Vietnam War-Era Graffiti Showcased

A compelling new exhibit of graffiti created by soldiers and Marines headed to the Vietnam War was unveiled at the United States Navy Memorial on November 1, 2007. “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” showcases bunk canvases salvaged from the USS General Nelson M. Walker, a troopship that shuttled thousands of young Americans most in their teens across the Pacific Ocean in 1966 and 1967. The exhibit will run through November 30.

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Hundreds of bunk canvases decorated with Vietnam-era graffiti were salvaged from the USS General Nelson M. Walker in 1997.

    The canvases feature scrawled inscriptions, signatures, cartoons, and poems by young servicemen headed to combat in the Vietnam War. The young men’s graffiti was diverse and poignant in its simplicity. It included names and hometowns, dates they expected to leave the service, and day-by-day calendars to mark the voyage progress. There were messages of patriotism, politics, humor, anxiety and love. They were written for personal comfort, or to be seen by other troops who would contribute.

    The exhibit is curated by artifact historian Art Beltrone, who discovered the cache of canvases in 1997 while a consultant on the movie “The Thin Red Line.” Beltrone found the Walker anchored at the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia and was immediately moved by the impact of the personal messages. He was granted permission by U.S. Maritime Administration officials to collect the canvases; the ship itself was scrapped in 2005. The “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” exhibit was created by the Vietnam Graffiti Project working in partnership with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. (The Vietnam Graffiti Project was founded by the Beltrones in 1997.

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Fasulo left a record of his voyage in 1967 on the bottom of the bunk above his. The veteran was reunited with his artwork at the exhibit’s November 1, 2008, unveiling.

    “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” preserves a unique multi-dimensional snapshot of life aboard a troopship. An eight-man rack of sleeping bunks, removed from the Walker with all its original bedding, shows just how confining the space was during the uncomfortable voyages to Vietnam. Replicas of the graffiti-covered canvases will also be on display to provide an up-close look at the art. A cell phone audio tour accompanies the exhibit, allowing the public to hear, in the words of the men who made the voyages, what it was like to be on the open sea for almost three weeks, anticipating their eventual arrival in Vietnam. Also featured is a rare film clip showing daily life on the Walker. The footage was shot by a U.S. Navy officer who served aboard as part of the ship’s crew, as the Walker made her voyages to Vietnam.

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Mike Fasulo shipped to Vietnam in 1967 aboard the General Nelson M. Walker.

    Art Beltrone has spent a decade documenting the graffiti. Much of it is recorded in a book he co-wrote with his wife, Lee, titled Vietnam Graffiti: Messages from a Forgotten Troopship (2004), which describes the discovery of hundreds of canvases and their relocation to museums across the United States. “All those canvases,” Lee Beltrone marveled. “We stood there at times, wondering, ‘How many of these guys made it back?'” The Beltrones resolved to track down the authors of the graffiti.  When they found a name and a hometown, Lee would perform an internet search for the person and call him, then arrange an audio interview.

    Michael Fasulo, of Sharpsburg, Maryland, was astounded to hear that the graffiti he had written in 1967 had been discovered. Fasulo will be present at the unveiling of “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam,” where the canvas with his graffiti will be on display.

    For an in-depth look at the U.S.S. Walker and the salvaged canvases, click here.

THE UNITED STATES NAVY MEMORIAL

    The United States Navy Memorial, known as “the Anchor of Penn Quarter,” honors the men and women of the United States Navy – past, present and future.  The outdoor plaza features a “Granite Sea” map of the world, towering masts with signal flags, fountain pools with waterfalls, and The Lone Sailor? statue.  The Naval Heritage Center offers educational displays as well as The Navy Log, which provides a permanent National Registry of Sea Service where members, veterans and their families can register a permanent record of service for free as well as search for shipmates.  The Navy Memorial celebrated its twentieth anniversary on October 13, 2007. Visit the Memorial’s Web site at: www.navymemorial.org

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