July 2024
Vision of Vets
Vietnam War veteran Bruce Roscoe heals trauma by photographing veterans
Bruce Roscoe in Vietnam

Not many people know that Prescott Valley resident Bruce Roscoe is a veteran, much less that he served as a US Army combat photographer during the Vietnam War. He didn’t speak about his experiences to his family when he returned, nor to his wife, children or friends over the decades that followed.

Bruce Roscoe self-portrait

“It took me a lot of years before I would wear anything on my hat to let people know I was in Vietnam,” said Roscoe (75) last month. “This is the first year. That hat – that’s a new thing. It says ‘Once Strangers, Forever Brothers, Vietnam Veteran.’ It can’t be any truer than that.”

Roscoe, with his service dog Ziggy, is recognized in the community not only as a veteran, but also as an award-winning professional photographer, leading workshops for Arizona Highways and earning accolades as the top Portrait Photographer of the Year from the Arizona Professional Photographers Association. He was the photographer who made the group photo of 1,500 Prescottonians at the courthouse for the city’s 150th birthday in 2014.

Bruce and Ziggy, courtesy Anne Marie Shumate, Lasting Image Photography

But the photographs he most highly treasures these days are of combat veterans.

Roscoe founded the nonprofit Vision of Vets in 2014 to honor and preserve the personal experiences of combat veterans through video, narrative and portrait photography. To every veteran he provides, free, a large framed portrait and smaller images, and an hour-long video on DVD. He also places short excerpts from the videos on the Vision of Vets website (visionofvets.org).

Most recently Vision of Vets produced the story of Prescott Mayor Phil Goode’s service in Vietnam.

Other narratives include those of World War II Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne;

Fran Ellis, a World War II “Rosie the Riveter”;

Jessie Keller, the first female K9-unit leader, with her dog Chrach;

and Steven C. Monez, a George Washington reenactor.

Some of the portraits on the website are enhanced for the Live Portrait app.

Roscoe’s daughter Kim Petkovich says she was unaware of her father’s experiences, because he never spoke about them except to say his back was injured in Vietnam. “Growing up with a brother a year older than me, we would play cops and robbers, but we were never allowed to have guns, not even pretend guns. We were never to say ‘gun’ in the house. We just grew up with that, thinking it was normal,” Petkovich said from her home in Suffield, CT.

Roscoe has worked hard processing what happened in Vietnam 1967-68, what he has carried over the decades that followed, and the effects his PTSD has on himself and his family.

“I was bitter when I came back. In my way of feeling, it kind of ruined a lot of my life. I went in naïve, came out — not naïve. I’m not sure how to phrase it,” he said. “It took my young youth away, my innocence, and replaced it with bitterness. I wasn’t the fun person I was before going in. I wasn’t. That wasn’t who I was anymore.”

It’s only been in the past three years or so that Roscoe sought help and started speaking about his combat trauma in a safe, supportive setting with other veterans.

He spends time every morning learning about whatever his current interest is. For years he studied how master artists used light in their paintings, and transfer that knowledge to his photography.

Yavapai College photography instructor and Vision of Vets board member Jennifer Longworth describes Roscoe’s mastery of photography as “truly unparalleled,” pointing to his portrait work. “Bruce has an incredible ability to work with light to create magical images,” she said.

Dealing this past year with medical issues, Roscoe promises that once he can lift his camera he’ll resume the Vision of Vets photo shoots. The organization operates on donations and grants. Its next project is a ten-minute video on combat PTSD, its symptoms, treatment options and resources.

“I have the utmost respect for him. He’s taking what was robbing a lot of his life from a mental standpoint. When he created Vision of Vets, he said, ‘I have skills, I want to take pictures of veterans and have their stories come alive to show kids and put into a textbook.’ The things he’s accomplished … to say I’m proud of him is an understatement,” Petkovich says. “He’s had quite the journey.”

For information on local PTSD counseling help, call Prescott Vet Center at 928-778-3469. The national Veterans Crisis Line for confidential crisis support: Dial 988, then press 1.

Sue Tone is a mostly retired local journalist.

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