Stephen H. Warner, 1946-1971;
Words and Pictures from the Vietnam War
On the occasion of the 25th reunion of the class of 1968, the Gettysburg College Art Gallery presented "Stephen H. Warner, 1946-1971; Words and Pictures from the Vietnam War." After favorable reviews in regional and national press, the exhibit was awarded a six-month run at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History.
The photographs and text displayed here were part of the written and visual documents that along with a sum of money were bequeathed to Gettysburg College by Stephen H. Warner upon his death in Vietnam in 1971. Maintained in the Special Collections of Musselman Library, these materials are used by faculty and students for research and special projects.
Stephen Warner attended Gettysburg College from 1964-1968, a relatively quiet period in the college's history. According to a sampling of the Gettysburgian from the 1964-1965 academic year, the student newspaper did occasionally mention United States involvement in southeast Asia. However, there were no indications of widespread student concern about this matter at that time.
As a major in History, Steve Warner came to focus his interests on civil rights and social justice. His academic advisor, Roger Stemen, emeritus professor of History, described Warner as having been "radically intellectual, a non-collegiate type interested in the arts, history, and economics."
Stephen Warner was perceived by those who knew him to be open-minded and considerate of others, but intense about those social and ethical matters that concerned him most. He was on the staff of the Gettysburgian and eventually became a Feature Editor. He was instrumental in establishing new campus organizations, including a human relations forum and the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Vietnam War. During his senior year he was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. He also was accepted to the Yale University Law School.
Steve was drafted in June 1969, upon the completion of his first year at Yale. After finishing his army training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he was ordered to a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. Assigned to the public relations staff of Army Headquarters-Vietnam, his duties entailed writing feature stories about individual soldiers for distribution to the soldier's hometown newspaper. In addition, Steve wrote articles for military newspapers, including Stars and Stripes. Always aware of what was expected of him--to put the best spin possible on stories about the Army for dissemination to the U.S. public--he nevertheless made every effort to report things as he saw them. In doing his job, there was no requirement that he accompany troops into combat.
After settling into his new job as a journalist, Steve's letters to his parents began to evidence a growing frustration over the Army's management of the news. The command to "paint out beads" at the bottom of one of the photographs on exhibit is representative of such management by the headquarters' reviewers (i.e., censors). The wearing of such bodily adornments, popularly known as Love Beads ("Make love, not war!") were not only in violation of military dress regulations, they were emotionally charged symbols of the antiwar protests being led by college students back home.
Some time shortly after his arrival in Vietnam, Steve discovered the work of Ernie Pyle, the great WWII foreign correspondent. "What sold me on Ernie Pyle," he writes to his parents, "was a book by him . . . it said 'He hates war but loves the men who have to fight them.' That about sums me up too!"
Among the most touching aspects of the last year of Steve's life was the deep concern he showed for his parents. His letters to them constantly offered reassurances of his safety and well-being. "Don't worry about me," he advised them in his last letter, "I'm having a ball and believe it or not the stuff I'm involved in isn't really that dangerous."
Stephen Warner was killed in an ambush near the Laotian border on February 14, 1971.
The photographs which comprise the exhibition were selected for the way they collectively image the feelings and insights Steve writes about in his letters and notebooks. The text in the exhibit is arranged chronologically from 1970 until his death. Although text and picture relate directly to one another in some instances, for the most part the photographs should be viewed as relevant but coincidental.
With the exception of one, all the photographs were taken by Steve Warner with a 35-mm camera. His notes were made in 6 by 9-inch spiral-bound notebooks.
The objective in selecting and arranging the materials that make up this exhibition has not simply been to describe Stephen Warner's experiences in Vietnam, but rather to let his words and pictures speak to the meaning of these experiences for our generation and others.