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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011

Berman’s ‘Purple Hearts’ exhibit shows war has human consequences

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — For most of their lives, the students at Clayton A. Bouton High School have lived in a country at war, but few have seen its consequences.

“Nobody really knows what these soldiers are going through… They see on TV, ‘Oh yeah, you know, two soldiers got wounded today,’ and they think, ‘Oh yeah, they’ll be all right.’  But that soldier’s scarred for life — physically and mentally,” said Army Specialist Robert Acosta, who lost his right hand and the use of a leg after an ambush outside of Baghdad.  “They don’t understand… They’ll forget about it as soon as they change the channel,” he said during an interview for Nina Berman’s 2004 book, featuring soldiers wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When those wars began, Berman heard reports of soldiers who had been killed or wounded, but saw no images of them, she said this week.  The New York-based photographer then began a project chronicling the injuries of soldiers who had fought in the Middle East.

An exhibit featuring her photos is on display at Voorheesville’s high school through March 18.

Berman traveled with her photos and one of the veterans to high schools on a grant in 2005 and, she said of showing her work to students, “I think that’s important because there is a lot of recruiting in high schools.”

Recruiters from various branches of the military visit Voorheesville’s high school about once a month, according to the guidance department.

“It’s not discouraged,” Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said this week of military careers for students.  It is important for people to understand the consequences of war and enter into it with “eyes wide open,” she said.  This photo exhibit illustrates those consequences.  “It’s an amazingly powerful image of commitment,” Snyder said, describing a photo of a Marine and his bride on their wedding day.

As people watch war — on the news or in movies — they don’t get a sense of its consequence, Snyder said, concluding, “It’s not something children should be shielded from.”

Bob Alft, a Vietnam-era veteran who brought the exhibit to the school, noticed the influence of movies and video games on his own children.  “The message is always the same,” he said, which is that things can be blown up and nobody gets hurt.

“The truth that comes out of these pictures is what struck me,” he said of his first impression of them, when he was setting up an exhibit at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy.

“The war doesn’t necessarily end on the battlefield,” said Berman.  “It becomes part of who the person is,” she said, referring to veterans’ healing their wounds.

“I do believe that it’s important to show that war has human consequences that are lifelong,” Berman said of the project.

“I didn’t really think about it before I signed up,” said one soldier during his interview for Berman’s book.  “When I did go to war, I was scared.”  He described the way he lost his legs this way: “Like if you were to take a hammer to a melon and just smash it open — that’s kind of the effect it had on my legs.”

Specialist Jose Martinez still values his place in the Army after he was severely burned in a land mine explosion in Karbala.  “I got addicted to it.  I’m this great Army soldier.  I’m this great patriot of the Army,” he told Berman.

“It looks cool on TV, but once you go, you see people getting hurt,” said Specialist Acosta.  “You see the people that you’re supposed to hate — like the enemy or whatever — you see them hurt, you know, it’s confusing.  It’s really confusing.”

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