A Minnesota PBS Initiative

What Am I Going To Do With All This Art? A Posthumous Letter.

Kay is one of the speakers in our Vietnam War 360 panel series.
Learn more.

Dear Galen,

What am I going to do with all this art?

Over one hundred pieces of works on paper, stacked atop tables in the family room. Each image contains a shape or shadow of your Vietnam experience. Over forty years you worked through it again and again in your art. Now I am working through it. These images retrieved by your daughters from a Northeast Minneapolis studio when you died.

They kept your Purple Heart, your Marine insignia's, photographs of you, but your art has come home to me. Legally, the art belongs to your daughters through a hand written will penned before your death in the Veteran’s Hospital. It is the only thing you had left to give them, but it is a legacy of monumental proportion, and now I have an obligation to do something with them. Why? I am your ex-wife.

We have not lived together for over twenty years. But, I always loved you dearly and respected you equally.

young soldier portrait, Galen Brown

Galen A. Brown, USMC, Vietnam, 1967

Through your art, I understood you in a way I don’t believe I ever understood you before. Marine, wounded warrior, activist, philosopher, loving father.

Our time together was not easy. You knew that. We stopped sleeping together because of your nightmares. There were times when you would sit in front of the television for days, immobile. PTSD was not even a diagnosed condition.

In the early years, a bottle of Vodka and conversation shared with your brother, another Vet, gave you a certain release. The two of you would recount your Vietnam stories, sometimes horrific, late into the night. I would listen. The images of your stories infiltrated my dreams.

Fortunately, you had another release, your art. 

View selected works from
Galen Arthur Brown, Shapes and Shadows:

Abstract artwork of stars and stripes in black and white.

Flag 2, mixed media on paper, 2005

For the ten years we were together, I saw you getting better. You took your anger, your sense of injustice, your belief in democracy and the Constitution of the United States and turned it into works of art that challenged all those who viewed it to think.

However, doing art did not support our family, so I left you.

Over the years as you continued your art, I believed it healed the wounds you carried. Galen, your daughters and I have created a retrospective of your work; “Galen Arthur Brown, Shapes and Shadows”. It will have its premier in Minnesota at the Northfield Art Gallery in Northfield, Minnesota, Sept. 28-Oct. 27, 2018.

The pieces for this show were carefully selected. I spent hours looking at them, touching them. I had conversations with you.

Through your art, I understood you in a way, I don’t believe I ever understood you before. Marine, wounded warrior, activist, philosopher, loving father. Your journey is captured in this Retrospective. Your daughters and I are proud you left us with this legacy and honored to share it with others.

During this process, I, too, have been healed.

Thank you, Galen.

Kay Adkins Brown

Galen A. Brown enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1965. He volunteered for two tours of duty in Vietnam. Serving as a sniper he was wounded in action March, 1968 and received the Purple Heart. Galen died July 30, 2013. This letter is written as a memorial to him.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: Phu Bai, Vietnam Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Memorial

Story Themes: 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, Art, Chu Lai, Correspondence, Death and Loss, Divorce, Dong Ha, Drawing, Eagan, Enlisting, Family, Forgiveness, Galen Brown, Hue, Kay Adkins Brown, Marines, Marriage, Memorial, Multiple Tours, Painting, Phu Bai, PTSD, Purple Heart, Reflection, Reunion, Sniper, Visual Art, WIA, Wounded in Action

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