By Brianna Maestas:
“I went through the whole gamut of feelings while I was in Vietnam. The overriding feeling, though was like living in an emotional vice-grip with people I love killing people I love.”– Mary Emeny
A mass email sent throughout Amarillo College Aug. 27 tells the story of an American volunteer in Vietnam during the conflict.
This volunteer’s story is captured in the photos displayed in the Southern Light Gallery on the first floor of the Ware Student Commons at the Washington Street Campus through Sept. 28.
In the summer of 1967, Mary Emeny, a volunteer for the Volunteer International Service Assignment, or VISA, spent her time immersed in the people and culture of Vietnam. During her time there, Emeny helped care for more than 400 refugees at an orphanage in Danang. Later Emeny joined the League of the Red Cross and “delivered food and milk to refugees and orphanages in the next town south (Hoi Anh) and north as far as Cam Lo a refugee camp for about 20,000 people 5 miles south of the DMZ.”
The exhibition “View from the Edge of the War Zone: Vietnam 1967-1968” pairs each photograph with excerpts from a journal Emeny kept while volunteering.
Rene West, assistant professor of photography, is responsible for bringing the exhibit to AC. “Mary teaches me Tai Chi,” West said. “A few years back she asked me to scan the photos. I spent the summer restoring the photos. I wanted her story to be told, their historic significance. She was there and the photographs were beautiful.”
Emeny said she expects people’s reaction to the photos will be different now than they were in 1967. “Vietnam is ancient history today, so there seems to be much more curiosity now. Back then, events were moving so fast that within two years my story was out of date. As a country, we have never fully dealt with our involvement in Vietnam. For a long time as a country we tried to forget it.”
Students said they find the photos intriguing. “The photos show Vietnamese culture–how life was back in Vietnam. They make me feel intrigued in learning more about the history,” Pedro Duarte, an education major, said. Another education major, Ciara Kessler, said that viewing the photos made her more interested in the history of the Vietnam War.
Emeny said she wants exhibit viewers to gain an understanding of how political decisions impact people. “I hope that whoever sees them will take away a recognition that our policies primarily affect ordinary people and that war is the main enemy – not one side or the other,” she said.
The college will hold a reception featuring a presentation by Emeny about her time in Vietnam and a discussion with Vietnam vet Larry Barnett of Fritch.
The event will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, which is also the International Day of Peace. Both the reception and discussion are free and open to the public.