Veteran 85, Connects with Other Vets Through Murals

October 14, 2015

By Robert Cook, Public Affairs, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (Bedford VA)

Ed - Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved
Ed Kohler in front of his mural – Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved

Ed Koehler, an 85-year-old Army Veteran of the Korean War, never thought about going to the Bedford VA to connect with other Veterans or seek services until 2009 when his son-in-law convinced him to attend a peer meeting .

It was at that time the seed was planted for what became Koehler’s new passion – creating murals that show Veterans how to reconnect with their communities after they leave Bedford’s Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital,

The mural itself - Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved
The mural itself – Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved

Koehler is a retired architect whose building and structure designs spanned the globe.  He was thrilled when Dr. Charles Drebing, Bedford VA’s Mental Health Service Line Manager, asked him to create a mural about Veterans reentering the workforce in the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) room.  Some of the images include commuter traffic on the Zakim Bridge in Boston, and workers returning home at the Aquarium Blue Line MBTA station – which Koehler said he designed during his career.

When the mural was complete in 2012, Dr. Drebing asked Koehler to work on a second one illustrating ways that Veterans can integrate into their communities.

For the last three years, Koehler has been able to share his drawing and architectural design talent while talking with Veterans who ask questions about the long, intricate process of creating murals.

“I draw them as one quarter the size of what you actually see on the walls,” he explained.  Drawings of various scenes such as a family visiting Mount Rushmore, and members of a church choir then go to a printer to be enlarged four times. Koehler then uses acrylic paint to color in each scene.

The first mural in the CWT room is 23’ x 8’ and the current project is 13’2” x 9’.

Koehler understands how Veterans can feel isolated from the community while they are seeking treatment for issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or substance abuse. The mural is a visual way to remind them of ways they can rejoin their community, an important part of their recovery.

Some of the panels in the Community Recovery Connections Team (CRCT) Room include scenes from the Boston Marathon, Wellesley College, dinner in Boston’s North End and a coach teaching boys how to play soccer. The cities of Lowell, Lawrence, Somerville, Boston, Beverly, Haverhill, Gloucester and the town of Bedford are all represented in the mural.

Koehler enjoys working on his murals so much that he has become a welcome fixture in the CRCT room. “I’m the guy who opens the place up at 5 in the morning.”

He said Dr. Drebing told him to take his time completing the current mural because the project provides a great way to engage Veterans while  also giving him a reason to get up every morning.

Koehler said he never realized how much he missed interacting with his fellow Veterans until he started working on the two murals. “Mainly, I like being with my guys, the Veterans,” said Koehler. “I just think I feel so fulfilled.”

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