ALAMEDA -- When Alameda resident George Powell was just 18, he was attacked in Vietnam by an enemy soldier. Severely wounded in the fight, Powell was lucky. Ten members of his unit were killed.
And when Powell came home from his five-year tour, he came back suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
"I'd have bursts of anger. I'd go into isolation," he said from his home painting studio, a small room cramped with a painter's desk and dozens upon dozens of works of art he's made over the years.
After returning home from five years of service in the Vietnam War, a G.I. Bill paid for tuition at the American Academy of Art, where he got a degree. That still didn't keep him from becoming homeless and addicted to alcohol for nine years. When he couldn't find a job in the civilian sector, he rejoined the military, this time in the Navy. He served in the first Gulf War, which deepened his PTSD suffering.
Today, a sober Powell paints. He was told to return to art by a counselor at the Veterans Administration, a prescription for release. Now, he paints to forget about the wars he fought. He paints to stay calm instead of yelling at his loved ones. He paints to quiet the demons of PTSD.
"It takes the memories away. It gives me happy feelings," he said. "I'm scared all the time. It keeps the fears away and brings joy."
Powell, who carries a card proving he earned the Purple Heart, hopes his story will convince other vets suffering from PTSD to follow their loves, whether it be painting, dancing or singing. Powell once made a poster, which hung in BART stations, urging soldiers to seek help if they were suffering from the disorder.
The 67-year-old, who also makes sculpture and wood works, has been active in the Alameda art scene, serving as president of the Alameda Art Association and being a member of the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. He's slowed down a little lately because of hip problems but his daily routine of painting watercolors and in oil and acrylic hasn't. Neither has his notoriety.
A richly illustrated painting of a timepiece was recently featured in the most recent edition "The Artist's Magazine," which named him a "Star on the Rise."
Although his work is extraordinarily detailed and thoroughly professional, he doesn't earn much income from sales. And while he's had one-man shows in the past, his dream is to one day show at a fancy gallery in New York "where rich people come and hold glasses of champagne."
And his dream might very well come true. He was contacted last month by the Agora Gallery in New York's Chelsea district for a possible show.