NAHANT — Fifty years after U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Hussey returned from Vietnam, he painted images of his memories of the war.
Soon his paintbrush took control and he created images of memories he had long forgotten.
The Nahant native, who didn’t draw until he was 73, was drafted after graduating college in 1968. He attended U.S. Army Ranger school, an eight-week combat leadership course, because he was told the training would be added insurance on his life. He quickly learned how difficult a feat it would be.
Still, Hussey said nothing could prepare him for what he was about to experience.
“When you’re there, your watch was too loud,” said Hussey. “Your heartbeat was too loud. You were scared from the time you got over there to the time you left.”
Upon his return, he found many people who hadn’t experienced the war couldn’t understand his stories. As a result, many of them remained untold. He understood why his friends couldn’t relate, having grown up on what felt like an isolated, protected one-square-mile town.
But when he met his wife, Judi Van Loon, that changed. The pair worked as partners on a crabbing boat for many years and Van Loon spent decades listening to any story her husband told.
About two years ago, they decided to take on a new hobby and paint buoys. This was Hussey’s first real artistic experience. Now 75, he was good with working with his hands. He learned to tie a lobster trap by the time he was 8 years old and spent many years as a fisherman.
One day Van Loon asked Hussey to draw her a picture of Vietnam, so she could better visualize the stories he had always told her.
“I’ve heard the stories so many times, but when I could look at a visual with the narrative, it all came together,” she said.
Once he started, he didn’t stop. He started painting images of his recurring dreams and soon he was looking at images he had forgotten.
Finding his artistic talent gave Hussey an outlet to express himself and explain his experiences to his loved ones.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Hussey.
This was an emotional journey for the veteran, who has been carrying the burden of his experiences on his shoulders since he returned home, he said. With encouragement from Van Loon, the couple published a book filled with the images, alongside a story describing each memory.
“We’re hoping it will be helpful to other families,” said Van Loon. “Maybe someone else can understand why their partners have emotional scars. Maybe they can open up and talk about it more. We hope that it can bring peace to someone else’s relationship.”
The book “A Draftee’s Journey from Fisherman to Combat Soldier” is available on Amazon.