Under a flutter of dark bangs, the girl looks directly at the camera, her expression complex and undefinable. Behind her, a soldier clutches the glass neck of the Coca Cola she has just sold him.
What was she thinking? wondered Glenn Hoover, the photographer who took that picture in Vietnam back in 1968. He had been a first lieutenant in the Army then, sporting a new camera he picked up during his deployment, which took him near the border of Cambodia.
The image is part of “Innocent Souls: Vietnam 1968,” now on exhibit in the Gallery @ SUNY Broome throughout March. The exhibit is part of a series of events through the NEA Big Read program, which is centered around Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried, a series of vignettes based on the author’s experience in the Vietnam War.
The exhibit is both beautiful and moving, noted SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm, and drew a large crowd during its March 6 opening.
At the time he was taking the photos, Hoover didn’t particularly have a focus or message. He capture the details of everyday life, from soldiers reading letters from home to villages of the Montagnards or Degar, the indigenous people of the Vietnamese highlands who found themselves in a war zone. Dr. Clarice Yentsch, president of The Waypoint Foundation and now exhibition curator for Innocent Souls, urged Hoover to share the photo after seeing a picture of the village with its thatched huts.
Looking at the photos now, Hoover says they tell a story, one that goes beyond the 12 months he spent in Vietnam.
“The message is basically that wars are not good things. Some wars may be justified, but there are no good wars,” he reflected. “The people who decide to take us to these wars are not the people who pay the price – the soldiers, the civilians. It turns their lives upside-down.”
If you’re a Southern Tier native, Glenn’s father – Dick Hoover – will likely have a familiar name. A U.S. Marine, Dick Hoover was a legendary local educator and football coach; the Vestal High School football stadium bears his name. Football runs in the family, said Glenn Hoover, noting that his brother Jim has a stadium named after him in Walton. Glenn’s son Devin also coaches the sport.
Born while his parents were stationed at Camp LeJeune, Glenn grew up in Vestal and attended Cornell University, where he received degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Hotel Administration. He was in the ROTC in Cornell. During his service to the country, he received a Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
After his military service, he worked for years in the hotel industry and currently owns Glenn Hoover Real Estate Services in Key Largo, Florida.
Unlike many who were drafted, Glenn arrived in Vietnam in January 1968 through a series of voluntary choices, based on the belief in service to his country that his father instilled in him.
For Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti, it was humbling to consider how many of his peers – including Hoover – were headed to the battlefield. At the time, Dr. Battisti had just finished his SUNY Broome degree and was headed to Albany to continue his education. He took part in protests against the war there, he remembered.
“Glenn made it back, but so many didn’t – including many young men right here in Broome County,” Dr. Battisti said.
One of them was Jerry Zimmer, Glenn’s former Vestal High School classmate and fellow football player. Like Hoover, Zimmer was in the ROTC – at Brown University in his case – and entered the war as a f-4 Phantom pilot. He was shot down in 1969, and his body was never recovered.
As citizens, it is our responsibility to hold politicians responsible for the decisions they make – including armed conflict, Hoover said. It’s all too easy to forget that government isn’t something external and alien; it consists of all of us, and our decisions.
“The fact is a lot of people died. They were innocent,” Hoover reflected. “They really didn’t have a choice.”
About the Big Read
SUNY Broome received a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts for the Big Read, which also included a talk by Hoover, a public deliberation on the Vietnam War, a dramatic presentation of The Things They Carried and a public lecture by O’Brien slated for March 25.
SUNY Broome faculty members have also been leading book groups and discussions throughout the region for the project. Community partners for the Big Read include the Broome County Public Library and Southern Tier Actors Read (STAR), as well as two funding partners: The Broome County Executive’s Office and The Community Foundation of South Central New York.