Peace, Place, Family, and Identity

by Jim on 2011/01/31

As we close the month of January 2011, a month of hope and change for Jimbaux, and as demonstrations for democracy and freedom in Tunisia and Egypt take place with their hopes for change (and see what I photographed here regarding those demonstrations), I bring you something different, something that is with all Americans, something that is within me, something that raises tough questions for all of us.  This is an unusually sentimental post for Jimbaux’s Journal.  Please enjoy it.

The Fatherland

Earlier this month, we buried Nonc’s wife who died after a long bout with diabetes.  The family came together in a beautiful and loving moment, a moment of acceptance, peace, and understanding that I needed for several reasons.  On Wednesday 12 January, just 19 days ago, we laid her to rest in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Raceland, Louisiana.  Before leaving the cemetery that day, though, I snapped a photo of the tomb of one of her classmates, one who was taken far too early.

His name was Kenneth Foret.  I never knew him.  He died long before I was born, but he should not have.  He was the only Raceland casualty of the Vietnam War.

My own father, who is from Raceland and knew Foret casually, sought to avoid participation in a war that he thought was “completely wrong,” but the small-town teenage boy he was in those days knew that his options were limited.  Going to Canada was not an option, he said, especially as his father had been a war hero.  Instead, he did what many in his situation did and joined the US Navy to avoid being drafted by the Army or Marine Corps.

Some of you out there who call yourselves activists may consider my father’s actions cowardly, that he didn’t stand up for what he believed in, that he didn’t burn the draft card in defiance, but not only was it the only way he knew how to deal with the situation at the time, but he remains to this day very proud of his Navy service, and he often speaks of his experiences 40 years ago, something that helped him grow.

The Wall

Anyway, I wanted to get pictures in the same month both of Foret’s tomb in Raceland and of his name on the wall nearly a thousand miles away, and the pictures below I took yesterday, which is also why I am posting this before the end of January.

First, I found where Foret’s name was in the directory, something I’ve done previously here.

Raceland is a small town, and people along Bayou Lafourche know each other.  One of Foret’s brothers married one of my father’s cousins.

Nonc Clyde

As I’ve mentioned, the photo above of Foret’s tomb in Raceland was made just after we laid Nonc’s wife to rest.  She was the wife of my father’s older brother.  While my father was successful in his attempts of avoid going to Vietnam and “coming back in a body bag,” Nonc was drafted by the Army and went there.

See Foret’s name at the very bottom right of the above picture.

“Though Kenneth was killed in Vietnam one-and-half year before I was drafted, the significance of his death brought to bear the very real dangers all of us who were of draft age felt then,” Nonc said.  “There was an unspoken but very real sense of anxiety among all of us in the 18-25 age group.  The fact that any of us still at home could be the next KIA from the sleepy town of Raceland – none of us wanted that to be our claim to fame,” he told me yesterday.

You can see that there is somewhat of a self-portrait in the picture below, adding to the senses of place, memory, and identity explored in this post.

Looking at the wall lets the names meet your eyes, but you see yourself too.  It’s a part of all of us, and the memories of that time and the lessons learned have still not prevented our government from sending our youth into ill-advised conflicts.  Most unfortunately, we saw this all too well almost eight years ago.

Nonc spoke of a trip that he and his wife took to the Wall and of Foret’s name several years ago.

“We had the opportunity to visit the Wall in DC several years ago.  She made a rubbing of his name, like most friends and family members of KIA’s do,” he said of his recently-deceased wife, a classmate of Foret.  They were part of the last graduating class of Raceland High School before Central Lafourche High School, where Jimbaux himself worked for three years, was opened.

Kenneth Foret’s story and the story of his role in his hometown of Raceland is not unique.  The saga expressed here is one felt through thousands of small towns across America.

Gratitude

In spite of some of the questionable things and even the downright wrong things that our leaders have recently done, and in spite of all of the reasons I too easily find to complain and whine about things and to succumb to pessimism, I’m fairly well convinced that there has never been a better time or a better place to be a living human being.  I want you to remember that too!  This recent death, as sad as it was, truly brought out the best  in my family, and my father and uncle, two very different but still very similar people, are bonding in the wake of the latter’s loss.  Despite all of my troubles, we all know that we are blessed with a wonderful family.

As I’ve written before, Jimbaux’s Journal was not conceived as an illustrated gratitude journal, but that’s what it’s becoming.  This post is a little bit more sentimental and more personal than the normal postings, and if you’re uncomfortable with that or if you come here for train pictures and photography lessons (but, in a way, this was a photography lesson in the metaphysical sense), we’ll resume our regularly-scheduled foamy stupidity next time.  Until then, remember to be grateful for what you have; if you are able to read this, you are fortunate.

All for now . . .

Jimbaux

{ 13 comments }

1 jenni January 31, 2011 at 12:33

Great one….not easy to do, but you did it!

2 John Robichaux January 31, 2011 at 14:34

The Vietnam Memorial is the most difficult one for me to stand before. As your photographs prove so well, Maya Lin intentionally designed it for the black granite to reflect your image with the frosty names overlaying your body. By changing your focus back and forth from the names to yourself, you now bear witness to the cost of the war to both yourself and others. There are a couple of powerful metaphors before you if you allow yourself to get them. Though I wore the uniform with pride, I find this war memorial too painful to ever visit again. John Robichaux. Jimbaux’s proud father.

3 Charmaine Brown January 31, 2011 at 16:20

Beautifully done James-I enjoy reading your journal. I hope you enjoy your time in our nations’ capitol. Stay safe and keep us cajuns informed of your travels.

4 Courtney Hubbell January 31, 2011 at 17:23

I was 2 years old when my dad was drafted and sent to Vietnam, so I have no memory of that time of him being away. I have always been grateful that his name is not on that wall. After visiting the memorial, I realized how very fortunate I was. Well done James.

5 Patricia Champagne January 31, 2011 at 17:58

Beautifully written and beautifully photographed, James. It was a very moving and thought-provoking passage.

6 judyb January 31, 2011 at 20:31

Beautiful. As usual. As a person “of age” during Vietnam I feel for all of thier veterans. It was a bad time in American history and the Viet Vets were never treated with the respect they deserved. Thank you.

7 Aunt Sue January 31, 2011 at 21:37

Because you describe that you did not have inner peaceI believe inner peace is coming your way. Death in a family brings about many reflections that come our way. When I lost my father I felt peace for him as well as for myself. God keeps us on this earth to do his work. I surely hope I have plenty more work to do!!

Sounds like the move is doing you so good. Your thoughts and words are very moving. But just remember, as Troy always says, “Everybody loves Aunt Sue”

Aunt Sue

8 Howard Bunte January 31, 2011 at 23:21

Hey James,
another great piece of camera work and wordsmithing. Your reflections in the Wall, which would also show a Willie Earl Bunte, of Austin, TX…USMC… dying in 1966 as a private… always reminds me of ‘turning points’… Mine, when about to go into USAF officer candidate school, high scores on the USOQT, into fighters (probably F-4s by the time I got thru flight school and advanced training… yeah, I’d probably have wound up in Hanoi Hilton with John McCain…
instead, literally a few hours before ‘activating my application’…got the call to go to work teaching junior high school kids… did that the next 34 years…HOLDING onto my 1-A draft card… until I hit 26, and then went to 3A… Nope, didn’t volunteer, but if called, Like Elvis, I’d have gone… different times…
Brother just died… yes, that feeling of ‘things have changed’ in the familial air… i’m the last one standing of my generation…
Thank you for this opportunity to say this…
HNB
ps. and thanks to your dad… i know what he means…about not going there, to the Wall, anymore…

9 Patrick D. Champagne February 1, 2011 at 12:49

Hi, James:

As a mediocre History Buff, (Civil War, or War of the Rebellion, as the Yanks preferred calling it, & World Wars 1 & 2) I’ve avoided studying about the Korea and Vietnam Wars simply because of the constant media coverage, hippy generation antics notwithstanding, and the country’s lack of empathy/respect for the loyal members of the armed services who either enlisted voluntarily, or were drafted. Like your own perceptions, victory is hardly EVER achieved when fighting political wars, as is evidenced by the tenuous cease fire in the Korean War, and the effects of dealing with Communist North Korea to achieve that cease fire.

The decision to take on Communist North Vietnam was the result of a total miscalculation of our Country’s WILLINGNESS to see this war through to Victory. In the end, through lack of support of Congress to continue to fund the war, it too ended in total chaos. In both of these countries, the consequences of our actions will continue to be felt for generations to come.

As General Eisenhower once cautioned, we have failed to rein in the Military-Industrial Complex!!

You are submitting splendid coverages on different subjects. Keep it up. I especially like the Railroad series!!

10 Danielle February 1, 2011 at 13:21

WoW! You never cease to amaze me.

11 Peter February 2, 2011 at 15:30

Nice job James, clearly written from the heart. Very touching.

12 Jerry February 2, 2011 at 19:26

The wall was one of the emotional experiences I have ever had and is a MUST visit if you are from that era. The whole time there I thought of how my life may have been had I gone to Vietnam verses serving in the navy. If you do not cry while there then you have no heart. I find your images void of all the memories people usually leave there such as pics, flowers, beer cans, etc. While there I have a veteran who was missing his legs and with his jacket adorned with all his patches trying to take a picture of the names of his buddy and could not because of his crutches. He asked me to take a picture of him pointing to a name, I did. Then we both cried and as I write this I tear up just remembering that moment which I will never forget. So many lives lost from my generation. Yes, I will visit it again just to keep their names alive in my memory. All war memorials should be like this one.

13 Melanie February 3, 2011 at 20:52

My favorite blog so far..well done!

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: