The Times They Are A-Changin’

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A few months after arriving in Vietnam in 1969

The Times They Are a-Changin’ is a song written by Bob Dylan and released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. Dylan wrote the song to create an anthem of change for the fluid times. The ‘60s!  What a significant decade of change for our country. What dramatic unforeseen life changes ahead for me.

In 1960 while living during turbulent times in racially embattled East Los Angeles, California, the White Fence, one of the most violent gangs at the time recruited me. It wasn’t that I had options about being in the gang. Nevertheless, life then was more about daily surviving all the other combined gangs. When the White Fence recruited me I knew their violent reputation even intimidated the other gangs so I embraced the process.  I spent many months learning their criminal activities while initiated into the gang. I carried a Zip Gun that fired a .22-caliber bullet, and I had a large switchblade knife. I remained in the gang for two years losing my innocence once again until my single parent family moved out of the area. If I remained in the gang I can only imagine how my life would have changed.

I was first drawn into politics when John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. Like so many other people, I was drawn to his charismatic speeches and inspirational approaches to life.  Always curious, I wrote President Kennedy a lengthy letter requesting information about our military forces. I received a prompt letter from Robert McNamara, his Secretary of Defense, who said he was forwarding me boxes of military information, and photographs per the President’s orders. That was an understatement! Years later I donated all of this military material to a local library which filled up several large sections. On November 22, 1963, I had once again ditched high school, and I was back home alone watching television, when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Like many Americans, it is a day I will always remember. I knew that this represented a major change in the country. On many levels, I experienced numerous changes.

I remember as a teenager in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, how quickly the local grocery store was empty of groceries and supplies. Most people kept their television tuned to the news which provided an hour by hour update of the impending war with the Soviets. There was fear in the air wherever you went. Daily, we all wondered how imminent the world was to a nuclear war. Any sudden flash of reflection in the sky bought our breathing to a momentary halt and our heart beating so hard we couldn’t hear ourselves think.  Our teachers conducted air raid drills where they would suddenly yell, “Drop!” We were expected to kneel under our desks with our hands clutched around our heads and necks. I didn’t believe that the “Duck and cover” method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion was going to make a difference. It didn’t help that I had black and blue bruises on my knees and forehead hitting the desk from the constant drills. I simply remained seated or standing much to the consternation of the teachers.  I took the time to think about how serious this all was and even without a nuclear war, how the world already changed and that it would never be the same. And, the world never was the same.

The counterculture of the ‘60s was an unsurprisingly powerful expression of a desire for cultural change. I felt this intimately, and I responded with deep philosophical thinking. In some ways, I was counter to some elements of the counterculture. Turn on, tune in, and drop out was the theme that inspired many and nearly everyone I knew. I did chew on an unlighted corn cob pipe briefly as a Freshman in high school. Nonetheless, unlike most of my peers, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, marijuana, got drunk or tried any drugs. I did grow my hair long and I still do. Recently I was photographing wildlife at the Colorado River and a Park Ranger briefly glanced at me and said, What can I do for you, ma’am? I scratched my two week’s growth of beard and replied politely, It’s sir, not ma’am. He was embarrassed and apologized. Relatively new to Colorado, I guess men with long hair is a bit uncommon. During the ’60s, I dressed in comfortable Hippy clothes which I continue to do. I’ve photographed at the iconic center of the Flower Power movement at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. My current Flower Power consists of a house full of plants while dancing to songs from the ’60s as I nurture the receptive plants with water.

My first car while in high school was a used 1957 Triumph TR10 4-door sedan. I remember my girlfriend’s parents purchased a new Ford Mustang 2-door convertible for her at the cost of around $2,615.00 in 1964 which was considered expensive at the time.  I can tell you, given the current monthly payments on my one-year-old Toyota Camry, things have changed.

I recall that in 1965 as a high school Junior, I doubled-dated and we watched the amazing performance of the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl amphitheatre near Los Angeles. What an unbelievable experience that was! For me, no concert since has come close to the excitement created by the Beatles. Music was changing in many ways and me along with it moving to the momentum and rhythm.

During high school, among the television shows I watched included Perry Mason, Route 66, Ironside, The Benny Hill Show, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Twilight Zone.  In 1967 I purchased the first edition of the influential Rolling Stone magazine for 25¢. A rolling stone gathers no moss and neither did I that year.

I graduated from high school in California as the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper and a varsity track and cross-country runner. I entered my Freshman year in college as the Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper. I had so much to look forward to after graduation as a Journalism major! About two years later in 1968, prior to graduation, I was drafted. It was four months after the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. No doubt they needed more men on the ground. I held no illusions. I knew that I’d go to Vietnam. I felt that with my gang experience and street smarts I’d be better prepared to embrace a tour of duty in Vietnam, so I never thought about avoiding the draft and having someone else go in my place.  The Tet campaign consisted of multiple simultaneous surprise attacks by some 85,000 troops on 100 major cities and towns in South Vietnam.  This year, 2018, marks the 50th Tet Offensive anniversary. How fast time seems to accelerate. The decision to fight wars never seems to change.

In the summer of 1969, more than 400,000 people tripped out to the Woodstock music festival in upstate New York for peace-and-love. It was the largest outdoor rock concert ever performed. As a Hippy I would have made my way there. I belonged in that atmosphere! I’d have loved to hear Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane among others while embracing like-minded people. However,  I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas going through the U.S. Army Combat Medic and Medical Laboratory training at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston. I didn’t have time for the self-indulgence of what I was missing. I needed to concentrate on the medical training since lives would depend on it in Vietnam. Rolling Stone listed Woodstock as one of the 50 moments that changed the history of Rock and Roll. Although I’m certain that being at Woodstock would have changed the course of my life,  I wonder if it would have been as fulfilling given the changes I have experienced.

In future posts, I’ll share my experiences of my 14-month U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam (as requested by my daughter Kelly) including one of the most significant experiences I had when I volunteered for a combat medic mission in the jungle several hours from our base. I know that with the Vietnam War protests this was a turbulent time of change for people back home. I turned 21 while in Vietnam. My experiences during the war remain the most challenging, intense, powerful, and meaningful time of change in my life.

Music through the Armed Forces Radio Network was our savior. There are several songs I heard in Vietnam that still impact my soul like shrapnel through my heart when I hear them again, and I’m sure other Vietnam Veterans feel the same. The one that was very popular during the middle of my tour is, We Gotta Got out of This Place written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals. This song hits me the deepest with the truth that while in Vietnam I wasn’t certain that I would get out of that place. I saw many soldiers who never did leave alive. Perhaps, no one felt confident that they would survive the war.  Music gave us the respite from our thoughts and fears. I can’t listen to We Gotta Got out of This Place without reliving some of the more intense experiences in Vietnam and feel the emotions rising. It takes me right back there as if it was yesterday. Click on the link below to hear We Gotta Got out of This Place.

Another song that affected us in Vietnam is, Leaving on a Jet Plane. Written by John Denver in 1966, and picked up by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1967 for their Album 1700 and released as a single in 1969 – their only No. 1 hit. I thought about leaving on that Freedom Bird and returning home nearly every day of my tour in Vietnam. When that day arrived, and the plane gently lifted off the runway filled with military personnel, there was absolute silence. When the aircraft flew beyond Vietnam airspace everyone spontaneously erupted in thunderous cheers! We smiled at each other in celebration. We survived the war.  We were finally heading home.  And then, 10,000 miles of reflective silence. There was a lot to think about.  I thought about how much I had changed.  Again, I lost my innocence. I knew that I was was not the same young man who had arrived in-country 14-months previously. I was older and tougher and younger and more vulnerable. Little did I know how much I changed and that learning this wasn’t the easiest part of returning home. Click on the link below to hear Leaving on a Jet Plane.

When I returned home from Vietnam, it was a culture shock. There were diverse changes in fashions, music, automobiles, attitudes, morality, education, politics, and behavior to mention a few. And of course, the harsh reception from the public towards Vietnam Veterans. It took nearly twenty years before I heard someone say, Welcome Home. Even now when someone reaches out to say thank you for your service, I hesitate before responding to the unfamiliar kindness. Perhaps, other Vietnam Veterans feel the same way. A song that reaches me deeply in a compassionate way is, Where to Have All the Flowers Gone. This song is by the Kingston Trio. I can’t help but think of all the young men and women who never made it home, or returned with horrendous wounds and losses of limbs, not to mention PTSD. I don’t believe any of us fully returned home. I think that each of us left parts of us there during the Vietnam War. Where Have All the Flowers Gone resonates the most in my post-Vietnam years and brings out my strongest philosophical thoughts. I wonder with my heart in my throat and incredulity in my mind, when Will they ever learn? Click on the link below to hear Where Have All the Flowers Gone.

I lived through more than my share of life experiences during the whirlwind decade of the ’60s. And not surprisingly, I remain as always, an unrepentant Hippie following my philosophical and spiritual paths. And still, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

 

 

Framed Photograph Sold

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Hippie 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Today after visiting a gallery in Cedaredge, Colorado, I found out that this photograph on a traditional canvas wrapped around a wooden frame was sold for over $300.

I photographed this man in June 2008 at the intersection of Haight-Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. I was struck by his sense of inner peace. I remain an unapologetic hippie, and can so relate to him. On that day,  I was photographing humanitarian scenes around San Francisco. I have deep feelings about the people in these scenes and I use my photography to bring compassionate conscientious awareness.

The image is one of my favorites.

The owners have requested that I replace the same print as soon as possible but with a process that I now use with dyes that are infused directly into a specially coated ready to hang aluminum sheet to create a print with incredible luminescence, detail, and durability. The brilliant high-gloss surface shows every detail. Most of my remaining photographs in the gallery are printed with this method.

Yes, it is true that I an not just a wildlife photographer.

Welcome Home

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Bewilderment detachment; solemnly praying,
Ceremonial Presidential Wreath’s a-laying.
Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown,
Honoring the loss of Americans we bemoan.

Taps painfully playing; hearing a solitary bugle,
Accompanying the rat ta tat tat; the drum so regal.
Cascading tears bathing my flushed cheek,
The longer I stand, the more I’m growing weak.

Jo, a Vietnam Memorial Wall volunteer,
Recognizing the familiar gleam of fear,
Offering help up that emotional climb,
“Some vets don’t make it their first time.”

Pausing beside a letter, set against cool black marble,
Words piercing my heart like pieces of shrapnel.
A dispatch from Jo, to her husband, Bill,
The message passionate: my body expels a chill.

Reflections casting shadows over Bill’s name,
On the polished granite self-proclaimed.
We are weighing the wounds of war,
Comforting each other, and too many before.

Jo, Whispering, “Welcome home,” without pretense.
Feelings welling inside me with a vengeance.
Moving, moving without belonging: needing to roam,
Two decades passing; maybe now coming home.

Fourteen months of duty, then 20 years shutdown,
Jo hugging tightly: our tears kissing the ground.
Tracing names for many a veteran friend,
Too few years left; too much to mend.

A silver POW/MIA bracelet placed on my wrist,
“I’ve never taken this off,” exclaims Jo in earnest.
Col. Robert L. Standerwick Sr., the bracelet proclaims,
On the Wall a diamond, the uncertainty of his remains.

Pacing a moonlit path, painfully alone,
Endless names bathed in light: etched forever in stone.
Haunting Vietnam memories revived,
Endless names survive.

Emerging from a deathlike dream,
Eerie consciousness in an audible stream.
An unforgettable song latched in time and space,
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

Feeling drawn to a crying woman looking askew,
Tearing a piece of my last dry tissue.
Sharing a tender offering,
Each new song reviving memories of warring.

This woman expressing calm enlightenment,
Hugging me with abandonment.
Tears mingling in loving suction,
A reprieve of war’s self-destruction.

A hand from behind grabs my shoulder,
I know the reach; it’s from a former soldier.
Reminding me when life was bloody.
He calls out, “Welcome home, buddy.”

An unplanned march to the Laotian Embassy,
Protesting the POW/MIA conspiracy.
Needing to go not sure how or why
Must go for those names that will not die.

Faces painted symbolically white,
Carrying burning candles of spiritual light.
Singing fervent songs and chanting,
Embassy personnel: concealed–not recanting.

Waiting to hear from Lynn, a hush in the air,
Protesters listening with rapt attention.
Sharing of her father’s loss in Laos while flying,
Shear strength keeps her from crying.

Speech over, Lynn now sitting silently,
Near the steps of the Laotian Embassy.
Pushing past the Washington police,
I’m sitting beside her now, near release.

Illuminating the bracelet drawn by the dim light of her candle,
Staring into the eyes of each other, more than either can handle.
Name on the Bracelet…that of her father,
An hour and then- embracing each other.

Back at the Wall of war; seeking a touch of peace.
Nearly one a.m.; will this dream ever cease?
Time; that unforgiving nemesis,
Oh God! Release the genesis.

Three A.M. and God-forsaken,
Writing a grieving letter–twenty years and still so shaken.
Pinning it on the Wall with a twig, wet and broken,
The message is profound, the gesture…. a token.

A poem I wrote on the plane home about 6 am of some of my experiences visiting the Vietnam Wall the first time in Washington on Veteran’s Day 1979, after 20 years serving a 14-month Vietnam U.S. Army tour of duty.  As powerful as this portion is, I will present a more extended narrative of the incredible total pilgrimage to the Vietnam Wall in another post. The image is of me, and Jo as I was getting something from my backpack to leave at the Wall, photographed unknown to us by one of her friends. She mailed the photograph to me about a month later.

© 1989 Stephen Bruno

“Grande Dame of Costuming”

Kay Hirsch, courtesy of Prescott Center for the Arts

In March 1991 I interviewed Kay Hirsch, the costume mistress for the Prescott Fine Arts Association (now PCA). This was intended to be a theater piece for the Arizona Literary Review, published in Prescott, Arizona. It turned out to be much more. She was such a fascinating woman that I wanted to share this interview.

I met her at the Prescott Fine Arts Association in Prescott, Arizona. At the time of the interview, I wore faded jeans and a t-shirt with a creative design and had long hair.  (I still dress the same and still wear long hair). She was an eloquent lady and very proper in her greeting. Carefully, yet politely, looking me over she asked if it would be wise to confirm the interview with my boss at the magazine. When I told her that I was the Publisher and Editor she graciously motioned me to sit next to her at a dressing table without a pause.

I began the interview with her in the fitting room near a large walk-in closet full of many styles of shoes. Behind Hirsch, was a large clothes rack, full of period collarless shirts and suits ready to be fitted for a forthcoming play, which added a touch of theater. Her mood was alternately upbeat and serious as she reflected on the public and private events of her past 50 years.

“I grew up in a theater-going family in London. At that time, we had the very young, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Ralph Richardson. These actors are now all ‘Sir,’ but not at that time. All these people were all in their 20s and 30s, and it was a wonderful time to attend the theater. There was a program in which Alec Guinness played a sword-bearer. Margot Fonteyn-the famous ballerina), the same age as I am, was just coming along. That’s why I became interested in the theater.”

“I could sew well, so this was my entrance to the theater. I had no desire to be on the stage, but I wanted to work in theater. I fit into the seamstress role.”

She attended the Croydon School of Fine Arts and in 1938 became a member of the costume staff at the Westminster Theatre, London which was roughly equivalent to Off-Broadway in America.

“We did several plays a season. A year and a half later, World War II began and the theaters closed down for a while in London.”

Not only did she perfect her profession through experience and hard work, but she seems to have inherited a good dose of talent from her grandfather who was a very exclusive lady’s dressmaker in London.

“He made dresses for ladies to be presented in court back in the late 1800s. I sometimes think that my grandfather would be tickled that his daughter’s child is often making replicas of dresses he made many many years ago.”

When the theaters reopened, she was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) of the Royal Air Force. While most other women requested duty near home, she asked for a transfer to Ireland. She wanted to experience something new and different. She was assigned as a weather observer to the British weather office at a weather station at Nutt’s Corner, Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast. This was the first landing for the B-17 Flying Fortresses, after crossing the Atlantic. The aircraft were then dispersed to different units. This was one of the very few, if not the only airfield that was half British and half American. Hirsch was assigned as a weather observer to the British Weather Office.

“My future husband was sent to the American Weather Office and that’s how we met in August of 1943. With our mutual interest in theater, we spent our free time with the stage and concert party on the base. I was doing the costumes and he was acting or directing skits. That’s how we really got to know each other.”

The two young lovers entertained the American and British troops at Nutts Corner, took bicycle rides on their time off, and talked about the theater.

She applied to the WAAF request for volunteers for the Air Transport Auxiliary, never expecting to be accepted by the RAF for the WAAF. Then, in 1944, the RAF recruited Kay and 1,000 other women for single-engine flight training. Kay was one of only 16 who qualified. She was selected and passed the course.

“For the last two years of the war, I was flying aircraft that had one engine from one field to another, or from the operational fields back to the factory. I ferried Spitfires, Hellcats, Hurricanes, Tiger Moths, Swordfish and Barracudas on visual flying with no radios.”

From 1944 to the end of the war, Kay was Third Officer Ferry Pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary. There were only about 162 women ferrying aircraft in non-operational flying.

“She and Zach married on June 5, 1945, in Croydon, England.”

At the time of their marriage, Hirsch was a ferry pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Zach was in the weather service branch of the U.S. Army Air Corps, which became the United States Air Force.

In 1946, she joined her husband in America. Eighteen years later, they moved to Minnesota where she worked for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which Sir Tyrone Guthrie had founded. She remained on the staff until 1972. She also worked as a senior costumer for the Minnesota ballet, Minnesota Opera, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and Chanhassen Johnson Theatre.

“The Guthrie Theater was and still is famous for good quality costuming.”

After the war, Kay resumed her costume design career, and Zach joined the professional service of the Boy Scouts of America and became a national leader.

When the family transferred to New Jersey, she became a member of the costume staff for the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ for five years.

Then she moved to Dallas, Texas in 1979. There she sewed for Six Flags Over Texas, was senior sewer for the Dallas ballet, Dallas Opera, Shakespeare in the Park and the drama department at SMU.

“It was fun working all those different places.”

When he retired in 1984, she and Zach traveled to Phoenix to look at homes but fell in love with Prescott.

“We heard about the Prescott Fine Arts Association and quickly got involved with the PFAA.

“When we arrived in Prescott in 1986, we recognized a need to do costuming. I had never done community theater before.”

Hirsch found or sewed costumes for the performers. She mended and cleaned costumes during the run of the show. She was also the dresser, assisting performers with costume changes.

She designed and made costumes for over 110 main stage and Family Theatre Prescott Fine Arts Association productions in her 26 years as a volunteer resident costumer. One of her favorite shows as a costumer was Kiss Me Kate.

“A lot of people tend to think costuming is just throwing fabric together. It’s exactly the reverse because in community theater you’ve got clothes you perform in night after night. The wear and tear on them are much more than on a normal piece of clothing.”

The theater provided the Hirsch family the opportunity to make new friends, including young people.

“The high school kids coming through – meeting them and getting to know them, keeps us in touch with young people. Where else can you have a group of people from six years old to sixty plus, and everything in between? Where else, but in the theater?”

Hirsch was convinced that many people would enjoy the plays if they would only attend them.

“My husband and I are extremely impressed with the quality of the performances here. They are more professional than your average amateur production; the scenery and lighting are extremely well done.”

Kay Hirsch, the “grande dame of Prescott costuming” passed away on Sunday, October 17, 2010, at the age of 90 after an accidental fall and an ensuing infection.

My Artistic Renaissance

For more than five decades, my photography included wildlife, birds, nature, black & white film, humanitarian, travel, macro, documentary, fine art, headshot, and photographic artistry. I continue to teach aspiring wildlife and bird photographers on how to respect and photograph without intrusion. I embrace the essence of each wildlife in my images!. People tell me that I photograph with an artist’s eye. I believe that it comes from my naturalist’s heart.

I have decided to begin this birthday year also supporting my artistic renaissance. This includes experimenting with different new and used cameras, lenses, subjects, settings, filters, lighting, and other photographic procedures. I’m planning more astrophotography, abstract, surreal, black and white, and creative techniques.

Here are a few early samples of my photographic artistry from my original images taken over the years. There are powerful stories behind each of these images.

Brown Bear © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon © Stephen Bruno

Carousel Horse © 2019 Stephen Bruno, San Francisco, California © Stephen Bruno

Pyramid Lake © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Paiute Tribe Reservation, Sutcliffe, NV © Stephen Bruno

Classic Aircraft © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Reno, Nevada © Stephen Bruno

Classic Car © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Reno, Nevada © Stephen Bruno

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