Literary work by Teresa Breeden and other Nevada writers accompany photographs of the nearly 7,000 U.S military Iraq and Afghanistan war dead since Sept. 11, 2001, part of the nationally touring arts and humanities exhibition “Always Lost: A Meditation on War.”
“Always Lost” returns to the Nevada Legislative Building atrium in Carson City on Monday, April 6, through April 22, on an Official Nevada Sesquicentennial Tour sponsored by the Nevada Department of Veterans Services (NDVS). An opening ceremony on April 6 from 10-10:30 a.m. features speakers, Presentation of the Colors, and the Sounding of Taps. The opening and exhibition are free and open to the public.
“These soldiers were all children once…they stood in that first pair of shoes, released supports, leaned into the wind of unknowing, wobbled that first step toward war,” Breeden wrote in her piece “Listen”.
Breeden, a Carson City poet, penned those lines in 2009 at Western Nevada College in a creative writing class that focused on the nature of war. The course was inspired by Sociology Professor Don Carlson who made an observation in 2008 after viewing The New York Times’ Roster of the Dead: “Four thousand faces of American military who had perished in Iraq stared at me, and I realized that this war has been perhaps one of the most impersonal wars the U.S. has ever fought.”
He and English Professor Marilee Swirczek envisioned a project that would personalize the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even if only for a class of 40 students. “One percent of our population composes our armed forces,” Swirczek said. “This was an important topic for the rest of us — the 99 percent — to think about.”
The exhibition also includes Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraq War combat photographs courtesy of The Dallas Morning News and a study of Spc. Noah Pierce, who took his own life after two tours in Iraq.
Swirczek and her students never envisioned their class project would be called “a national treasure.” After its installation at WNC in 2009, requests for “Always Lost” came from across the country. The Nevada Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts, and local donations funded the creation of a travelling exhibition in 2010. The Carson Nugget/Community First initiative funded a second copy, which also went on the road.
Project Manager Amy Roby, a student in the original class, says, “It humbles me that this project created at our small college here in Nevada has become a sacred space for people all over the nation to contemplate the costs of war.” The national exhibition is booked into 2016. “By then,” Roby adds, “‘Always Lost’ will have brought its message of awareness and unity to 50 U.S. venues.”
In 2014, NDVS Director Kat Miller conceived of a unique use for “Always Lost:” to raise public awareness among Nevadans regarding the personal and collective costs of war in order to highlight the challenges of reintegration for returning service members.
“I saw Always Lost’ as a way to serve veterans by promoting a statewide conversation about veterans’ issues important to Nevada and our nation,” Miller said, “and to inspire a sense of collective responsibility and respect that drives workforce, educational, and wellness opportunities for veterans in Nevada.”
Through April 2016, NDVS is underwriting shipping and exhibition material costs for travel to Nevada venues. To date, “Always Lost” has traveled to Ely, Reno, Las Vegas, Minden, and Elko and is scheduled for Carson City, Hawthorne, Tonopah, Pahrump, Fallon, and Beatty. Some openings are still available on the Nevada tour schedule.
“Thanks to NDVS, Nevadans have the opportunity to experience what Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell calls our community’s gift to the nation,” adds Roby.
A guest book that travels with “Always Lost: A Meditation on War” records viewers’ experiences of the powerful exhibition. One entry reads: “You could not possibly leave this exhibition the same person you were when you walked in.”
For more information, go to www.wnc.edu/always_lost/ or call (775) 445-4243.