Technology Assisting Physically Impaired Veterans

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Have you ever taken a photograph and the camera flash turned the person’s eyes into red or white dots? That bane of amateur photographers is becoming a useful tool for physically impaired veterans.

Rick Archer, an assisted technology therapist at the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center, has  a typical laptop computer in front of him. Attached to it is a black device, the size of a toothbrush case, called Eyegaze.

“You’re getting infrared  light coming out and it’s turning the pupil white because that’s what it reads. And once I get myself in place, it says go ahead and type,” Archer said. “You really don’t have to be able to move anything other than your eyes to run it.”

That’s because your reflective pupil acts like a mouse cursor or fingers on a keyboard. A camera captures the reflection and turns it into computer commands.

“I can do Facebook, email, Skype, calendars, music. Anything I want to do with the computer, I can basically do just by looking at it,” Archer said.

He estimates the Eyegaze device costs about $1,900. Paired with a laptop the total cost is about $3,000 to help a physically limited veteran regain quality of life, he said.

The Eyegaze is just one of several devices being used in the Haley VA Assistive Technology department. In the last six months, 134 veterans have been helped by the high-tech devices supplied by the VA when they’re deemed medically needed.

Electrical impulses are all that’s needed to operate another computer-controlled device, said Ursula Draper, an occupational therapist on the Haley VA assisted technology team.

“What I’m demonstrating here is an EMG controlled computer which means the electrical impulses from your nerves. So, on my hand I have an electrode. This is all wireless,” Draper said.

Motion is not needed to operate the computer, making the device ideal for patients who have ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, she said.

“All we need is a little muscle twitch for them to be able to communicate. And they can do anything on this computer that anyone can do they can get to the mail. They can go to the internet,” Draper said. “So, this gives them a way they can reach out to others.”

And there’s technology for veterans who are less impaired, but may have memory trouble, such as a smart-pen and digital notebook that writes, records and backs up notes at the same time.

“It is going to record as you’re writing your notes. So whatever you’re writing, it’s recording at the same time,” speech pathologist Tilena Caudill said.

http://youtu.be/WzTCEpgmTGQ

And if you have a lot of notes, you can use the smart-pen to point to a specific place in your notes on an iPad, and it will replay the recording without having to fast-forward or rewind, she said.

While a lot of this technology is available to the general public, it’s an important symbol to injured veterans and service members, said Steven Scott, director of the new $52-million Tampa VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

“This is sort of a promise that we’ve given those who have served our country. If you ever get injured, you’re going to be able to come to a place that America offers or the VA and we’re going to give you the best  rehabilitation care you can ever get,” Scott said.

 

New VA Polytrauma Center Holds an Open House

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

It’s not your father’s VA anymore as evidenced by just one look inside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital at 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.

There’s a putting green, a two-story climbing wall, and an aquatic center for recreational therapy. Each of the 56 new private rooms has large windows for natural light, lush wood paneling, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, a desk and a large-screen TV so veterans and active duty personnel have direct access to education programs and entertainment.

“It doesn’t seem so sterile. I can see green grass. I can see Busch Gardens from here,” David VanMeter, an associate director at Haley who is in charge of facilities, said as he gazed out a second-story window. “There are different things to look at instead of just four cold walls.”

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is scheduled Saturday, April 12, 2014, at 1 p.m. followed by an open house.

Bringing the outside indoors is the theme of the new Polytrauma Center. The home-like environment is filled with technology and conveniences to make life easier for patients like a track system in the ceiling so immobile patients can be moved easily from their bed to the bathroom.

And private rooms are carved into neighborhoods with military inspired names such as Duty, Patriot and Valor. The idea is to create a healing environment where patients and their families feel at home.

So beyond the individual rooms along an angled extra-wide corridor, there are day rooms where families can socialize.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children's play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children’s play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

There’s a two-story atrium called “Main Street” that is lined with freeze-dried, 20-foot palm trees. The concept is bringing the outdoors inside.

Main Street is filled with natural light. It’s a place where veterans can relax at the internet café or take a turn at the two-story climbing wall.

“You have to think of the veterans on active duty we’re seeing. One day they are in the field. They are serving in combat. They are active. They are young. They have expectations a different generation of veterans may not have had,” VanMeter said. “And now, we’re trying to tool what we provide here to them.”

The hallways are angled so the design doesn't feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

The hallways are angled so the design doesn’t feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

Interior glass walls continue the open feeling allowing a view inside the rehabilitation center and the kitchen of the transitional apartment. And it’s overlooked by a balcony. The third floor is where the general rehabilitation and chronic pain patients call home.

One of the hidden gems on the second floor is an outdoor deck. It’s surrounded on all four sides by buildings. But there is direct access to open sky above complimented by wood planking below and planters filled with greenery to frame the space.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

The aquatic center is a prime example of bringing the outside indoors. The main therapy pool is enclosed on one side with glass doors that can be opened up to the recreational courtyard.

The smaller pool is like a high-tech treadmill that can be raised and lowered for easier patient access.

The recreational space outdoors has a multi-surface area where wheelchair patients can practice traversing stone, brick and gravel surfaces. There’s a putting green, basketball court and a horseshoe pit plus plenty of benches – some of them shaded – for those who want to feel the breeze and sun on their face.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

You can listen to an audio tour of the new James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

 

VA Patient Records at Center of Tug-of-War in Florida

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

State health care regulators showed up unannounced for a third time at a federal Veterans Administration Hospital in Florida and asked to view patient records.

That visit to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa Wednesday appears to be part of a tug-of-war between Gov. Rick Scott and federal VA hospitals.

The governor ordered state inspectors to review VA hospital records and conditions after a national VA investigation indicated that delayed treatment may have led to the deaths of three patients and injury of several others in the VA network that includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

None of those deaths occurred at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg or James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

And state health regulators were advised that federal law prohibits sharing VA patient records when they showed up at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital last week.

Yet, inspectors from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed up at Bay Pines Tuesday and at Haley Wednesday according a Haley VA public information officer.

“They asked to inspect our records and we’re working with them taking their concerns,” Karen Collins, James A. Haley PIO, said. “Basically, (the) VA is dealing with it on a regional and national level and to work with the governor’s office.”

Collins said the VA has responded and offered to meet with the governor and state regulators.

However, ACHA did not acknowledge the VA’s invitation. Instead, the agency sent out a press release within hours detailing how two surveyors arrived at Haley Veterans Hospital at 9:41 am and left at 10:02 am “after being declined the opportunity to review any processes.”

Later in the day, the governor’s press office sent out a release:

Governor Scott said, “For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital. I will continue to call for the VA to allow state surveyors to review their processes until the unanswered questions are addressed. I expected the VA to be open to an independent analysis, but they remain close-minded to my calls for accountability and transparency.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers. My office stands ready to dialogue with the VA about their lack of transparency, and with every VA hospital that turns away state inspectors, my concerns are more heightened, not diminished.”

In Washington, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on the “Continued Assessment of Delays VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.”

The prepared statement for John D. Daigh, Jr., M.D. from the Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, is available here.

8 Benefits for Veterans and Military in ‘Florida GI Bill’

Governor Rick Scott signs the 'Florida GI Bill' with Senate President Don Gaetz, Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, Rep. Doc Renuart, Rep. Jimmie Smith and Rep. Jimmy Patronis at the Panama City ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Governor Rick Scott signs the ‘Florida GI Bill’ with Senate President Don Gaetz, Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, Rep. Doc Renuart, Rep. Jimmie Smith and Rep. Jimmy Patronis at the Panama City ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the stroke of a pen Monday, Gov. Rick Scott positioned Florida to attract more veterans – beyond the estimated 1.5 million already living here – to attend college, to work and to retire in the state.

The “Florida GI Bill,” crafted to resemble the post-WWII benefits, includes measures for veterans, active-duty families and military installations.

A key provision is in-state tuition waivers for student veterans attending public colleges and universities. Student veterans lobbied for several years before lawmakers granted them the lower tuition rate now granted to vets no matter when they moved to Florida . It will cost universities and colleges an estimated $12 million.

Ray Mollison, president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association (SVA), said it was a team effort finally getting tuition waivers passed.

“People in the SVA, all of them together, really collaborated together to try to push this in-state tuition,” Mollison said Monday. “What this definitely emphasizes is, is that we definitely in the state of Florida facilitate veterans’ needs.”

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Mollison believes the tuition benefit may attract more veterans to Florida for an education and job possibilities.

“It’s something that I’m looking forward to seeing in the fall semester, when it gets kicked off, because I think we’re going to see a new veteran population start flowing in,” Mollison said. “Because they realize Tampa has a great environment, a great area for employment opportunities.”

That’s what lawmakers hope as well. So the new law includes other “military friendly provisions”:

  1. $1.5 million in scholarships for Florida National Guard members
  2. $12.5 million to renovate and upgrade National Guard facilities
  3. $7.5 million to buy land surrounding MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, and Naval Support Activity in Panama City.
  4. It waives state professional licensing fees for veterans up to five years after discharge.
  5. It grants a waiver to active-duty military family members, spouses and dependents, so they don’t have to obtain a Florida drivers license to get a job or attend public schools in the state.
  6. It establishes Florida Is For Veterans, a new nonprofit corporation, to promote the hiring of veterans and to get veterans to move to the state.
  7. It also requires the state’s tourism arm, Visit Florida, to spend $1 million a year marketing to veterans.
  8. It establishes the Florida Veterans’ Walk of Honor and Florida Veterans’ Memorial Garden in Tallahassee.

The new law (HB 7015) goes into effect July 1, 2014. And in a tribute to former Cong. C.W. Bill Young, the tuition wavier act was named after the Pinellas County lawmaker who passed away in 2013 after more than four decades in Congress.

Medal of Honor Marine Backs Gold Star Memorial

Hershel "Woody" Williams said he is only the caretaker of the Medal of Honor, hanging around his neck, that it belongs to those who lost their lives protecting him on the Iwo Jima battlefield.

Hershel “Woody” Williams said he is only the caretaker of the Medal of Honor, hanging around his neck, that it belongs to those who lost their lives protecting him on the Iwo Jima battlefield.

It took four hours, six flame-throwers and the lives of two fellow Marines, but Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams knocked out seven Japanese pillboxes on Iwo Jima February 23, 1945.

It was his fourth day on the Pacific island.

Williams said six members of his original special weapons unit had been killed and he was the sole survivor.

He recalled an officer calling him and others together in a shell crater. The officer asked for suggestions on how to knockout the machine gun fire coming from Japanese several fortified, concrete bunkers that had the Marines pinned down.

Williams volunteered to attack the “pillboxes” using a flamethrower.

For his conspicuous gallantry and risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor.

“This medal, I have claimed from the very beginning, it really doesn’t belong to me,” Williams said. “I wear it in their honor. I am just a caretaker of this medal because if it hadn’t been for those individuals willing to give their life, and the other individuals willing to protect me, I wouldn’t be here.”

Williams said during that four-hour battle, he was never touched. But two of the four Marines assigned to protect his solo assault on the pillboxes were killed doing so.

He shared those details with me and another reporter prior to his presentation at Tampa’s Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy. The students there have vowed to build a memorial to honor Gold Star families.

Williams has dedicated himself to building a Gold Star family memorial in each of the 50 states.

Hershel Williams cheers on students at the Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy as they applauded his $5,000 donation toward their effort to build a Gold Star Family Memorial.

Hershel Williams cheers on students at the Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy as they applauded his $5,000 donation toward their effort to build a Gold Star Family Memorial.

So, he visited the boy’s academy to lend the support of his foundation, Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, and present them with a $5,000 check toward their $40,000 goal.

In turn, the Boys Preparatory Academy at Franklin Middle School presented the 90-year-old veteran with a special lanyard recognizing his service in WWII, his continued support of Gold Star families and his contribution to their effort to build a Gold Star Memorial.

Tears welled in the eyes of the battle-tested Marine who asked for a moment to compose himself before thanking the students, teachers and others in the auditorium. He wiped his tears away as he walked back to his seat on stage.

Shortly afterward, Williams joined several of the students, military representatives and school officials at a ceremonial ground breaking.

They plan to build the memorial in front of the historic brick Franklin Middle School, 3915 21st Ave., Tampa, FL.

 

The ceremonial groundbreaking for a Gold Star Family Memorial outside Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, 3915 21st Ave., Tampa.

The ceremonial groundbreaking for a Gold Star Family Memorial outside Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, 3915 21st Ave., Tampa.

 

 

Researching Military Sexual Assault Prevention

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women's Status Committee.

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee.

One in every five women and one in every 100 men have told the VA that they experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.

Those numbers have both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs working on solutions for treatment and the prevention of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

The head of the Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee at the University of South Florida, Diane Price-Herndl, thinks her academic expertise can help with healing and prevention.

“This is a place where academics have not done our due diligence,” Price-Herndl said. “We’ve got men and women in the service who are suffering. And they are suffering from things that ostensibly my discipline studies and works on.”

She said Women and Gender Studies has done a lot of research on sexual assault in the general population that might prove helpful for the problem in the military.

Credit: Iowa VA

Credit: Iowa VA

So, Price-Herndl is starting that discussion at a one-day symposium on Military Sexual Trauma planned April 8 at USF Marshall Student Center in Tampa.

The idea is to share strategies and research across disciplines and agencies. Researchers from Bay Pines VA and James A. Haley VA will join USF academics from nursing, theater, and other departments. Each will present their current research on MST and there will be a chance to brainstorm.

One session will explore a project Price-Herndl is developing, The Witness Project. It hopes to archive and use the written and oral stories of military sexual trauma survivors as teaching tools for prevention programs developed for the Department of Defense.

Additionally, a round-table is planned at the conclusion of the symposium will take up the problem of sexual assault among the general population on college campuses.

For details on “USF Responds to Military Sexual Trauma: A Research Symposium,” contact Diane Price-Herndl at  priceherndl@usf.edu .

New Study Debunks 88 Percent Dropout Rate for Vets

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

Student veterans using their GI education benefits between 2002 and 2010 graduated from colleges and universities at the rate of 51.7 percent according to researchers with the Million Records Project.

That graduation rate is in stark contrast to the erroneous 88 percent dropout rate among student veterans that two national news organizations reported in 2012 using flawed data.

But ever since those erroneous reports by NBC News and the Huffington Post, the Student Veterans of America (SVA) organization has been fighting the misconception that student vets are at high risk of dropping out.

So the SVA teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse to start the Million Records Project with the goal of developing accurate data on student veteran graduation rates.

Researchers collected information from the VA on nearly 1 million student veterans and paired it with data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The data was scrubbed of any identifying information and then turned over to the SVA.

The Student Veterans of America President D. Wayne Robinson announced the project’s initial findings Monday.

“Fifty-one-point-seven percent of today’s veterans are completing their programs of study and we’re confident that this number will continue to grow as time passes and Post 9-11 GI Bill users have the opportunity to earn their degrees,” Robinson said. “I am very proud to report this number.”

He said the graduation percentage is similar to the general population which he finds remarkable considering the additional challenges that student vets have to handle.

In addition to worrying about academics, 47 percent of student veterans have families and many hold fulltime jobs. Additionally, many Reservists and National Guard members may have their academic year interrupted by a deployment overseas.

Robinson pointed to the example of Kiersten Downs, now a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, who served four years in the Air Force and then joined the Air National Guard while attending college in New York.

“While pursuing her political science degree at Binghamton University in New York, Kiersten’s unit was mobilized just three weeks before finals,” Robinson said. “And so, she was forced to put her education on hold to deploy.”

The Million Records Project is not over, instead, this was just the first of several reports. Future research hopes to look at specific programs and their success at helping student veterans reintegrate and excel  in higher education.

Long Delayed Medal of Honor Awarded to 24 Recipients

President Obama fastens the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris in a ceremony Tuesday.

President Obama fastens the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris during a White House ceremony March 18, 2014.

Far from the Vietnam jungles where Melvin Morris served two tours, the Army staff sergeant stood on a stage at the White House Tuesday accompanied by President Barack Obama who awarded him the Medal of Honor.

President Obama noted in his opening remarks to the room packed with family members and military that the 72-year-old Florida resident Morris was one of the first Green Berets.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris as he listens to the citation begin read describing his valor in Vietnam why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris as he listens to the citation begin read describing his valor in Vietnam why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

In a ceremony that lasted more than an hour, Morris was recognized for his valor on Sept. 17, 1969, near Chi Lang. Then-Staff Sgt. Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned down his battalion from a series of bunkers. Staff Sgt. Morris was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.

In 1970, Morris received the nation’s second-highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. But like the 23 others recognized in the March 18, 2014 Medal of Honor ceremony, it was determined that Morris deserved the highest honor, the Medal of Honor, but had been denied that originally due to discrimination.

You can read more about Morris in an Army News Service article and watch the White House ceremony.

Here is the list of all 24 Medal of Honor recipients:

Living veterans honored at the ceremony:

  • Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia
  • Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris
  • Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela

Veterans honored posthumously at today’s ceremony:

  • World War II veterans
    • Private Pedro Cano
    • Private Joe Gandara
    • Private First Class Salvador J. Lara
    • Sergeant William F. Leonard
    • Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza
    • Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel
    • First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab
  • Korean War veterans
    • Corporal Joe R. Baldonado
    • Corporal Victor H. Espinoza
    • Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez
    • Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz
    • Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron
    • Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena
    • Private Demensio Rivera
    • Private Miguel A. Vera
    • Sergeant Jack Weinstein
  • Vietnam War veterans
    • Sergeant Candelario Garcia
    • Specialist Four Leonard L. Alvarado
    • Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon
    • Specialist Four Ardie R. Copas
    • Specialist Four Jesus S. Duran

You can read more about the 24 Medal of Honor recipients and the White House ceremony here.

President Obama comforts the widow of Sergeant Jack Weinstein as the citation describing his bravery in combat is read during the posthumous presentation of his Medal of Honor.

President Obama comforts the widow of Sergeant Jack Weinstein as the citation describing his bravery in combat is read during the posthumous presentation of his Medal of Honor.

Florida Vietnam Veteran to Receive Medal of Honor

Army veteran Melvin Morris will receive a delayed Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony this Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Army veteran Melvin Morris will receive a delayed Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony this Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Melvin Morris served two tours of duty in Vietnam, but because of his race he didn’t receive the Medal of Honor. Morris talks to NPR’s Rachel Martin about the award he’ll receive from President Obama.

You can listen to the interview, which aired March 16, 2014, on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Morris told Martin that he has no regrets.

“I am never angry about it. You know war is war and we do what we’re told to do and we don’t determine the outcome,” Morris said.

The former Army sergeant spoke with Martin from his home in Port St. John, FL.

He and is one of 24 veterans to be awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony March 18, 2014. All but three of the awards are posthumous with  seven going to World War II veterans, nine to Korean War veterans, and eight to Vietnam War veterans.

First Class Army Sgt. Melvin Morris served 23 years including two tours in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

First Class Army Sgt. Melvin Morris served 23 years including two tours in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Morris is one of the three living Vietnam veterans who will be present at the ceremony. He served with distinction for 23 years  in the United States Army.

And the military life agreed with Morris and his family reports Lisa Ferdinando for the Army News Service.

“I never regret not one day of being in the military. Not one. The bad days are good and the good days are good,” he said.

As a paratrooper and jumpmaster, Morris remembered fondly his time in the skies, “I was as high as I could go, and that was great, to hang out of the door of that aircraft.”

Morris left the Army for three years, but his devotion to duty and commitment to the nation were too strong and beckoned him back into the uniform.

“Call of duty, I just couldn’t get away from it. Military was in my blood and I wanted to go back,” Morris said. “I was 36 years old and started over as an E-4, which didn’t bother me. I’m Army. That’s it. I wanted to finish my career.”

You can read more about Morris’ service to his country and the day-long battle in a Vietnam jungle in the Army News Service.

Morris displayed the the “highest valor” but only received the Distinguished Service Cross because of his race. You can read the citation for his Distinguished Service Cross which is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor this week.

A Photographic Tribute to the American Soldier and Family

Curator Cyma Rubin stands next to a Civil War photograph of a family that captivated a school boy whose father was serving in Iraq.

Curator Cyma Rubin stands next to a Civil War photograph of a family of a father, mother, three children and a dog, that captivated a current day school boy whose father was serving in Iraq.

A powerful, photographic tribute to American soldiers and Marines from the Civil War to the Iraq War opens Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

From the opening panel of the American Soldier exhibit – you immediately see the difference. The photo of the Union soldier from Civil War is staged in a photographer’s studio. He poses with his rifle. The Iraq War soldier is in an urban warfare setting, his finger poised on the trigger of his AK-47.

The opening panel to the 116 photographic exhibit curated by Cyma Rubin.

The opening panel to the 116 photographic exhibit curated by Cyma Rubin.

But there are similarities as the curator, Cyma Rubin, points out, “It’s the same face just a different uniform.”

The young faces of war stare back at you, some hauntingly, from among the 116 photographs.

Rubin also included photos showing the families because they served too.

There’s a black and white print from the Civil War shows a father, mother three children and a dog at a Union campsite. Rubin said it captivated a little boy during his class tour because that boy’s father was serving in Iraq at the time.

She said that interlude made the three years and 4,000 photographs she reviewed to create the exhibition all worthwhile.

“I had this concept, I always work from a concept, of showing the humanity of the American Soldier,” Rubin said. “This is not a blood and guts exhibition. It’s humanity, camaraderie, family, humor, heroism, and of course the ultimate sacrifice in some cases.”

Retired Major Scott Macksam stands next to his favorite photo of the exhibition which he visited two years ago and worked to bring to the Tampa Bay area.

Retired Major Scott Macksam stands next to his favorite photo of the exhibition which he visited two years ago and worked to bring to the Tampa Bay area.

Retired Major Scott Macksam first saw the exhibit in Louisville. It so moved him that he made it his mission to bring the American Soldier exhibit to the bay area where he’s a trustee at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

His favorite photo is a close-up photo of a Marine who had battled for two days and nights in the Marshall Islands during World War II.

Another WWII photo is the favorite of the museum’s education director, Nevin Sitler.

It shows an unidentified soldier holding a sole surviving infant on an island where the Japanese soldiers and their families committed suicide rather than be captured by Americans. That soldier is his wife’s grandfather. They have a copy of the picture at their home.

The museum's education director, Nevin Sitler, holds the photo of his wife's grandfather who holding an infant, the sole survivor after the Japanese soldiers and their families committed suicide for fear of capture by Americans.

The museum’s education director, Nevin Sitler, holds the photo of his wife’s grandfather who holding an infant, the sole survivor after the Japanese soldiers and their families committed suicide for fear of capture by Americans.

“It’s awesome as a historian to be able to put provenance and name to the face because right now it’s just an unknown soldier,” Sitler said.

As the curator, Rubin looked for rare photos that hadn’t been seen much, but she also chose a few iconic pictures like the photo of flag draped coffins returning from the Iraq War that the White House did not want released to the public.

And there are some surprises like a photo of female volunteers in the Union Army. Rubin said the women’s troop was made up of debutantes and prostitutes and no one could tell the difference. The American Soldier Photography Exhibit opens March 18 and runs through July 13, 2014 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 Second Ave. N.E. St. Petersburg, FL.

You can listen to the radio version of this story on WUSF News.

A photograph of one of the Iraq well fires during the Gulf War is another favorite of museum education director, Nevin Sitler, a veteran Air Force fireman.

A photograph of one of the Iraq well fires during the Gulf War is another favorite of museum education director, Nevin Sitler, a veteran Air Force fireman.

Curator Cyma Rubin chose rarely seen photos for the exhibit, with a few only a few iconic exceptions such as this photo of flag-draped coffins that the White House did not want released to the public.

Curator Cyma Rubin chose rarely seen photos for the exhibit, with a few only a few iconic exceptions such as this photo of flag-draped coffins that the White House did not want released to the public.

A soldier salutes in remembrance of 9/11.

A soldier salutes in remembrance of 9/11.

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