Nashville Vet Reunited with Vietnam Graffiti

The bunk of Nashville Vietnam veteran John Sales is part of a new exhibit of drawings by Marines found on an old troop transport ship. Image courtesy Vietnam Graffiti project.

The bunk of Nashville Vietnam veteran John Sales is part of a new exhibit of drawings by Marines found on an old troop transport ship. Image courtesy Vietnam Graffiti project.

Mindless doodling by a Vietnam veteran from Nashville is now part of an exhibit touring museums around the country called the Vietnam Graffiti project.

Troops spent as much as three weeks making the 5,000-mile trek to and from the jungles of Vietnam. Marines on the General Nelson Walker transport ship were cooped up for long hours in the tightly packed bunkroom.

“So I just sat there and laid back, took a felt pen and started writing.”

John Sales – like many of his comrades – would scribble on the canvass bunk above him. Some men sketched caricatures of the Viet Cong or scantly clad women. Sales listed people and places that reminded him of home, including the call letters of his favorite radio stations.

Retired postal worker John Sales recorded his memories for the Vietnam Graffiti project at the studios of WPLN. Photo credit Blake Farmer/WPLN

Retired postal worker John Sales recorded his memories for the Vietnam Graffiti project at the studios of WPLN. Photo credit Blake Farmer/WPLN

“I remember one time we was in Okinawa, and some kind of way we picked that up – WLAC – and I had been gone away from home about 10 months. Me and a friend of mine, and we heard that, and it just brought tears to our eyes to hear something coming from home.”

Sales says he’d completely forgotten about the drawings until he was contacted by curators in recent months. Racks of the decorated canvass bunks are the centerpiece of the traveling exhibit, which includes audio from Marines like Sales explaining their 50-year-old artwork.

See photos of the Vietnam Graffiti and read how the curators helped dismantle the forgotten troopship at wpln.org.


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