Nevada Daily Mail
Helen White of Nevada grew up in Rich Hill, and those rural Missouri roots were likely the reason White chose nursing as a career which led her to the Fort Scott Mercy School of Nursing and into the U.S. Army student nursing program.
Two years later, she was in Vietnam, where she served as a nurse at the 67th EVAC Hospital in Qui Nhon from 1969 to 1970.
"I don't regret being there," said White. "There's a lot I wish I could have done. I got off the plane, did what I could. I got back on the plane and came home. Some people didn't."
White never saw combat, but as a nurse she came as close to it as a person can without being under fire. Thirty years later, still grappling with mental images she couldn't shake, she took up painting as a therapeutic relief.
Her paintings are raw and in many ways seem to lack the craftsman's touch in every way, but they capture a look, a sense, with which other veterans often identify.
One such painting, titled "Sharon Lane," is one of 15 of White's pieces on display at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago; and it has been selected to be part of a traveling exhibit called "War Paint," which opened at the Museum of Political History in St. Petersburg, Russia, Dec. 1.
Sharon Lane was a fellow Vietnam nurse who was killed a short time after White arrived "in country," White said. Lane was working when there was an explosion nearby and was killed by the debris from the explosion.
"Some people," White says, "are disturbed by my paintings. Others think they aren't even art."
But they have found an audience, especially with veterans.
"They're like cave paintings," said White, "something that says I was there."
White hopes that viewing the paintings, created as a outlet for her in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, might serve as an outlet for veterans; or that some might even begin to use art as an outlet of their own.
Her artist's statement is simple: "My work reflects human resilience and the will to survive."
One painting, titled the 'Thousand Yard Stare,' which is part of a permanent exhibit at the NVAM, is of a man's face. It's a picture of an officer White saw while serving in Qui Nhon. She doesn't remember his name, the details of his face or much else except the stare; the stare of a soul who survived a firefight that killed almost everyone else. His eyes are almost cartoon-like; huge and uneven. His lips are barely defined. His expression is blank. There's a void in his eyes that reflects what only those who were there can see.
According to a press release by the NVAM, the "War Paint" exhibit contains works by such luminous Vietnam-era artists as Joe Fornelli, Mike Helbing, Michael Kelley, Richard J. Olsen, Charlie Shobe and Richard Yohnka and post-9/11 artists including Ash Kyrie and Aaron Hughes. The exhibition features 40 paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Iconic works in the exhibit include Charles Salerno's "Honoring and Remembering," Marcus Eriksen's "Angel in the Desert," and Helen White's "Sharon Lane."