Portrait of a Marine by Kim Werfel

June 30, 2016 | By | 7 Replies More

Marine by Kim Werfel-800x5792

Portrait of a Marine Pastel Painting

Artist Note: When I showed my brother this painting, I knew he would appreciate seeing a portrait of himself at his finest. Of all my portraits of him, this was the only portrait he liked, so of course I gave it to him. I painted this from a black and white photo.a buddy of his snapped when he was sitting on a cot while in training. This was the first time I painted with such a limited palette – on orange Canson pastel paper and with a restricted warm palette. I usually paint with a full palette, but felt the intensity and heat of the warm colors suited him perfectly. The orange hints at the Agent Orange they used in the war. It’s a foil to bring out his intense blue eyes, and also speaks of his daredevil fiery nature. (I do astrology charts and he is almost all fire signs…Aries and lots of Leo.)

Portrait of a Marine in Words

My brother was drafted at 18; he was randomly picked out of a crowd to be in the Marine Corps. It changed him in good ways and not so good ways, both. He was taught how to speak, read and write in Vietnamese and was also sent to engineering school. He learned to build airplane runways which the V.C would then bomb, and so it went on. Death was all around him in the DMZ. He had to bury bodies with a bulldozer.

Over the years he told me so many stories. He could, should, write a book, but it’s very hard for him to talk about. He had big time PTSD.

Terrible things happened in Viet Nam. I was only 10 years old when he went and didn’t fully understand how close I came to losing him. He was the only one left alive in one combat battle, and was wounded twice, but always sent back.

He was due a purple heart, but never pursued it. He explained that they ran out of them at the time he was in the hospital, and so many guys were wounded that they didn’t keep accurate records of it.

He earned a bronze star there and didn’t even bother getting it because he thought it was B.S. I urged him to pick it up and years later he did. In his spare time he had helped the people in a Vietnamese village irrigate their rice paddies more effectively. The village head told his superior officer. He was just helping out and not looking for a medal.

He was promoted to sergeant, but didn’t want the promotion as the enemy would pick off the officers to kill first in the field. He acted out to be demoted. He was so cynical that he painted a bull’s-eye on his back with the words “Shoot Here” on it.

It was a living hell, but he returned, albeit a different man.

My relationship with him runs very, very deep. We come from a home where my father was particularly abusive….especially to Ray, the only boy in a family with 5 children. I think my Dad’s jealousy of Ray…the only other male in the family, made him a target. Crazy, I know, but true. He’s named after my Dad and must have some crazy karmic dance going on. It was physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse. My mother finally divorced my Dad in her 70’s after 50 years of marriage.

My brother – who didn’t do well in school because he was demeaned by our father on a daily basis – was tested and found to have an I.Q. over 165. Kids picked on him too, but it was my father that really affected him. Because he was so smart, my brother was pushed ahead to the next grade twice in grammar school making him 2 years younger than everyone else in high school, a social handicap. Ray had ADD and no real ambition. He dropped out of college and was drafted into the war.

We were raised Catholic, and when I finally grasped the gravity of his situation I implored my mother, who told me (like a good Irish Catholic mom) to pray every night for him. Being a perfectionist over-achiever, I made a deal with God. I actually remember this…I was ten. God would protect him if I said 10 Hail Mary’s every night on my knees by my bedside before sleep.

The entire time my brother was in Vietnam, about two years, I kept my part of the deal without fail. It was the only way I could deal with him being in danger. I would imagine God’s hand over him in the field and white light protecting him. No lie. And there were countless times he should have been killed, but was wounded or somehow escaped alive. He was on the DMZ at the height of the war in 1968-1969. I’m not saying I had any special power, but my prayers were fierce.

I always felt a special connection to him, even though we were 8 years apart. He was my protector. My brother could be very funny, memorizing George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen records to entertain the family. Lightening quick wit. He played the drums in a band; raced cars; was an amazing photographer with his own darkroom; kept huge salt-water fish tanks; is a self-proclaimed tree-hugger and animal advocate; had his own greenhouse where he could grow anything, and he cooks better than anyone I know. But he is a very wounded spirit and has addictions to alcohol and cigarettes, and demons both from his upbringing and the war.

People thought my brother looked like a cross between a young John Voight and Steve McQueen. And he acted the part. He was chosen to lead the morning exercise drills in the Marine Corps. He was that fit. He won a “punch me in the stomach” contest in the Corps. (I know, I know.) The Marines also taught him how to kill people with hand-to-hand combat and he was afraid of his temper. On several occasions he interfered in bar fights and with armed robbers, and won- alcohol makes you stupid brave. He knows better than to do that now.


Kim Werfel is an award-winning pastel painter with a specialty in commissioned portraits of people, pets and animals. She holds her BFA from NYIT and her Masters in Art Ed from LIU, CW Post, NY. A juried Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America and The Chatham Artist’s Guild, Kim participates in the yearly Studio Tour. Born in Brooklyn, NY, she now resides in Pittsboro, NC with her husband Eric and her beloved bichon frisé Summer.

View all of Kim Werfel’s paintings and writing on When Women Waken.

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Category: Images, Prose, United States of America, War, When Women Waken Literary Journal

Comments (7)

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  1. Gloria says:

    Wow, I read and went away. I returned and read again. This has resonated deeply with me. Thank you for the love lesson regardless of the love wrenching battles.

  2. Mali Warshofsky says:

    Kim, what an amazing story. What an incredible painting. I can relate to both. My husband was also in Vietnam at that time, (Navy) and is also suffering from big time PTSD. He is also a victim of agent orange and its devastating effects. A devoted sister, your bond to him is strong, your love deep. I appreciate both. Compelling story.

    • Kim Werfel says:

      Thank you so much Mali! War has such devasting effects on the soldiers and their families for the rest of their lives. I’m glad you could relate to this. Appreciate your kind comments.

  3. Anora McGaha says:

    How rich to read Gloria and Mali’s comments!

    It was a pleasure receiving this two-fold work in photography and story. As one who appreciates your animal portraits ( and occasional nature scene ) I never expected you’d have something for the war issue. It was really rewarding hearing and reading your portrait, and seeing the beautiful pastel painting of your childhood hero.

    What a heart you have, to pray so devotedly for his safety. Wow.

    “alcohol makes you stupid brave”

    “I made a deal with God […] I was ten.”

    “my prayers were fierce”

    “he was demeaned by my father on a daily basis”

    I liked reading about the orange paper and limited palette of colors.

    There is so much intensity in this piece. Wonderful details: The rice irrigation, the acting out to get demoted, the target on his jacket with “shoot here.”

    So generous of you to share this with us. –Anora McGaha

    • Kim Werfel says:

      My deepest gratitude to you Anora for being the catalyst for this piece. In light of my brother’s latest health scare, his story comes into a sharper pespective. Thank you for taking my conversation and helping me put it into a cohesive whole. My greatest wish is for his story to touch others. And it has because of you. So grateful. xo

      • When Women Waken says:

        You’re most welcome. It’s been a real pleasure working with you, and getting to publish your work. – Anora

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