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By Jan Barry
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For Sheldon Ramsdell
August 31, 1935 - March 25, 1996
Dead in San Francisco, the obits noted
he was an activist: Vietnam Veterans Against
the War, Gene McCarthy, AIDS. What friends recall
is the artist, whose best work was his life.
From blustery Maine he joined the Navy,
cruising the South China Sea on a carrier,
flying photo missions over Indochina
while kids back home necked to rock 'n' roll.
Surviving a crashing fighter that exploded
across the flight deck, he mustered out
and aimed his photographer's eye on New York,
artfully shooting celebrities.
With a Manhattan pad and a Broadway clientele,
life was lush -- except for the growing, gnawing war.
When a peace parade thronged down Fifth Avenue,
he joined a motley crew of dissident vets.
As America split, he felt this is where he fit.
He'd shot Vietnam before war flared into living rooms.
His aerial photos helped planners plot bomb targets.
He enlisted in the end-the-war campaign.
He brought his camera, his wacky sense of comic
relief, and his secret of being gay.
He kissed off Broadway, his photos in national
magazines. He'd heard another call.
Jan Barry was a founding member of VVAW and a former National Officer. He lives in New Jersey and is a poet, writer and editor. He's an Army Vietnam Veteran.
Ex-POWs and Active Duty GIs supporting VVAW, Washington, DC, 1974