Heck of a Story

A poignant homecoming launches a harrowing quest

Robert Poole’s piece ("Lost Over Laos") is about the attempt by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to recover the remains of U.S. Air Force captain Michael J. "Bat" Masterson, who disappeared over Southeast Asia in his A-1 Skyraider plane in 1968. Poole, who is writing a book about Arlington National Cemetery, says he stumbled onto the story after attending the funeral there of some Marines killed in Vietnam in 1967. “It was a very moving ceremony, with gun salutes and flag foldings and marching platoons and the Marine Band,” says Poole. “But what really bowled me over was the excruciating effort this homecoming, so many years later, represented. Hundreds of people—scientists, military, civilians—traveled halfway around the world to sift through the dirt of an old battlefield to find a few fragments of a fallen comrade. So touching, so strange, so beautiful.” Poole asked to join one of the JPAC digs and was invited to accompany the team on the search for Masterson. He brought back one heck of a story.

Like a lot of people, art critic Matthew Gurewitsch used to think of David Hockney as that transplanted (to Los Angeles) British artist who paints nice pictures in bright colors. "Because his work was so pretty and cheerful," says Gurewitsch, who wrote our cover story ("David Hockney and Friends"), "I never realized how rich it was." But when he took a closer look, Gurewitsch says he saw that Hockney’s work “went far beyond the decorative. It's incredibly rich and generous and full of joie de vivre that I had not understood before. I think that because he is so easy to like it’s difficult to really appreciate him."

It was Hockney's portraits, currently on exhibition in Los Angeles and the focus of our story, that first opened the writer's eyes. "I was looking at some of his recent work at a gallery in New York," says Gurewitsch, "and I saw some portraits, the way he could do somebody's striped shirt so easily and make it so vivid—that was hugely exciting to me."

If you haven't been to our web site lately, you might want to check it out. We’ve got lots of new things there, including exclusive interviews and stories as well as new departments that are continuously updated: in particular "This Day in History" and our "Photo of the Day." The latter is drawn from the 7,500 entries to our Photo Contest. The winners of the contest, along with a few runners-up, are in this issue ("Snap Judgments," p. 48), but for more entries, go to Smithsonian.com.

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