On Friday, May 24, the Mountain Gateway & Heritage Center in Old Fort unveiled its newest exhibit, A Thousand Words: Photographs by Vietnam Veterans.

The exhibition of 30 color and black-and-white images—taken by North Carolina soldiers and assembled by Winston-Salem photographer Martin Tucker— focuses on the human elements of war, offering visitors the chance to see how the troops themselves chose to remember their time in Southeast Asia.

“Vietnam was a complex conflict, ushering in a new type of warfare:  a war without borders,” said Charlie Knight, military curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. “When Martin Tucker originally collected these images and the stories that go with them, he provided a glimpse into a very turbulent time period in U.S. history. The images in A Thousand Words convey what everyday life was like for those in uniform in Vietnam, and we hope that visitors will gain a greater understanding of this war 50 years ago.”

The Vietnam War took place literally half a world away from the United States. Life for the soldiers was an unknown to most Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. Many only knew the war from images on TV—some of which were quite graphic.

But what did the war look like to the troops on the ground?

Some recorded the horrors of war. Others focused less on the war and more on the experience—their friendships, the Vietnamese people, the countryside, the longing for home.

According to Tucker, “The photographs paint as broad a picture as possible... of what 18- to 20-year-old young men experienced in their year away from home (in addition to combat)—and how they chose to document it. They’re showing what they couldn’t say.”

Each photograph in A Thousand Words is accompanied by a veteran’s commentary on what the image means to him. The exhibit also includes a Missing Man vignette, reminding visitors of those who did not return home.

The traveling exhibition, on loan from the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, will run through Jan. 5, 2020, at Mountain Gateway Museum, 24 Water Street in Old Fort.

The museum is open year-round, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday, and from 2 - 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free.

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