LOCKPORT – Today, soldiers deployed overseas have access to satellite phones and can send email and selfies to their loved ones.
That wasn’t the case for the servicemen in the Vietnam War. But many of them had personal cameras with which they recorded snapshots of life and combat in the jungles of southeast Asia. They range from artistic shots of the sun breaking through the clouds over a fire base to candids of a trio of Army doctors performing surgery on a wounded soldier.
Now nearly 400 of these photos taken by local soldiers will go on display starting Saturday in the Kenan Center in Lockport.
The center mounted the exhibit 25 years ago and Niagara County Chapter 268 of the Vietnam Veterans of America is bringing back the exhibit, which, except for a brief showing at a Lockport gallery in 2013, hasn’t been available for public view for years.
“Vietnam Veterans: Our Photo Album” will open to the public at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Kenan House Gallery, 433 Locust St., Lockport. The exhibit will continue through Oct. 11.
The show chairman, Lockport attorney Walter E. Moxham Jr., said about 370 photos will be on view, all of them taken by military personnel from Niagara County. About 70 percent of them are in color. Approximately 160 photos are professionally framed, while the rest are matted under Plexiglass.
Moxham said, “These images have allowed our Vietnam veteran exhibitors to share their memories and stories of their time ‘in country’ – something that we really weren’t able to do when we came back from Vietnam in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”
At an invitation-only opening reception Friday night, the guest of honor will be Duery Felton, who was severely wounded in Vietnam and later became the first curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, better known as “The Wall.” The V-shaped monument bears the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women killed in the war. He also is the caretaker of more than 400,000 pieces of memorabilia left there over the past 33 years.
Felton also will be present at a public reception in the Kenan house at 2 p.m. next Sunday.
One room of the Kenan house will include a special exhibit about the 80 men from Niagara County who died in Vietnam. Moxham said the show is dedicated to their memory.
In the first few years after the show’s original Kenan run in February 1990, it was exhibited at local high schools, at the Carnegie Cultural Center in North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls International Airport, the Rich Renaissance Center in Buffalo, Rockwell Hall at SUNY Buffalo State, and the mall outside the Legislative Office Building in Albany, among other places. It appeared with the traveling scale model of the Wall in Niagara County Community College in 1991, Hamilton, Ont., in 1992 and Batavia in 1996.
The photos were last shown at the Kenan’s Taylor Theater in November 1996, and three years later they were on display at a United Auto Workers 5-kilometer footrace in Lockport. Since 1999, they’ve been in storage except for a showing at the Canalside Gallery in Lockport in May 2013.
The 1990 show was the subject of a feature on the CBS “Sunday Morning” program with the late Charles Kuralt. It won a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the 1996 showing won a Theater Association of New York State Co-Op Award.
During the Kenan exhibit, a series of panel discussions is scheduled at 2 p.m. Sundays. Next week’s panel will include Army veterans. On Sept. 20, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard veterans will tell their stories.
A historical discussion led by Niagara University history professor Robert Kane is on tap for Sept. 27, and on Oct. 4, the topic will be the aftermath of the war and its impact on the veterans and on America.
A 5-K run and walk will start at the Kenan Center at 11 a.m. Oct. 4.
Moxham spent a 14-month Army tour from March 1969 to May 1970 at a base in Phuoc Binh, about 65 miles north of Saigon, where he was first a member of the ground crew for a Cobra helicopter gunship, and later a battery clerk.
Moxham graduated from Notre Dame in 1968 and was planning to enter law school. However, he was summoned to the local draft board during Easter break in his senior year.
“I went up to the third floor of the Bewley Building (in Lockport), where the draft board was located. They made it quite clear that I was going to have to put those plans on hold,” Moxham said.
Chapter 268 of Vietnam veterans would like to donate the photos to a local gallery after this show is over, Moxham said.