MISSOULA – It’s a war continuing to echo through the decades. A conflict with tragedy and pain, but no clear resolution.
Yet, half of a century later, there’s hope the experiences of a teenager could open the doors of healing for veterans still coping with Vietnam, and the wars since then.
“No Enemy Movement Observed: The Vietnam War Through the Eyes of a Frenchtown Marine” is a surprisingly individual, and moving, exhibit opening in the Fort’s Heath Gallery.
Unlike broader tellings of the conflict in Southeast Asia, this exhibit allows you to follow then 18-year old Leon Howard from the time he was drafted, leaving high school friends behind and entering the Marines at Camp Pendleton.
“In bringing all of this back from Vietnam was to possibly, later on, show it. And I had no idea that there would come a time that I would be able to,” Howard said. “And I’m very glad and fortunate and happy the time has presented itself and here it is.”
Howard had never taken pictures before — and he hasn’t since. But his photos and other mementos make a powerful and intimate connection, with the land and the people, the enemy and the friends left behind. Names that Leon can’t always remember, faces he’ll never forget.
“I still have a lot of memories. I have a lot of bad ones. But, I’m just happy that I made it home so that I could have a wonderful wife and have children and grandchildren,” Howard told MTN News. “So there must have been a reason for me to come home.”
To be balanced, the exhibit also illustrates the opposition to the war as well as the conflict that awaited the veterans back home after terrible months of combat.
“Us veterans when we come back home we need to be taken care of especially,” Howard said. “Unless you’ve actually been in a combat zone and know what it’s like to hear your kids crying and calling out for their mother. Which you would not think would happen but it did.”
And for Leon, there’s a hope that his memories will help other soldiers, young and old, and a path to heal.
“I’m just hoping that by this display that it will help some of us military personnel just get over a little bit of it. I’ve suffered for over 50-years before I realized that I had a problem.,” Howard stated. “It’s just something that I’ve had to work with and I will for the rest.”
The Grand Opening for “No Enemy Movement Observed: The Vietnam War Through the Eyes of a Frenchtown Marine” was held on Saturday at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News