Connected \\ May 23, 2018

Thank a Veteran

After three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Army Brig. General Jack Hammond made a startling observation: He had lost more soldiers to suicide than in combat. “The need for support is profound,” said Hammond. “War isn’t pretty. It’s not romantic. The physical, emotional and sometimes moral trauma can affect people deeply.”

Following a distinguished 30-year military career, Hammond retired and committed himself to healing the invisible wounds of war. Today he serves as executive director of Home Base, a Program of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation. The Boston-based nonprofit provides veterans with world-class clinical care, wellness, education and art therapy for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other issues associated with service. They also offer counseling services to family members.

© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM

Inspired by artist and Vietnam War veteran T.C. Cannon and themes explored in the exhibition T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America, PEM recently partnered with Home Base to provide support to soldiers, veterans and their families. Cannon enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966 and served as a paratrooper in the elite 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. While Cannon earned two Bronze Star medals for his service in the Tet Offensive, he returned home, like many, conflicted about the experience.


© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM

On Saturday, April 21, close to 60 military family members came to the museum as part of the Home Base Adventure Series. The program offers free activities throughout New England to veterans and their families to strengthen bonds before, during and after military deployments. Outings have included skating on Boston Common’s Frog Pond, duck boat tours and ski trips.

“It’s a way to demonstrate that they live in a community that cares about them and will wrap their arms around them,” said Hammond. Here at PEM, the families enjoyed a breakfast, took part in three art-making activities led by Home Base art therapist Stefanie Ryan, and enjoyed tours of the Cannon exhibition. One participant had the following to say in an email sent to Home Base after the event:

This was our first time attending an Adventure Series event and we couldn't have had a better time. Everyone was so welcoming and my family thoroughly enjoyed the day. This was the first time my 10-year-old son went to an art museum and he was truly blow away by this experience. He doesn't normally like arts/crafts, but he spent hours doing the crafts with Stef and it was the highlight of his day. The range of activities was excellent and I loved that we could do them all as a family together. Thank you for the opportunity to experience this as a family.


© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM

Along with hosting the Adventure Series, PEM has collected close to 1,000 postcards to send to veterans in treatment at Home’s Base two-week intensive clinical program and to patients at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The postcards featured either a colorful Cannon painting, or a blank space for people to draw on. PEM staff and volunteers oversaw a “Thank a Veteran” pop-up writing station in the Atrium during exhibition opening events, school vacation weeks and the Mass Poetry Festival.

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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

The greetings reflect a variety of ages – from beautiful cursive penmanship, to bubble letters to the tell-tale oversized letters of a child just learning to write. There are drawings of big hearts, American flags and soldiers. Many expressions of gratitude came from people with their own personal connections to the military.

Here’s a look at a few of them:

As the daughter of a WWII POW (Germany), I thank you from the bottom of my humble heart for your service. You are not alone. You are in the hearts of many.
I know the sacrifices you all make for our country as I am the sister-in-law of a disabled vet. My thoughts are with all of you.
As the son of a WWII, D-Day veteran, I understand your sacrifice, bravery and commitments. Thank you so much.
I am honored to thank you for your service. May T.C. Cannon brighten our day like he does mine.

Hannah Swartz, PEM Exhibitions Project Manager, said she was repeatedly moved by the comments of visitors who stopped by to fill out a postcard. “It’s very clear how meaningful this project is to people, especially those who have veterans in their own lives,” says Swartz. “There is real power behind the words ‘thank you.’”

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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

Before coming to PEM to work as the Creative Services Director, Derek O’Brien (pictured right) served in the Army National Guard in Fallujah, Iraq, under General Hammond (pictured left). Today he volunteers for Home Base.

“One of the hardest parts of my deployment was coming home,” said O”Brien. “This program is allowing families to heal while surrounded by people who understand their stories. PEM’s mission is to create experiences through art that transform people’s lives. I can’t think of a more tangible way to do that than by welcoming veterans and their families to the museum.”

TC Cannon: At the Edge of America closes June 10 and opens at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 14 before moving to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, NY in March 2019.

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