Zachary Diaz 20” x 24” • Graphite on Paper

Zachary Diaz
20” x 24” • Graphite on Paper

My work is a constant reinterpretation of life’s experiences. I create large graphite and charcoal drawings on paper, and oil paintings on canvas and linen that use symbols, figures, and cloudy atmospheres to convey an emotion, a memory, or an idea. My art is process driven; inspired first by writings in my diary, then sketched briefly before progressing to a larger format. I believe artists are gardeners; we create roses from the recycled parts of life.
In my attempt to connect with viewers, I encourage their curiosity by creating compositions with hidden symbols throughout each piece. Some of these symbols connect present and past work, which illustrates my belief that life is one interconnected story, and we all play a small part in everyone else’s. Solidarity is not just a beautiful idea, but a meaningful pursuit; one in which we subconsciously take part in every day.
While creating this piece for Bullets and Bandaids, I chuckled while reading the beautifully illustrated memory. Imagine thinking you know a person, only to have them surprise you; surprise you in a way that they warned you about months prior. I chose the moments of Doc’s pursuit, while the main character was silently making rounds. Hand on his weapon, focus on his mission, while his friend was focused on him. I can’t picture the experience and anxiety that war brings… but I know a good story when I come across it.

Inspired by the experiences of Robert LeHeup

Doc Ninja
by Robert LeHeup

“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
-Baháʼu’lláh, Writings of the Baháʼí

It’s a wild ride, conversation.

Just when I think I have it figured out, someone comes along and metaphorically swats the puzzle off the table. Just when I think I know someone, they say or do something that reveals another facet of their own perspective, which then does the same for me, which then does the same… you get the idea. When this happens, I feel it chips away at my ego, leaving bare the finite reality of my place in this world and the immutable truth that arrogance is a lesson waiting to happen. And sometimes those lessons hurt.

So there was this one sonofabitch, Navy, but that was okay. He was one of our corpsmen (Marine infantry medic), but they’re as much Marine infantry as the rest of us. Plus, he eventually manned-up and joined said infantry in spite of his Naval handicap. So as of the writing of this, he’s now a staff sergeant in the wild world of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.


Anyway, a skinny ginger scrapper, this man’s eyes held the culling of entire civilizations, tethered back only by a sense of duty and an ever growing miasma of competing madness.

He fit right in, save that he was carrying first aid and we were carrying ammunition. The natural inclination of man being torn between kindness and violence must have driven him crazy on a level “normals” can’t understand, but he wielded it with the sort of dignity that can only be earned.
With this, our conversations were spoken in our own way, cultivated by the hardship of our adopted, shared crises, devoid of posturing and ultimately comfortable. After all, that’s what you do when you’re sitting in a fighting hole with a fellow you’d otherwise have never met, weather working methodically to beat you down with heat or cold or gritty sand or a slimy wetness that seems to never end.

We’d exchange stories of triumph and shame, violence and debauchery, where “pushing the limits of taste” was of such an emphatic understatement as to practically be useless as a phrase. To be a bit more specific: I have since spoken with plenty of people who say “Try me,” a coy smile plastered over a blissful ignorance.

Then I try them, saying the very thing I’d intentionally omitted just seconds before.
And like clockwork they instantly regret it.
So just trust me.

We, each of us, became Charles Bukowski and T.S. Eliot, Sid Vicious and Pavarotti, quoting Shakespeare in between dick-jokes and mixing our Memento Mori with tiny battles where our bullets were Skittles from our MREs.

And sometimes… just sometimes… we’d embellish.
So when Doc Dickens pointed at me with a beer filled hand and told me that he was a ninja, there was bass in my laughter. It came from my diaphragm like cannonballs until everyone joined in, a cacophony of shrill and deep attempts to wrap our heads around what he’d just said. But here’s the thing: He might have been laughing the loudest.

“Nah, but seriously!” eyes lit up, a clever smile splashed on pale, Irish skin.

“Fuck you, Doc! You’re a ninja, I’m an elf, and these guns are for shooting vampires if they get too close to our pirates’ booty.”

“I’m serious! We were taught how to jump fences in order to tuck and roll forward without losing speed, how to sneak up on people in woods or the snow, how to climb walls with these special shoes-”

“Ninja shoes!”

More cannonballs of laughter.
Doc shrugged, drank his beer, letting our doubt slide off him.


Flash forward 6 months to the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. It had been snowing pretty heavily for several days. You know. Because God loves us and fuck easy.

We’d been on a shift where we were on post for 4 hours, then had to be ready for drills or live combat during Quick Reaction Force, then we had 4 hours of off time, where you could eat, sleep, exercise, or call your folks. Then back to post for another 4 hours. We did that for 5 months in the heart of Taliban country, having been the company that took the embassy in the first place.

So when I say we were on our toes, ready to kill at the slightest movement, prepared and alert for any sound, know that this is not a hyperbole. This was fact at all times.

Such was the case when I first pointed my rifle at Doc Dickens.

There was an alley that we patrolled between the retaining wall of the embassy and another inner wall set up to confuse aggressors. When you patrol, there’s a cadence to your movement. A slow step forward, then another, then another, and a forth, followed by a slow turn to check what’s behind you, then another slow step forward.

I was roughly 40 yards into the alleyway, having walked this pattern so often that it was second nature, the crunch of ice underfoot the only sound in an otherwise noiseless vacuum. And then I heard something and turned, gun up, weapon loaded and set to fucking kill.

And Doc Dickens was less than ten feet from me, arms raised, smiling like Satan, having snuck up on me in the crunchy snow of a combat zone.