About The Vietnam Graffiti Project
The Vietnam Graffiti Project of the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University is a cooperative project between the Vietnam Archive, the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration, and others. Created early in 2005, the project began with the intention of collecting canvas bunk bottoms from various troop transport ships used during the Vietnam War. These transports, currently part of the US National Defense Reserve Fleet and docked in various parts of the country, were all originally commissioned during World War II, and saw service through Korea and into Vietnam, generally being phased out during the late 60's and early 70's.
Journeys between the United States and Southeast Asia generally took between two to three weeks, and were periods of intense boredom for the troops onboard. The young soldiers passed the time in a variety of ways, including playing cards, writing letters home, and expressing their opinions and feelings on the canvas bunk bottom of the bunk directly above them. This "graffiti" could be anything from a simple "I Was Here" to elaborate artwork, and everything in between. These canvases provide a unique perspective on the thoughts and feelings, and the creativity, of the soldiers who served in Southeast Asia.
In spring 2005, Vietnam Archive staff and other volunteers traveled to two ships, the USNS General John Pope and the USNS General Edwin D. Patrick (see ships histories), docked in Suisun Bay, CA, as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. Almost 400 bunk bottoms were removed over a period of 5 days and returned to the Vietnam Archive for processing, cataloging, and preservation. All canvas bunk bottoms have been inventoried and photographed for access and viewing via the Internet.
The goal of the Vietnam Graffiti Project is to make these canvas bunk bottoms available for loan to other museums or organizations that have an interest in displaying them (see Vietnam Graffiti Project Loans Page for more information). Additionally, the Vietnam Archive hopes to create a traveling exhibit of the canvases and other materials from the ships. All canvases can be searched for and viewed in the Virtual Vietnam Archive or through the canvas bunk bottom search page created for this project.
In addition to the canvas bunk bottoms, a wide variety of other items from the Vietnam War era were found on the ships, including artifacts relating to ships operations, ship documents, and a few personal items left behind. Many of these items can be found in the Virtual Vietnam Archive in the USNS General John Pope and USNS General Edwin D. Patrick Collections. See the Graffiti Project Links Page to access these individual pages.
MARAD has given permission to the Vietnam Archive to search for and travel to other Vietnam War era ships that are currently part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, and to remove items for addition to the Vietnam Archive collections. MARAD was able to transfer ownership of the items removed from the ships to the Vietnam Archive due to Texas Tech being a state institution, allowing us to provide access to the items through our various resources. As we travel to more ships, items from them will become available through the Virtual Vietnam Archive and will also be available on-site in our facility in Lubbock, TX. We will also add links to the items to the Graffiti Project links page.
The Vietnam Archive would like to thank a number of people for their assistance with this project: Peter Wagner of MARAD, for giving us access to the ships and helping with the transfer of the materials; All of the great employees at Suisun Bay, including Earl Johnson and our guide, Ryan; Art and Lee Beltrone who first developed the Graffiti Project concept and removed canvases from the USNS General Walker in James River, Virginia; and Craig "Spotty" Spots, a Vietnam veteran and former employee at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. His knowledge of the ships, as well as his connections with the fleet employees, was invaluable and this project would not have been nearly as successful without him.