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Through their eyes

The words of warning on Barry Milstien's customized motorcycle leave little room for misunderstanding.

"I suffer from occasional loss of mental stability and become very violent with only slight provocation," reads the yellow lettering on the chopper's gas tank. "The Veterans Administration has determined that both mental and physical harassment of my person may be hazardous to your health and well-being."

If any doubt remains, consider the final words: "So stay the hell out of my face."

Milstien, 61, an Eagle Point resident and Vietnam War veteran, will display his unique olive-drab chopper at the annual Veterans Arts Show in the Grants Pass Vets Center, 211 SE 10th St., running Thursday through Nov. 17.

"I wanted that on the tank because it speaks volumes to where I've been for a lot of years," said Milstien, who served in Vietnam in 1969-70.

The words "Beaucoup dien cai dau" also found on the gas tank basically mean "more than a little crazy," he added.

The bike painted to reflect his war experience will be the only mechanical art on display. The artistic offerings of other veterans, including paintings, photographs and poetry, will be shown through the end of the month at the center which draws veterans from as far away as Ashland and Brookings.

A three-hour reception beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday will allow the public to meet the artistic veterans. Live music and refreshments will be offered during the reception.

An arm of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Grants Pass center provides readjustment counseling as well resource referrals to veterans who have served in combat.

"The reason we have the show is to promote veterans' health through art therapy," said Chris Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran who serves as an outreach worker at the center.

Printed in yellow on the rear fender of Milstien's chopper are the words "Vietnam Veteran."

"I don't have an artistic bone in my body," Milstien said. "This is the fifth bike I've had. I didn't know what I wanted but I wanted something that said 'Vietnam' in the way it was painted. It just evolved out of that."

His friend, Randy Stuckey of Medford, did the fabrication while Road Rage Choppers in Medford also lent a hand in its creation.

Milstien insisted it be olive drab green like the paint on the 5-ton truck he once drove in Vietnam.

"I didn't want just any OD (olive drab) green — it had to be military OD green," he said. "I didn't want it to be shiny or sparkly at all."

The motorcycle is a 2004 special construction model with an Ultima engine and transmission. The seat is made of material from a duffle bag like the one he used to carry his personal belongings to Vietnam. In the place of chrome, spacers and pegs are made out of brass. Milstien says there are not enough parts in the bike from any one manufacturer to give it a manufacturer's label.

"This bike has provide a lot of healing for me," said the former private. "I drove in convoys, going into places like Pleiku and An Khe. The An Khe Pass in particular was pretty treacherous, They would let the first one through and get the ones coming up next.

"The first day I was out I saw a dead body," he added. "That, and the smell and the heat, that really got to me."

He was 18 years old when he arrived in country.

"We were the sitting ducks," he said of driving in a convoy.

Originally from Southern California, Milstien will tell you his life has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster.

"I don't even remember the name of my unit," he said, adding that he began using drugs while serving in Vietnam. "I had no drug problem before Vietnam. I was a pretty good kid. But when I came home from Vietnam, I was strung out on heroin."

After being deployed to Europe, he was discharged in January of 1972.

"From there is was pretty much jail and prison," he said. "That and the VA hospitals for drug addiction."

When he was wasn't in trouble with the law, he worked as a stone mason, locksmith or heavy equipment operator. He last went to jail in 1991 for burglary and using illegal drugs.

"That officer saved my life when he busted me ," Milstien said of the Medford police officer who arrested him. "I've been clean for 20 years now."

Building the chopper changed his life, he said.

"I started feeling this openness to do things the way the VA wants me to do it," he said. "I've started counseling. And it all has to do with this bike. I can have a really bad day and go for a ride on the bike. Inevitably, I'm a new person when I come home."

The chopper has no name.

"If I was going to call it anything, it would be 'Respect,' " Milstien said. "This bike is all about respect for veterans."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Barry Milstien says his chopper reflects his Vietnam War experience and riding it gives him a sense of peace he hasn’t had since before the war. The chopper will be on display at the Veterans Art Show in Grants Pass starting Thursday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch