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Soothing Vietnam War Trauma with Photos
American veteran desires to help other vets forget the war inside
Nguyen Ngoc Trung (ngoctrung)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-13 15:30 (KST)   
The moment Dang Thuy Tram's mother, along with her three daughters, touch the two small diaries for the first time since the war.
©2005 Ted Engelmann
Ted Engelmann, an American who joined in the Vietnam War in the 1960s, recalls a moment when he saw an old woman gasping two small diaries of her beloved daughter at Texas Tech University.

Veteran Ted Engelmann
©2005 Ted Engelmann
"I don't have any of the initial emotional moments of the mother with her diary. Too many reporters were in the way, and I felt very emotional for her. I did not feel like imposing myself on her like the rest, although I realize why they got right up in her face for those emotional shots. I just don't do that type of images too much. Especially to my own family," he said.

Engelmann's interest in the cause and effect of emotional trauma has been a direct outgrowth of his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from childhood experiences and the war in Vietnam.

As a result, Engelmann's mission in life has been dedicated to helping others (and himself) understand PTSD and the process of healing. To that end, Ted's professional career has been a series of positions supporting veterans and secondary school programs. Documentary photography has always been an evolving and supporting element in his life.

Engelmann enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in February 1966 from Albany, NY. In March, 1968, as an air force sergeant, he arrived at Bien Hoa air base, a few miles north of Saigon. He was assigned to a Forward Air Control (FAC) team directing air strikes in support of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Lai Khe, about 40 miles north of Saigon on (Thunder) Highway 13, and as a FAC support with Advisory Team #55 in the west-coastal village of Rach Gia, in the Mekong Delta.

He told OhmyNews the story in his own words:
I have an image of the backs of the family at the table with the diaries. Part of my character is, when I'm a recorder (photographer), I don't allow my emotions to get in the way of making a photograph. I'm all business. When I'm a participant (when I first saw the diaries), I usually do not make (cannot make) a photo of the event I'm involved with. My emotions are often too high to concentrate, or even think about making a photo.

Also, I make photographs that are usually not so sensational. I have a different purpose in my documentary work, which is usually not the high-impact photojournalist work. Again, I usually cannot think to make photographs when my emotions are triggered, like I experienced when Doan Ngoc Tram approached the diaries of her lost daughter. My heart was aching... as if my mother were coming for me; as it easily could have been.

Doan Ngoc Tram (left) and Dang Phuong Tram examine a photograph from the Robert Whitehurst collection in the Texas Tech University.
©2005 Ted Engelmann
I was overwhelmed by the experience and stayed in the back of the room in a respectful place. Even though I was the one who brought the initial diaries to the family in Hanoi, and since have been treated as a member of the family, I still felt the urge to leave the room and allow the mother and sisters their peace with what remains of Dang Thuy Tram's life. That's why I don't have a frontal image, only one from the back.

I've been to Vietnam 12 times since 1989. At times I've stayed up to six months. It's been something I never really understood. I simply had to return and continue to make photographs, even if I didn't get the best ones.

Traveling on a tourist visa, I did what I could to make the photographs I thought would be helpful in showing the effects of the war. My goal has been to share these images of Vietnam (1968 to 2005), South Korea, Australia, and events in the U.S., with American veterans so they would have a new visual to consider so they could move towards a better resolution in their own lives.

Since most American veterans of the war have never returned to Vietnam, I felt sharing these photographs was something I could do to bring new images to them so they could see for themselves that the war is over, and they can stop the war inside. Hopefully, some will be able to realize... they will never forget, but they can forgive... themselves at first. Healing comes differently for each individual. I try to help with my photographs and stories. I am now working on a book of my 37-year experience.

The Vietnamese people I meet while traveling have always been friendly, outgoing, and kind wherever I've gone; especially when they find out I am an American war veteran.

I have many friends throughout Vietnam. I enjoy the unique beauty of the land and water, the food, the hospitality, and mostly, the laughter of so many friends."

Related Articles
Fallen Soldiers' Diaries Stir Up Vietnam
Translation to Teach Peace Through War
Grasping a Daughter's Last Testament
Vietcong Doctor's Diary of War, Sacrifice

©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nguyen Ngoc Trung

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