Through The Lens: Seeing Veterans Up Close

Suzanne Opton is the author of Soldier/Many Wars.

When the war in Iraq began, I worried there would be a draft. What if my son was called? How would he ever recover from going to war?

I decided that I wanted to meet the young men and women who voluntarily sign up. I began at Fort Drum in upstate New York where I photographed soldiers between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was little conversation as I asked each soldier to adopt a vulnerable, intimate position, and lay his or her head on a table. I did not give these images captions.

Later I went to the Veterans Affairs medical clinics in Vermont to photograph veterans who were in group therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. I thought if I draped them in fabric, they could become a boy with a cape, a warrior, a martyr, a saint. Unlike the active-duty soldiers, these vets liked to talk. The more they did, the more I realized they could have been in any one of these roles.

Read An Essay From A Veteran About Returning From War

  • Marvin is a great storyteller, which is at odds with his insistence that he can't be around people. A Mohawk from Canada, he thinks the war was responsible for his over the top temper. One day when his phone kept losing service, Marvin pulled his truck to the side of the road, threw the phone to the ground and started hitting it with a hammer. But then he noticed some kids watching him like he ...
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    Marvin is a great storyteller, which is at odds with his insistence that he can't be around people. A Mohawk from Canada, he thinks the war was responsible for his over the top temper. One day when his phone kept losing service, Marvin pulled his truck to the side of the road, threw the phone to the ground and started hitting it with a hammer. But then he noticed some kids watching him like he was crazy. He thought he'd better get some help.
  • Claxton – 120 Days in Afghanistan
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    Claxton – 120 Days in Afghanistan
  • John joined the National Guard thinking he'd be helping with floods. Instead he searched for IEDs in Iraq. When his vehicle was blown up, he suffered traumatic brain injury.  Now he's a high school teacher again. One imagines that students inclined to join the military might be inspired by his bravery, or they might think twice when they see their teacher struggling to get his words out.
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    John joined the National Guard thinking he'd be helping with floods. Instead he searched for IEDs in Iraq. When his vehicle was blown up, he suffered traumatic brain injury. Now he's a high school teacher again. One imagines that students inclined to join the military might be inspired by his bravery, or they might think twice when they see their teacher struggling to get his words out.
  • Crumm –  294 Days in Afghanistan
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    Crumm – 294 Days in Afghanistan
  • Every day is a struggle for Steve.  He says the most difficult thing is walking around without a weapon. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, he just wants it so he can feel comfortable. He had a psychotic break that led to his medical retirement, but he would love to go back. Right now he lives at home where his mother takes care of his finances and his medication.
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    Every day is a struggle for Steve. He says the most difficult thing is walking around without a weapon. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, he just wants it so he can feel comfortable. He had a psychotic break that led to his medical retirement, but he would love to go back. Right now he lives at home where his mother takes care of his finances and his medication.
  • Bruno – 355 Days in Iraq
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    Bruno – 355 Days in Iraq
  • As a driver in Iraq, Chris suffered traumatic brain injury.  Now he lives in a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans. He receives disability payments from the VA and takes medications for anxiety, pain and sleeplessness. Chris is struggling to find his way back to a productive life.
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    As a driver in Iraq, Chris suffered traumatic brain injury. Now he lives in a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans. He receives disability payments from the VA and takes medications for anxiety, pain and sleeplessness. Chris is struggling to find his way back to a productive life.
  • Mickelson – Length of Service Undisclosed
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    Mickelson – Length of Service Undisclosed
  • Andrew was part of the invasion force in Iraq.  While waiting in Kuwait, his platoon slept in a warehouse filled with thousands of coffins stored for the expected U.S. dead. Andrew couldn't sleep but he said that if that were all that he experienced he'd be fine now.  He didn't want to talk about the rest of his experiences.
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    Andrew was part of the invasion force in Iraq. While waiting in Kuwait, his platoon slept in a warehouse filled with thousands of coffins stored for the expected U.S. dead. Andrew couldn't sleep but he said that if that were all that he experienced he'd be fine now. He didn't want to talk about the rest of his experiences.
  • Kitchen – 366 Days in Iraq
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    Kitchen – 366 Days in Iraq
  • Jay is 83 years old. He joined the army at 18 because, he says, it was expected in those days. Even though he was terrified at being under fire, he quickly learned "it's more dangerous to freeze in one place than to get up and fight." It wasn't until Sept. 11 that he began to understand the lingering effects of his service. As a combat veteran, Jay feels he has the experience to back up his ant...
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    Jay is 83 years old. He joined the army at 18 because, he says, it was expected in those days. Even though he was terrified at being under fire, he quickly learned "it's more dangerous to freeze in one place than to get up and fight." It wasn't until Sept. 11 that he began to understand the lingering effects of his service. As a combat veteran, Jay feels he has the experience to back up his anti-war beliefs.

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