William Myles

When Armour Isn’t All


The National Veterans Art Museum celebrates Black History Month by displaying the art work of black veterans.  This piece is entitled “Heavy Weight” and the artist responsible is William Myles, a veteran who served in Vietnam from 1964-1965

William Myles Photo Entitled Heavy Weight is a raw but very powerful description of the internal struggles many African-American soldiers faced during their time away at battle. The inequality battles these soldiers faced often left them with a different and sometimes bitter perspective on America and its racial views post war.

In the forefront of the Heavy Weight painting, Myles displays a young African-American solider in full uniform with a bullet belt, as well as a rather large machine gun. In the background of the solider lies the “Afro-American” flag that is often linked to Marcus Garvey and the civil rights movement. On the side of the solider in distinct white and black colors are three images dealing with civil inequalities. Police Brutality, the Ku Klux Klan and discrimination during wartime are the central messages of these images.

This compelling photo can stand as a complementary image for the vet scene in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. The name alone “Heavy Weight” not only serves as a title but also displays the more symbolic burdens or “weight” that these soldiers carried around.  The three images that stand-off to the side of the solider almost as a reflection of his inner thoughts are images of racial inequality. The time period in which Ralph Ellison’s invisible man is written, African-Americans were facing a tremendous amount of discrimination.  Although this solider has on his war attire, which would be his immediate thoughts, those side images are burdens in his mind.  The painting is depicting an internal battle, many soldiers faced between their immediate need to take care of themselves during war and also watching their own people suffer back home.

Heavy Weight is talking directly with the Golden Day scene Ralph Ellison writes in “Invisible Man”. During the vet’s time at war a veil was lifted from his eyes and he has been able to see the inequality African-American’s are actually facing.  All the images displayed in this painting including the background Afro-American flag help in lifting the veil from the solider.  He carries these burdens like he carries his gun and bullets.  In many ways they are as necessary, tangible, and consuming as the gun and bullets he carries.  These images are constantly shaping the character of African-American soldiers, because they make them less of an automaton despite the efforts of many white generals.  The images are creating an independent and mental freedom that allows many soldiers including the vet to see past what others are unable to.

In conclusion, William Myles’s painting Heavy Weight visually portrays what Ralph Ellison was trying to get across through the vet in Golden Day. Many African-American soldiers carried more with them during the war than their armour.  It was this extra “heavy weight” that allowed the vet to see the true relationship between Mr. Norton and the protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”

William Myles. Heavy Weight. National Veterans Arts Museum. February 23rd 2013. <http://www.nvam.org/black-history-month/>

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