About the Graffiti


The graffiti left aboard the Walker has proven to be very important in understanding the era of the 1960’s and America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. University of Virginia Institute for Public History director Phyllis K. Leffler said of the communication form:

The “...Vietnam graffiti offers an unusual window into the lives of troops in limbo between the shores of America and their landing in Vietnam. The messages and drawings of soldiers left on their cots while traveling on the troopship U.S.N.S. General Nelson M. Walker reveal the inner feelings of human beings confronting potential death, separation from loved ones, unknown and alien territory. The graffiti, which constitutes new primary artifacts, provide identity markers for the soldiers. Their personalities, relationships, regional connections, and fears come alive through their drawings. This is a meaningful way to juxtapose the public and official face of war with the personal and private one.”


Scholar and Vietnam Graffiti Project advisor Crispin Sartwell said of the Walker graffiti:

When histories of war are written, they most often focus (as of course they should) on policy decisions, political and economic conditions, and the character of leaders. In many ways the point of view of the participants—the average combatant, both prosecutors and potentially, victims of the war effort—is difficult to write. But that point of view is of great importance. An historian might primarily be concerned with wide policy decisions and their effects. An art historian might be concerned with the best or the loftiest expressions of a given era. But from the standpoint of an anthropologist or ethnographer, the specific and typical expressions of a given moment are the very best sources of information about the moment.”


Former Walker troop passengers recognize why they wrote on the bunk canvases.

7/17th Air Cavalry helicopter pilot Al Sebaka, who was transported to Vietnam aboard the Walker, recently offered his explanation:

Who could’ve known that anyone at all (besides us) would ever follow the story of this well-used troopship and the souls who rode it to war and home. Our scribbles and doodles were left certainly to mark our passing, our existence, and with the knowledge that when it turned around and headed home that even if we never made the return trip, our mark would.”

Exhibit Schedules

    Part of the Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam is currently at the New York Historical Society in Manhatten through April 22, 2018. Information about the full Vietnam exhibit is available here

    Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam will be open at the USS Kidd Memorial in Baton Rouge, LA, from October 27, 2017 through February 28, 2018.