- Associated Press - Thursday, August 28, 2014

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - John Hosier has a story to tell.

He’ll tell you that his exhibit “Through the Eyes” on the Vietnam war is a product of his working through his PTSD, what Agent Orange has done to his body, his anger, his rage.

It is on display now through Sunday in Ludington’s City Park as part of the Cost of Freedom Vietnam Traveling Wall visit of the 80-percent replica Vietnam memorial wall.

Hosier was in Vietnam in 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972 and 1973 in an Army career that eventually spanned 20 years.

But the former Army Airborne Long Range Recon team leader and combat photographer doesn’t keep his exhibit going for his own story - it’s for everyone else’s.

It’s for the guy who explains to his grandson that the Iroquois helicopter that he used to fly in Vietnam was called a Huey because it was made by Hughes Aircraft. And then another guy across the tent chimes in and asks who he used to fly with. Pretty soon they’re swapping stories, laughing and dabbing at their eyes.

Those are the moments that Hosier appreciates.

“It’s not for me, but for guys to come here and laugh a little bit and say ‘I forgot all about Chuckles,’” he told the Ludington Daily News (https://bit.ly/1wCReus ).

“Through the Eyes” is a collection of photographs, memorabilia, weapons, equipment and other objects from Vietnam. The photographs were all taken by Hosier after he lost six of the 11 men in his recon unit. He woke up on a Navy ship and said the nurse looked like an angel until she told him that he was going to live but he was not going home. But instead of sending him to a desk job in Okinawa, the Army sent him back to Vietnam. Because of his injuries, he couldn’t get combat duty. He was made into company clerk, not unlike Radar O’Reilly of MASH fame, he said.

He wanted to do his part and maybe another crack at the enemy.

“When you’re trained to be a warrior, you’re trained to fight, you’re a paratrooper, a pathfinder, you’re the best at what you do - even with my injuries I belonged back out there with the men.”

His first sergeant told him that he had a warm, dry cot, a place where he could shower and hot meals.

“He said ‘Sit out the war, you dumbass,’” Hosier said.

Hosier said he didn’t want to hear it. He kept after his sergeant and eventually, they had a heated argument about it. Afterward, his sergeant came back and asked him “Do you really want to go back to the war?” John answered that he did.

“That’s when he handed me a 35mm camera,” Hosier said. “I had never seen one in my life. He said ‘You’re going back to the field, you’re going to be a combat photographer.’”

Hosier captured hundreds of images of all kinds of units performing all kinds of duties during the war and they’re on display with captions written by Hosier.

Hosier said the photos came to be on display as he worked through his own PTSD and two kinds of cancer that the war left him.

That journey eventually took him to the University of Hawaii, where he got a doctorate in Asian studies and eventually got a grant to live with his wife, Mary, and their seven children, in Vietnam. Hosier said when he told his wife he wanted to go back, she told him that he brought PTSD home and they were all going to Vietnam to heal as a family.

Hosier said he worked on POW-MIA recovery, a peace park for the U.S. and Vietnam and also on a clinic for grandchildren of American GI s in Vietnam.

“You can’t seek forgiveness unless you’re ready to give it,” Hosier said of his journey.

But perhaps his most touching story is of meeting the man who killed half of his unit. The man saw Hosier’s unit patch and told him he knew him. Hosier asked how that could be. They talked and it turned out that they were leading the squads on the opposite sides of the battle that wiped out half of his squad.

“I met the man who led the Vietnamese scout platoon against my unit and we became dear friends,” Hosier said. “He ran the equivalent of a long-range recon platoon. We literally killed each other’s comrades.”

He said he found out the man had PTSD.

“I said, ‘How can he have PTSD, they won the war.’” But he learned his former enemy was saying “How can he have PTSD, they live in the greatest country in the world.”

Hosier said he learned the extent of his new friend’s affliction at a restaurant. Unbeknownst to Hosier, the ceiling fan had turned on. The man was sweating and almost huddling in a corner when Hosier asked him what was wrong. He pointed to the ceiling fan and said “whup, whup, whup.”

Hosier said he didn’t know the guys in the photos he took, but he’s identified about 20 of them positively since the exhibit went from a single table that visited schools in 1992 to what it is today.

Perhaps the most humorous story took place in Texas, where Hosier noticed a man looking at a photograph he had taken of three GI s watching Nancy Sinatra perform at a Bob Hope show.

The man came back later with three other men and they were looking at the photo. As it turned out, the three men in the photo were AWOL so they could see the show. When they got back to their unit their CO asked them where they had been. They told him that they had gone to the Bob Hope show. He didn’t believe them and docked them each $100 pay and put them on disciplinary detail.

Well, when one of the men in the photo saw it, he called his two war buddies and told them about it. They paid to have their commanding officer flown in then blindfolded him and took him to the photo. They took off his blindfold and demanded $300 from him.

Not all the stories are so humorous, though, but Hosier believes they need to be told. He encourages veterans to share their stories.

“We came home different,” Hosier said. “A lot of us were angry about the protests, but we kept our mouths shut. We didn’t share those moments that caused us immense pain and immense pride.”

Budde Reed, who helped bring the traveling wall to town and helped Hosier set up on Tuesday said he got a little emotional working on the exhibit.

“This whole day has been special,” Reed said. “Just to see groups of guys who don’t know each other come together and work. It’s like when we were over there. We didn’t like what the government was doing but we couldn’t do anything about it but what we could do was come together for a common cause.”

Added Hosier, “We went off to war to fight for freedom and our country and against communism, but when we got there we fought for each other.”

Hosier said his exhibit is just trying to capture some of that.

“I collected this stuff,” Hosier said. “I had no idea why, but it allowed me to say, here’s what we were about.”

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Information from: Ludington Daily News, https://www.ludingtondailynews.com

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