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The Soldiers Who Photographed the Vietnam War

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Here’s a 3-minute segment that recently aired on CBS This Morning about the soldier photographers who risked their lives on the front line to document the combat in photos and videos.

The enlisted solders were part of the Department of the Army’s Special Photographic Office (DASPO) — authorized by President JFK in 1962 — which sent members to the war with cameras to provide the world with an up close and personal look at the conflict.

Over 200 of the soldier photographers were sent out over the course of a decade, and two of them were killed in action. Because they needed mobility and flexibility to use their cameras, the soldiers often didn’t wear protective helmets.

A collection of their photos are now on display in an exhibition titled “Faces of War” at the Pritzker Military Museum in Chicago.

“Armed with their cameras, sound equipment, and light weaponry, the elite photographers and cameramen of DASPO captured, in stark detail, the true horrors and humanity of the Vietnam War,” the museum writes. “Deploying to the front lines aboard Hueys and Air Force C-130s, these special operations teams operated with unlimited access—producing some of the most iconic and important images from the conflict.”

Here’s a sampling of the images you’ll find in the exhibition:

Sergeant First Class Howard C. "Harry" Breedlove, U.S. Army
Sergeant First Class Howard C. “Harry” Breedlove, U.S. Army
Captured, 1967. Members of U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division return to base camp in the An Lao Valley with Viet Cong prisoners. Photo by Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon, U.S. Army.
Captured, 1967. Members of U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division return to base camp in the An Lao Valley with Viet Cong prisoners. Photo by Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon, U.S. Army.
Captain Roger B. Hawkins, U.S. Army
Captain Roger B. Hawkins, U.S. Army
Chasin' Charlie, 1966. Members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Brigade prepare to move across a rice field near Tuy Hòa in pursuit of the enemy.Photo by Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon, U.S. Army.
Chasin’ Charlie, 1966. Members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Brigade prepare to move across a rice field near Tuy Hòa in pursuit of the enemy.Photo by Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon, U.S. Army.
First Lieutenant Thomas H. Wilson, U.S. Army
First Lieutenant Thomas H. Wilson, U.S. Army
Interrogation, 1968. Elements of A Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner while on patrol in the Quế Sơn Valley during Operation Wheeler/Wallowa. Photo by Specialist 5 Richard A. “Dick” Durrance, U.S. Army.
Interrogation, 1968. Elements of A Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner while on patrol in the Quế Sơn Valley during Operation Wheeler/Wallowa. Photo by Specialist 5 Richard A. “Dick” Durrance, U.S. Army.
Specialist 5 Kenneth L. "Ken" Powell, U.S. Army
Specialist 5 Kenneth L. “Ken” Powell, U.S. Army
Operation Lamar Plain, 1969. Members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division engage with a company-sized enemy force on the far side of a rice paddy during Operation Lamar Plain in Quảng Tín Province. Photo by Captain Roger Hawkins, U.S. Army.
Operation Lamar Plain, 1969. Members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division engage with a company-sized enemy force on the far side of a rice paddy during Operation Lamar Plain in Quảng Tín Province. Photo by Captain Roger Hawkins, U.S. Army.
Specialist 5 Stephen V. "Steve" Pacatte, U.S. Army
Specialist 5 Stephen V. “Steve” Pacatte, U.S. Army
On the Attack, 1966. A helicopter transports members of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division to the Cambodian border. Photo by Sergeant First Class Alfred “Bat” Batungbacal, U.S. Army.
On the Attack, 1966. A helicopter transports members of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division to the Cambodian border. Photo by Sergeant First Class Alfred “Bat” Batungbacal, U.S. Army.
Sergeant Kermit Harold "JR" Yoho, U.S. Army. Master Sergeant Al Chang, U.S. Army
Sergeant Kermit Harold “JR” Yoho, U.S. Army. Master Sergeant Al Chang, U.S. Army

The exhibition will run at the Pritzker Military Museum through May. Admission is $5 and free for members and active military personnel.


Image credits: All photographs from the Pritzker Military Museum

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