As part of the Bordentown Historical Society’s current, ongoing exhibit, “Bordentown Goes to War,” the display received a recent addition this month when city resident, Bryan Grigsby, offered to share photos he took during his tenure as an U.S. Army photographer in the Vietnam War.
Grigsby’s works at the exhibit will begin tomorrow, Dec. 15. The “Bordentown Goes to War” exhibit, which focuses on Bordentown’s involvement in all of America’s conflicts from the 1700s to present day, opened in October.
The exhibit features a variety of items such as documents, artifacts, weaponry, and personal writings from significant figures or organizations with ties to the community whom were involved in the war efforts throughout the nation’s history.
In November, Grigsby approached the historical society and informed the officials that he had photos to share from his photography experience in Vietnam. The historical society then decided to set up a display for his work to include in the exhibit.
Grigsby’s photos, which capture multiple scenes throughout the war such as a Viet Cong soldier looking up at his South Vietnamese captors during combat operations from the communist offensive against the city of Saigon or a Vietnamese refugee woman at Eglin Air Force Base Florida in 1975, offer a unique, intimate perspective on the controversial war for Bordentown residents.
One of Grigsby’s most prominent photos on display is a burning Shell gas station that caught fire from street fighting outside Tan Son Nhut Airbase in May 1968 with the “S” burned away. For Grigsby, the photo symbolizes “war is hell.”
Prior to his enlistment in 1966, Grigsby said he had no prior interest in photography, but in wanting to avoid direct combat action, found himself participating in several weeks of basic camera operating lessons from what he described as a “crusty, impatient old sergeant.”
Once trained and equipped with his camera, Grigsby began photographing for the U.S. Army in South Vietnam in 1968 and again in 1969, capturing scenes of training, combat and people throughout the war effort, which garnered him a Silver Star medal for valor in action while photographing direct combat.
Through his display, Grigsby intended to share a visual story and his experience through photographs, which exposes the reality of war as well as its mental and physical tolls on a human being.
Grigsby introduces his photos at the exhibit in a forward titled, “Seeing the Elephant,” which is an expression that American veterans have used for several hundred years to aptly name the experience of war.
“War has been described as eons of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” his forward reads. “In some small way these photographs are my attempt to share with you a small part of that experience.”
With Grigsby’s photographs mounted on a separate, standing structure in the middle of room, he discussed the significance of what it meant to him to see his work included among the many other items on display at the exhibit.
“I’m very proud of it. I’ve never been not proud of my service and what I did back then,” Grigsby said. “It’s great if people can come here and learn something from it or if some vets come in and would be interested.”
Wanting to leave a lasting impression on the people who view his work, Grigsby said his photographs could present another side to the war that contrasts what’s already been presented to society through popular culture.
“This exhibit is just ‘here it is.’ You take away from it whatever you can take,” Grigsby said. “If it’s some woman’s husband who was killed in the war or a veteran who had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a parent and child of a veteran to look at this and say, ‘Yeah, that’s the way it was.’”
Grigsby’s photographs will be on display at the historical society building on 302 Farnsworth Ave. on both Dec. 15 and Dec. 29 from noon to 4 p.m.