In pictures, America’s years in Vietnam

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With arms raised skyward, a paratrooper from A Company, 101st Airborne Division, helps to guide a medical evacuation helicopter toward wounded troops on the jungle floor. Other soldiers give aid to comrades injured during a five-day patrol near Hue, in April 1968. Photo by Art Greenspon of the Associated Press; book published by Abrams.

By Betty Gordon

© 2016 text. All rights reserved.

“Vietnam: The Real War, A Photographic History” by The Associated Press (Abrams, 2013; $40). With an introduction by Pete Hamill, and text by Mike Silverman.

The iconic photos are all here:

  • An elderly Buddhist monk, seated in the lotus position, self-immolates on a Saigon street, on June 11, 1963. Thich Quang Duc was protesting the mistreatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Photo taken by Malcolm Browne
  • A suspected Viet Cong operative, wearing a short-sleeved plaid shirt, wincing as a pistol is fired at his head from point-blank range on a street in Cholon (a Chinese neighborhood in greater Saigon) on February 1, 1968. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnamese chief of the national police, is the man holding the gun in his right hand, aiming at Nguyen Van Lem. Taken by Eddie Adams, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969 for this image.
  • A naked, 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, and her brothers and cousins, screaming as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese plane, looking for hidden Viet Cong, accidentally released flaming napalm, on June 8, 1972. Taken by Nick Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1973 for this image.

These unforgettable, powerful black-and-white photographs, and about 250 more, illustrate the turmoil and profound sacrifices that were made in the war in Vietnam. Only the introductory photos before the main title page are in color.

Browne, Adams and Ut were interviewed years later about these individual photos for the AP Corporate Oral History Program. For each photo, the book includes the frames taken before and after the iconic ones, and each photographer reveals illuminating details on the circumstances under which the images were made.

The concise text and sobering statistics provide an overview, imparting enough information for those unfamiliar with Vietnam’s modern history to understand how the United States’ role in Indochina began and how the long-fought war left an indelible scar on the American psyche.

France’s involvement in Vietnam, culminating with the former colonial power’s devastating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in March 1954, should have been a warning to America about the perils of intervention in Southeast Asia. It wasn’t, as America began sending advisers to Vietnam as early as 1957 under the Eisenhower administration.

Among the most poignant photos are those of burning villages; mothers cradling their babies as they attempt to escape invading troops; and in particular, a picture of a distraught father, whose outstretched arms are horizontally holding the lifeless body of his child, who had been killed in a Mekong Delta village napalm attack. He is standing next to a South Vietnamese troop carrier, whose soldiers are doing nothing to aid the father. The toll on civilians was very heavy indeed.

There is no mistaking the courage and camaraderie of the troops, carrying their wounded through the jungle to safer ground, a Marine wiping away tears while kneeling beside the poncho-covered body of a dead comrade, or a rifle-ready infantryman shielding a wounded soldier crouched in a foxhole behind him during a firefight.

Images of the sweat-and-grime-covered faces of young, exhausted American soldiers; troops slogging across a river, obscured under water except for rifles held dry above their heads; and the agony of crippling injury and death emphasize the intense, energy-sapping conditions the combatants confronted.

Or as a closeup of the hand-lettering on the fabric strap of an unidentified American soldier’s helmet says: “WAR IS HELL.” (Photo by Horst Faas.)

Furthermore, this collection is a tribute to the photographers and reporters, who repeatedly put their lives in danger to record the execution of the war and the sweeping range of human emotion. Prominently featured is the work of Henri Huet, Huynh Cong Ut (better known as Nick) and Dang Van Phuoc, all Vietnam natives, and German Horst Faas and American Eddie Adams.

Prints of some of the photographs were included in an exhibit called “Requiem,” which we saw at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam.

Ut, Dang Van Phuoc, Faas, Adams and Browne all survived the war. Huet and about 70 other photographers and journalists did not.

Huet was killed when the helicopter he and Larry Burrows (Life magazine), Kent Potter (United Press International) and Japan’s Keisaburo Shimamoto (freelancing for Newsweek) were riding in was shot down over Laos in February 1971. Seven South Vietnamese military personnel also died in the crash.

Their remains weren’t found until more than 20 years had passed.

More than 3 million Vietnamese died in the war.

More than 2.7 million U.S. servicemen and women served in the “designated war zone,” including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

More than 58,000 American names are engraved in chronological order, according to date of death or the date they went missing, on the polished black granite walls at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Quick reference: Ut’s photo and Adams’ are part of an exhibit, “Vietnam: Evidence of War,” through July 31 at the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ Presidential Library. http://www.cah.utexas.edu/exhibits/current.php

You can order “Vietnam: The Real War” from Abrams at www.abramsbooks.com/product/vietnam-the-real-war_9781419708640. Or from other online vendors.

Nearly all the photos can be viewed (and can be purchased) at the AP site: www.apimages.com/Collection/Landing/Vietnam-The-Real-War/d52ea03a0ea2468399f694459d4c0fb7

 

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