omaha defense attorney is an extension of that public service and a continuation of the good fight. It provides the action he craves, although the only real danger he faces now is being cited for contempt.

“When I joined the Army I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States,” he said. “Well, there wasn’t any ending date on that oath. I took the same oath as a lawyer. While the money is collateral, I’d be doing this if I was making one-tenth of the money because what I do and what a jury does is important. We the People have to have a champion because the whole history of the world is that governments treat rights like privileges. They think they give them and they can take them away. Well, we don’t receive rights, we have them, they are ours, they are inalienable.

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance and that’s why you have to have lawyers. We’re the buffer between the government and the people. It’s no different then when I was out in the jungle placing those sensors. I’m a sentinel, a listening post out there on the perimeter guarding against improper government encroachment.

“So when I step in the courtroom or talk to the press, I’m not just defending my client, I’m protecting all of us. That’s my job. That’s how I see myself — as a gladiator protecting We the People. I like being that gladiator. I like going into the courtroom. That’s the Roman Arena. That’s where you walk in with your sword held high to protect the people from the lions. That’s what I do…liberty’s last champion…”

Vietnam gave this warrior survival skills for life.

“I was shot at in the air and on the ground. I was blown off an armored personnel carrier twice. I was motored, machine gunned, rocketed and gassed. I had a lot of close calls,” he said. “And I made it out, you know? I’ve never been afraid of anything since. As we combat veterans say, ‘I’ve been to the jungle and seen the elephant.’”

“I never thought I was going to make it back…so I feel every day I have is a gift. I always wanted to do something with my life before Vietnam, but after something like that it just kind of energizes you and it makes you different than other people and it makes you know you’re different. Not better, just different.”

He isn’t so much defined by Nam as he uses its experiences as a gauge and guide. “Part of who I am and what I’m about is what I learned in Vietnam,” he said. “I learned some major lessons over there.”

Drafted upon completing his bachelor’s degree at UNL, Davis and his fellow law school classmates had no interest in joining the military.

“I had been a snob before…an elitist. I looked down on them” (the grunts) “from the Ivory Tower of college. I will never do that again because I discovered in Vietnam the measure of a man is not governed by how much education he has or his status in life. It’s governed by a simple equation, When it comes down to those fundamental situations involving life or death, will you be able to trust your life with this man? Does he have his shit together?

“If he had it wire tight, man, you wanted to be with him. If he didn’t…you didn’t care how educated he was, how rich he was, you didn’t want to be around him. And that is as much a rule I follow in my life now as I did then.”

He sizes up people. Clients, witnesses, juries, opponents, prospective staffers. If you can, as a sergeant in Nam put it, “keep your ass in the grass and do your job,” you’ve got his respect. The stress of combat laid it all out on the line.

“It tests people’s character,” he said. “You know, the Japanese have a saying — You only live twice: once when you’re born and once when you’ve looked in the face of death.”

Having been to the jungle and seen the elephant, he said, gives him advantages.

“A big part of it is instincts. I knew in Vietnam if and when I was going to get hurt. I knew when to go down a trail and when not to. And that’s something you’re born with. One of my strong points is cross examination. I know when to stop asking questions. I know you never ask the question you don’t know the answer to. I know when I’m going to be hurt and when I’m not.

“I know where I’m going to score pay dirt as I’m going. Whether it’s reading that person’s aura or body language or it’s being intellectually incisive, I don’t know. I don’t understand that gift. But I can plug into those things. I like to say it’s radar. You pick up blips and you’ve got to subliminally be able to interpret those blips.”

It’s the same knowing which cases to take to trial and which to cut a plea bargain deal for with prosecutors. “Again that’s instincts. I take the one I think I can win.”

“He’s smart about that,” Retelsdorf said. “He knows what battles to fight and what battles to concede.”

Davis’ feel for the terrain and taste for battle are two of his selling points with potential clients. “I found the way to keep clients happy is if they have confidence in you and they know you’re going to fight for ‘em.” he said. “That’s what they need and that’s what they want, and they sense that.”

“I don’t care what they’ve done,” he said, “my job is to see if I can have them found not guilty. If I can’t, then I have to do what’s in their best interests — either get some of the charges dropped or try to reduce their sentence or try to get them probation, file a motion to suppress evidence or maybe get the evidence thrown out at a preliminary hearing or get the case dismissed.

 

Louis Venditte’s defense attorney, James Martin Davis, answers questions for the media.

 

 

“There are times when people are falsely charged or over charged. There’s a lot of misjustice in this system. The people I represent are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty and I’ve got lots and lots of not guilty verdicts. The two sweetest words in the English language are ‘not guilty.’”

He feels Matt Robinson is an example of a criminal dependent being railroaded by an overzealous county attorney. The 17-year-old Gretna youth drove a car with  two friends in it the night of December 28 when the vehicle spun out of control and crashed near 180th and Platteview Road, leaving the two passengers dead.

Robinson is charged with two counts of felony motor vehicle homicide. Sarpy County attorney Lee Polikov says speed and alcohol contributed to the fatal crash. Davis asserts that while alcohol was in the vehicle, Robinson was not impaired at the time of the incident. Moreover, he says Robinson and his friends were fleeing a threat made by other youths. Davis has released a cell phone voice mail recording of an alleged threat made to Robinson in the hours before the crash. According to Davis, Robinson and his friends were being chased at the time the crash occurred.

Robinson has publicly apologized for his role in the tragedy but contends he should not face jail time. Davis says the circumstances in the case dictate the charges should not exceed misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, adding Polikov “has made a crusade of this” as part of a crack down against reckless driving. “He’s out there arguing this political battle using my client as a tool for zero tolerance.”

Folks come to Davis when they feel wronged by The System and need a guardian for their rights. Allegations of misconduct often find him at odds with the Omaha Police Department. “I get two or three calls a week at least where people allege to have been beaten up by the cops,” he said. “I like the cops, they’re my very good friends, but there are people on there that overstep their power.”

In April of ’05 a political refugee from Togo named Koko Sessou was shot multiple times by Omaha police officer David Brumagen for allegedly driving his vehicle towards Brumagen, a second officer and others. Soon after Davis took the case he called a press conference to claim he’d produced physical evidence and witnesses that contradict the version of events tendered by police and other witnesses.

As the Sessou and Robinson cases illustrate, Davis is not averse to using the media to make points and air client grievances. Prosecutors may not like it, but as attorney Patricia Bramhall said, “he has a knack for it.”

 

WHNS – Darren Bates, right, answers questions from his attorney James Martin Davis during the trial for Darren Bates, the Council Bluffs City Councilman and former Omaha fire captain accused of soliciting a sex act, at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse in Council Bluffs Thursday.

 

 

Take the recent case of Monte Williams. On the night of November 26 the Omaha man was being arrested when Omaha Police officers noted he was hiding crack cocaine in his mouth. When he wouldn’t expel the drugs, he was allegedly shocked 10 times from a Taser gun operated by officer David Erickson. Soon after the event, Davis went on the offensive, suggesting to reporters the Williams case was part of a pattern. “The question is, is the Omaha Police Department Taser-happy?” he said. “People are getting Tasered all the time when they don’t need to be,” Davis told The Reader. “When I said OPD is Taser-happy, that’s on the heels of a whole lot of complaints of people being Tasered.”

He said since rouge cops “don’t seem to be prosecuted, the only way you can” expect the OPD to clean its own house “is to file claims or suits against the city.”

Erickson, the officer accused of abuse in the Williams case, has since resigned from the force, but OPD offered no explanation whether his leaving had anything to do with the accusations against him. While Davis is glad to have Erickson removed, he said the police’s handling of the incident and the officer’s sudden departure leave too many questions unanswered, something he says happens too often.

“Accountability and disclosure are two of the most important concepts there are to have a free government, but the way the police operate is just horrible in terms of investigating complaints,” he said. “Somebody files a complaint against a police officer and they never know what happens. They’ll get a note saying it was unsustained or unfounded or that it was sustained. So what? You don’t know whether the guy was punished, unless he was fired or suspended. Why? The police will say it’s illegal for us to discuss it. Bull fucking shit.

“The only reason they don’t discuss it is because this Goddamned police union is so strong that they negotiated a contract that says it’s going to be confidential. They’re not the CIA. They’re not Homeland Security.”

He terms “a mistake” the elimination last year of the city’s Independent Auditor post by Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey after auditor Tristan Bond issued a report critical of police conduct. “It’s a power play the police want” to avoid an independent, transparent review process, he said. The idea the police can honestly monitor themselves, he said, is specious: “They can’t self-regulate themselves.”

Courting the media to call out injustice, he said, “is part of the role I play. So many people are afraid of the media. I’m not. They’re not going to screw me if I don’t screw them.” It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship” — in the quid pro quo sense. “I do have that rapport with the media. I try to help them if it’s not going to hurt my client. I bird dog stories for the World-Herald and all the TV reporters. They know they can trust me. I’m not running for office and I don’t have any ulterior motives.”

However, Davis does represent now or has represented before some of Omaha’s leading media figures, ranging from KETV news anchor Julie Cornell to former KFAB announcer Kent Pavelka to Z-92 radio on-air personalities Todd ‘n’ Tyler. In these instances he acts as a kind of quasi agent, reviewing contracts and advising talent what they’re worth in hard market terms.

Then there’s the fact Davis is a sometime journalist himself. For years he’s written a Veteran’s Day op-ed piece for the Omaha World-Herald. He also had military and diving articles published in the Herald’s now defunct Magazine of the Midlands and in such publications as Soldier of Fortune.

His writing has extended to two books, Raids: A Guide to Planning, Coordinating and Executing Searches and Arrests and Top Secret: The Details of the Planned World War II Invasion of Japan and How the Japanese Would Have Met It. He said he’s half-way through penning a new book on treasure wrecks of the Spanish Main.

Given his cozy relationship with the media, it’s no wonder then he finds it a cop out when his colleagues clam up around reporters.

“Lawyers will say, ‘Well, I can’t talk about this because it’s in litigation.’ That’s bull shit. There’s all sorts of things a lawyer can talk about and should talk about with respect to his cases and there’s things he can’t talk about. Most people don’t have the knowledge or instincts to know where to draw the line and so they don’t say anything at all and that just aggravates the press because they know differently.”

He dismisses the notion he’s in love with fame.

“I know that’s been projected out there,” he said, “but I don’t take myself seriously. You can’t. I’m not that important.”

He said the vast majority of his media presence is due to “my clients, not me.”

By the same token he does put himself out there an awful lot and does seem to track stories filed on him, including a profile KM3’s Mary Williams did on him last fall that pleased him. The piece portrayed him as “Omaha’s Shark” in a sweeps tie-in with the NBC dramatic series Shark about a high profile attorney.

Todd Murphy of Universal Information Services, an Omaha media tracking agency, said Davis was mentioned 232 times in a 2006 sampling of area television/radio news casts. That’s a “high” figure by any measure, said Murphy, but pales in comparison to the “broadcast hits” Mayor Fahey and State Sen. Ernie Chambers netted — 1,165 and 583, respectively — in the same period. Davis’ print hits are also high.

Media exposure, including appearances on “Todd ‘n’ Tyler in the Morning,” can only help Davis drum up new business. “I’m recognized everywhere. What people say to me a lot is, ‘If I ever get in trouble, you’re going to be the man to see.’ It’s gratifying,” he said.

The recognition is hollow compared to what he would prefer in its place.

“When my son Jimmy died it was the worst thing that ever happened in my life,” he said. Jimmy, his only son, was killed when the car he was driving hit a patch of black ice and spun out of control and crashed. “I’ll never be the same again, ever,” Davis said. “I mean, you gotta go on, but there’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled. I would give up everything I have — everything I’ve told you about, doubled or tripled, just to have him back. I would trade all of it — the money, the fame, the success…”

Davis has moved on to fight another day. It’s what a warrior does.

“I’ve been to the jungle and seen the elephant.”

Combat sniper-turned-art photographer Jim Hendrickson on his vagabond life and enigmatic work

August 30, 2010 5 comments

Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan (May 21, 2004) - A...

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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.

Combat sniper-turned-art photographer Jim Hendrickson on his vagabond life and enigmatic work

©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.

 

 

Jim Hendrickson

 

 

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.

 

 

  

©Images by Jim Hendrickson

  

 

 

“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.

 

 

Morrie Camhi

 

 

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.

Golf shots: Patrick Drickey lives dream photographing the world’s great golf courses

August 5, 2010 6 comments

This successful art and commercial photographer has in recent years found his niche making panoramic images of the world’s great golf courses. The creative artist’s early work goes back to the founding, fledgling years of Omaha’s Old Market. He never really left the Market in his heart and when he could he bought property. He’s developed cool living-work-community spaces out of old buildings tastefully renovated to retain their charming urban historical character. Subsequent to this profile being published he’s opened a popular art gallery and event space, the 1516 Gallery, in one of his buildings. Those who know of Drickey or who know only one aspect of his life and work will likely be surprised by the breadth and depth of his experience and of his output. With any profile subject it’s best to get to know their passion because once you know that then you get to know the man or woman you’re writing or reading about. If nothing else, I hope this adequately expresses the extent of Drickey’s passion.

 

 

 

Stonehouse Publishing

 

 

Golf shots: Patrick Drickey lives dream photographing the world’s great golf courses

©by Leo Adam Biga

As published in the current edition (August 2010) of the New Horizons

 

The same wanderlust that sent Patrick Drickey off to see the world at 17 in the U.S. Navy Reserve carries him today on photographic shoots around America and overseas.

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.

 

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Glimpses at the 1516 Gallery he’s opened and directs

 

 

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.

Lauro play “A Piece of My Heart” dramatizes role of women in war zones

May 19, 2010 11 comments

Vietnam Women's Memorial

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

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 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.

 

 

Brenda Cover (reduced)

Brenda Allacher

 

“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 by her stage name Brenda Allen, 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 Americal 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 Cutty Sark 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. 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 Ann Lane of Canton, Ohio, was the first Army nurse to die under hostile fire in Southeast Asia and one of 68 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.”

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