November Hero of the Month: Vietnam cost Jim Stevens his eyesight, but gave him a new vision

Jim Stevens of Wheat Ridge was shot in the head in Vietnam. Years later, a bullet fragment moved, causing him to become legally blind. But it hasn't stopped him from becoming an artist whose works are collected all over the world.

DENVER — Denver’s Veterans Day Parade on Saturday was full of inspiring heroes.  But Grand Marshal Jim Stevens’ story really inspires.

“He’s not really recognized, and he doesn’t look for recognition, which I think is amazing.  But we want to say ‘thank you’ to him,” said Rob Bingham, founder and president of Colorado Veteran’s Project, organizers of the Denver Veterans Day Parade.

Stevens is legally blind.  He was shot in Vietnam, and it left bullet fragments in his head.  About 25 years ago, those injuries lead to a stroke in his visual cortex.

“Took my eyesight in 30 minutes.  I was a professor at the University of Colorado, and 30 minutes later I wasn’t,” Stevens said.

“I didn’t do much of anything for about four years, and one day my two youngest daughters came to me and said, ‘Dad, you’ve always loved art, you should get back to it.’  And my first response was, ‘I can’t see.’  But they persisted and I spent two years, two very long, frustrating years, trying to figure out how to do art again,” Stevens told FOX31.

Stevens can see a little bit from a very short distance.  But with the help of special lenses, he’s still able to carry out his passion: a form of art called monofilament.

“(It’s) painting on fishing line, actually.  I do portraits on over a thousand strands, a thousand strings of monofilament line, and those are anchored inside a clear acrylic case, so all the art is hanging in space,” Stevens said.

He’s even published three books on another form of art called scrimshaw – and his works are now collected all over the world.

A lifelong member of Denver’s VFW Post 1, he’s part of their Veterans Art Council.  It’s a program that helps veterans develop their artistic skills, and display their work.

“So he has hundreds of artists that he teaches therapy through art,” Bingham said.

His contribution to helping other veterans is why the Colorado Veterans Project named Jim Stevens the Grand Marshal of the 2019 Denver Veterans Day Parade.

And it’s why we named him our FOX31 Serving Those Who Serve Hero of the Month for November 2019.

“Uh, wow,” Stevens said when presented with the award before Saturday’s parade.

With the award plaque comes a $750 Visa gift card from our Serving Those Who Serve sponsors, Rocky Mountain Honda Dealers, the Leo Hill Charitable Trust and Colorado Veterans Project.

“I think this (money) might go to my artists.  All the artists I work with.  They can use it,” Stevens said.

It also comes with a big thank you for everything he does for the very men and women we honor on this patriotic weekend.

To nominate a veteran, active-duty service member, military family member or volunteer to be the Hero of the Month for December 2019, click here.

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