By Koshia Silver
July 4, 2023

Life, photography, and service: Dr. Neil Chapman’s journey

Discover the remarkable journey of Edmond resident Dr. Neil Chapman, from military code breaker to visionary photographer.
Dr. Neil Chapman as his home in Edmond (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Edmond resident Dr. Neil Chapman’s narrative is a tale that unfolds across history, art, and faith. From his days as a military code taker during the Vietnam War to his transformation into a visionary photographer, Chapman’s path defies conventional expectations. His journey is not merely a collection of events; it is an exploration of the profound depths of the human spirit, a voyage that has left an indelible mark on his life and the lives of those who encounter his work.

Serving through military service

Chapman’s military journey began in 1970 when he joined the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. Inspired by his father’s service in the Air Force, Neil embarked on a path that would shape his life. During his military service, Neil experienced the rigors of training and the challenges of being a young recruit. He quickly learned the importance of discipline, respect, and keeping one’s focus amidst the chaos.

Chapman’s time as a Ditty Bopper in the military stands as a testament to his courage and dedication. As a member of this elite group, Neil played a crucial role in intercepting and deciphering coded messages during his service in the US Air Force. The stakes were high, and the pressure immense, yet Chapman and his fellow code takers persevered, driven by their sense of duty and the knowledge that any mistake could have dire consequences.

Their mission demanded an understanding of communication systems, constant vigilance, and unwavering attention to detail. Chapman’s experiences as a Ditty Bopper shaped his character, teaching him the value of teamwork, the importance of precision, and the impact that individuals can have in safeguarding the nation’s security.

Through his military service, Neil not only honed his skills as a Ditty Bopper but also gained a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who serve. His dedication to his country and the courage he displayed in the face of adversity continue to inspire and serve as a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Passion for photography

Amidst his military responsibilities, Chapman discovered his passion for photography. It all started in high school when he pursued his interest in art, aspiring to be an architect. However, drafting became a more practical choice for him. Eventually, Chapman bought his first camera while stationed in England and began documenting his experiences wherever he went. From the mystical landscapes of Stonehenge to his playful encounters in local pubs, Chapman’s camera became his faithful companion.

Chapman’s photography journey took a significant turn when he got serious about honing his skills in England. He even enrolled in a course to enhance his craft. Through persistence and dedication, he achieved a sense of accomplishment that fueled his passion even further. His commitment to capturing the essence of people, whether they were present or represented by mannequins, reflected his belief in the importance of dignity and the power of visual storytelling.

Faith and personal transformation

Chapman and his wife, Dawna, talking at their Edmond home (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Beyond his military and artistic pursuits, Chapman’s faith played a central role in shaping his perspective on life. While stationed in Thailand, he had a spiritual experience that transformed him. He recalls the fear of sharing this revelation with his wife, but to his surprise, she had received the same revelation – they had each found solace in their newfound faith. This serendipitous moment deepened their connection and served as a testament to the unexplainable wonders of life.

Throughout his journey, Chapman encountered both triumphs and challenges. He experienced the loss of a dear friend who shared his military adventures. The memories of their time together remain etched in Chapman’s heart, reminding him of the fragile nature of life.

After his military service, Chapman pursued graduate studies at California State University, Fullerton, where he delved into the realm of modernism and postmodernism under the guidance of esteemed mentors. Despite initial rejections, Chapman persevered and learned valuable lessons about the concept of quality in art. He understood that true quality required both technical prowess and a meaningful message. His pursuit of excellence and his commitment to sharing his knowledge with others led him to a successful career as a teacher.

Reflections on life

As Chapman reflects upon his life, he recognizes the significance of each chapter and the lessons learned along the way. He embraces the beauty of human connections and cherishes both the students who have been his mentees and the individuals who have taught him valuable lessons. Chapman’s sense of dignity, evident in his work and his interactions with others, serves as a guiding principle.

At this stage of his life, Neil contemplates the closing of one chapter and the opening of another, with a sense of humor intact. He acknowledges the challenges he has faced, including the devastating effects of Agent Orange, which cast a shadow over his later years as he lives with Parkinson’s Disease, a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time. Yet, he and his beloved wife, Dawna, remain resilient and refuse to be bitter. For Chapman, the pursuit of dignity is paramount, knowing that the price of a life well-lived has been paid.

Dr. Neil Chapman’s story reminds us of the intricate tapestry of life, where unexpected twists and turns lead to profound insights and personal growth. Through his photography and his unwavering belief in dignity, Chapman has left an indelible mark on the world around him. As we contemplate our own journeys, may we embrace the lessons he has shared and strive to find dignity and meaning in every chapter of our own lives.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Chapman or would like to view the Mannequin Series that launched his career, Spark Creative Laboratory, a local nonprofit, will be hosting an event shedding light on Neil and the many veterans waiting in the infamous claims backlog on Aug. 24, 26, and 27. Visit for more information.

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About Koshia Silver

Koshia Silver has been an Edmond resident since the mid-2000s. She is an experienced marketing and communications leader with a proven background in branding, strategic partnerships, and visual storytelling.

Koshia prides herself on creating corporate narratives that resonate with their audience and she approaches problems with innovative solutions. She loves a challenge.