Manhattan College helps public understand veterans through art

traffic safety
Marvin Alex Sosa, a veteran Marine and President of the Manhattan College Veterans Association, stands at a painting that depicts the story of Army Michael Geraldo of the 82nd Airborne. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

A new gallery opened this week in the Flatiron Building in Manhattan showing off artworks inspired by the stories of veterans who have both served their country and who are alumni of Manhattan College.

The Manhattan College Success Center recognized that being a veteran is a different experience for everyone – some people see combat, while others serve in protective capacities and others train new soldiers for service around the world. For that reason, veterans were interviewed and then, their stories were sent to artists to create an interpretation of their experience in paintings and drawings now on exhibit.

“It tells stories of our conflicts, our wars, from the ground up, not the top down, not from the politicians, not from the generals, but form the men and women who have served,” Manhattan College Professor of Religious Studies Stephen Kaplan. Kaplan assembled the exhibit with Professor Lee Fearnside, coming only two weeks after the Veterans Day parade, to tell the stories in pictures – to make veterans a human experience.

Fearnside said they became concerned that student veterans were becoming isolated and that “the two groups couldn’t communicate.” She said two years later, “we have 50 plus veterans and artists involved I the arts program from all over the country.”

Michael Geraldo a soldier with the Army 82nd Airborne,  is one of those alumni student veteran presidents who took the college up on the offer to participate in the art program. His picture depicts his two tours in Iraq, having served in Fallujah. It shows him parachuting into Iraq but also trying to help the people.

“It really does a great job of telling my story, and communicating to people what my story is – it shows us to be human,” Geraldo said.

Jamie Foley of the Army who served in Iraq and Sudan and Natalie Lanzi of the Marines who served in Camp Lejune viewed the pictures and said the pictures provide an insight into how veterans are only human.

“They show the professional qualities of a solider – it shows you can perform in any setting including a business setting, people just don’t know about that,” Lanzi said.

Jamie Foley of the Army who served in Iraq and Sudan (l) and Natalie Lanzi of the Marines who served in Camp Lejune, (r) viewed the pictures (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Professor Peter Sweeney viewed a photo of himself on the wall and remembered his days in Vietnam. Sweeney served as an engineers in the Navy Seabees and was “lucky enough not to have post traumatic stress disorder.” He said he met Battocchio at the Veterans Day Parade and said the silhouette of the Marine really represented her great work for this country. 

The Manhattan College Veterans Association sponsors study groups and career resources for veterans;  vet-to-vet mentoring program that matches student veterans with upperclassmen and alumni veterans; guest speakers, like former NYPD Commissioner and Vietnam War veteran Raymond Kelly ’63; stress-relieving yoga and meditation sessions; Picnics, social events and group outings. The school has a vibrant veterans program, dating back 150 years that focuses on assisting veterans with transition from military life and giving them skills to work a professional career.

Marvin Alex Sosa, president of the Manhattan College Veterans association, recently marched in the Veterans Day Parade with Kelly, a former Marine.

Sosa said sharing the stories with artists and then depicting their experience in a painting helps tell the public about their experiences.

“The paintings depict two very different jobs with different stories to tell,” Sosa said. “One person didn’t get deployed overseas and did their service in a non-combat situation. We want to portray a different image of what a veteran is  and change the stigma of negativity about veterans that they are angry – the stories are very different and are positive experiences to tell people. The pictures here speak to me – you get that Michael, depicted in the painting here, is a personable guy that he loves helping people. We want people to get that.”

Provost William Clyde said this is a celebration of veterans not just in the college, but veterans but all over the country.

“The art works are showing off their experiences to help the public better understand what you have gone through and are going through,” Provost Clyde said. “I think the program we build here will help with that.”

The exhibit, on Broadway between East 23rd and 22nd Streets, is open six days a week at the Flatiron building through the New Year, and it’s free.

Professor Peter Sweeney, a former Seabee in the Navy, looks at a picture of himself while serving in Vietnam. (Photo by Todd Maisel)