INDIO – When war-weary soldiers returned home from World War II, the Korean War, even the Iraq War, they were often greeted with, “Welcome home, soldier,” and a firm handshake for their service before self.
The long-awaited handshake was never extended to the veterans returning from the divisive Vietnam War.
William “Bill” Schinsky, executive director of the Coachella Valley Art Center in Indio, has charted a course to help rectify the situation — at least symbolically.
“Welcome Home Once Withheld, Vietnam Veterans” is an opportunity for one veteran from each of Riverside County’s 30 cities to be represented and relate their coming home experiences. Using the concept of the handshake as “Welcome Home,” each veteran will be represented by having his or her hand cast in glass.
The project is estimated to cost $100,000.
Schinsky, 71, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1968-69, will serve as project director. He arrived just in time for the Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War,
While the hand mold is drying, veterans will be videotaped recounting their coming home experience.
“We’ll have some happy stories, we’ll have some terrible stories, and we’ll have some actually-nothing-really-much-happened stories, which is fine,” Schinsky told Uken Report. “I run an art center. I am an artist. This project started as an ‘art project,’ but it quickly became a project about humanity, about people, about place, about history, and about our past. I’m combining all those things into one project.”
“Welcome Home Once Withheld, Vietnam Veterans” is a complex, multi-tiered project. It addresses history, individual memories and possible individual trauma. This project will educate. More importantly this project makes available the opportunity for the “average” woman and “average” man who served in Vietnam their moment to share intimate, personal thoughts and finally feel they have been welcome home, Schinsky said.
He is striving for Vietnam veterans who have not had an opportunity to tell their stories.
A trained professional therapist will be on hand during filming. Videographers from Indio High School’s IMPACT Digital program, supervised by a professional digital/video artist will become immersed with veterans and the history being told. Cathedral City High Schools DATA media program will also be invited to participate.
“Each student’s life will be impacted,” Schinsky said. “The quality of individual lives will be improved through association with — and learning from — 30 individual Vietnam veterans.
Having a trained therapist at hand is essential, he said. Because telling stories, especially stories that involve being in a conflict, a military conflict, can bring up memories you never thought would come back.
“I don’t want people to walk away traumatized and unfortunately with the Vietnam veterans, and I’m one of them, we’re getting older,” Schinsky said.
In telling part of his own story, Schinsky said he arrived in Hue and it was on fire.
“It was like being on a movie set. It was surreal,” Schinsky said. “I can still see it, but I see it in gray because that’s the color that remains in my head of what it looked like. We were supposed to be stationed down south, but they changed our orders half way over to Vietnam and I ended up on top of a hill on the DMZ for 14 months.”
Hue has been described as one the fiercest battles of the Vietnam war, both in terms of its human cost as well as the amount of physical destruction it generated, according to Erik Villard of the US Army Centre of Military History, who specializes in the Vietnam war.
According to Villard, 216 US servicemen and 421 South Vietnamese troops were killed in the action, and some 1,600 US soldiers and 2,100 South Vietnamese wounded. North Vietnamese losses were estimated at 2,500 to 5,000.
This is the type of experience Schinsky is hoping other Vietnam veterans throughout Riverside County will share. He is currently seeking names and contact information of veterans willing to tell their stories. To tell your story, contact the Coachella Valley Art Center at (760) 799-4364 or contact Schinsky at email@example.com.
The idea was born out of a suggestion Democratic Congressman Raul Ruiz made.
“The Congressman is a veterans-concentrated man. He has done a lot for vets and continues to do so. And his staff, those folks, are just remarkable,” Schinsky said. “The Congressman mentioned that he’d like to do a “Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans” event. They’ve done a couple, I think in Banning or Beaumont, or somewhere.”
Schinsky said the more about it he feared a one-time event would be meaningless. People would attend, enjoy their time, leave, and forget about it.
“This is too important. The time period was too important. What happened to our country was too important,” Schinsky said. “So, I want this to be an ongoing event that when you participate in it, if indeed you do participate literally, or as a viewer, that you don’t forget it. That’s the power of art. I love to challenge people. I love to knock ‘em upside the head and say, pay attention, learn something new. That’s what it’s all about.”
When complete, this project will premiere at Coachella Valley Art Center. Designed for travelling, the project will be offered to cities within Riverside County as well as locations beyond country borders. Viewers of “Welcome Home Once Withheld” will gain insights and benefits from the power of each hand and from the personal statements of each participating veteran, Schinsky said. The communities represented by the veterans will experience improvement in understanding. Any community hosting the project will be urged to host workshops and events designed to allow their hometown Vietnam veteran to speak and feel a sense of actually being welcomed home.
The Coachella Valley Art Center, (CVAC), is soliciting for financial support so that 30 GIs who served in Vietnam will metaphorically represent all Vietnam Veterans in a creative and different kind of Welcome Home. All donations may be sent to Coachella Valley Art Center, Attention: Welcome Home Once Withheld, 45140 Towne St., Indio, Calif., 92201.
Coachella Valley Art Center is a community based art center providing studio space to 12 working artists, workshop and classroom facilities to outside groups and periodic exhibitions that are timely and pertinent. Initiated in 2015, CVAC has hosted annual exhibitions focusing on individual veteran artists and/or groups of military veterans.
“Welcome Home Once Withheld, Vietnam Veterans” will continue the Art Center’s programmatic tradition of recognizing those who have served in unique, creative and thoughtful ways.