Veterans Day Salute: Healing with Grace

"In war there are no unwounded soldiers." − Jose Narosky


Originally, “Veteran Grace” was for children − an armed service girl in cute fatigue pants with pink embellishments. But it transformed because of a story told to me by a Viet Nam veteran who counsels other vets.

As I sat at this pastor’s table for dinner, he recounted a story of one of his comrades. This particular combat veteran had severe post-traumatic stress and sought spiritual guidance from a clergyman. The clergyman told him that he was forsaken and would go to hell for killing people in the war. Needless to say, this already depressed veteran was devastated and felt hopeless. When he recounted the comment to the supporting pastor, the pastor replied: “No, that’s not true. Jesus knows the heart of a soldier.”

That story never left my mind. During the year, I found myself meeting new people who were either Viet Nam veterans, wives of, adult children of, or were somehow assisting vets. I became enthusiastic about helping this group of individuals myself. So I decided to make a FootsieStool in honor of Veteran’s Day. What happened next was startling.

I wanted to do something different with the base of the stool. Instead of painting it one color, I mottled it to look like camouflage. It was pointed out to me by my friend that I had created a desert camouflage look instead of a jungle look. “But, it’s brilliant,” he said, “because at the same time you are honoring Viet Nam vets, you are including vets from the desert wars, too.” I was thrilled with his interpretation and gladly accepted the critique of brilliant. I decided to keep the decoration sparse, introducing one color only – red to represent blood and conflict.

Slowly, the stool took on a religious quality as I felt led to paint a white cross in the middle. A meditation card with the saying, “Grace will set you free,” further inspired me. Recalling the words, “Jesus knows the heart of a soldier,” I abstractly painted a figure of Jesus Christ on the cross. I have no talent for painting detailed images, so I just played with the brush. The head was a light green, faceless blotch. I asked my friend what he thought of the figure, particularly the head.

“Well, I can see what you’re doing with the cross, but it doesn’t look like a head.” I took the brush and began enlarging the head by making circles with the brush.

Still dissatisfied, I asked him what he thought of it without a face.” He said, “It’s okay, you can see the head now,” and he went back to the vinyl recordings he was playing on a used turntable.” Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass softly filled the basement air.

“But it needs a face,” I mumbled. I looked down at the brush in my hand; I knew I had no talent for this. I looked at the floor in frustration. Several seconds later, I looked back at the blotch of a head on the cross. At first, I thought I was imagining things. I widened my eyes and looked closer. A face had emerged where only there had been a light green blotch. And not just any face but an opened mouth face calling out in anguish.

“Get over here!” I cried to my friend. “Look, there’s a face! Do you see it!” He came over and looked. “Yes,” he said, peering closely.

“I didn’t do that in the last 30 seconds!” I told him.

He was silent for a moment; then he made a ‘woo-woo’ joke about religious stigmata.

“Don’t mock God unless you want your underwear to catch on fire! Get the camera; get the camera!” I ordered with a smile.

And, so it went . . . and an agnostic is my witness. This FootsieStool is for veterans from the Christ, giving grace and forgiveness to all, including combat veterans.

Valerie Gibbons