times, still and motion photography has become perhaps the single most important element
that stimulates our interest. Introduced in the U.S. in 1839 with the advent of
daguerreotype, over a million photographs define our understanding of the Civil War, and
photographs have defined our understanding of every war since then. In fact, the captions
on two of the most powerful images of the Vietnam War (the girl running from the bombed
village and the helicopters on the roof during South Vietnam's final days) were deliberate
lies to score political points, yet so powerful were the photographs that those myths
prevail today some 30 years later.
War photographs can serve a variety of purposes besides propaganda. Like nouns, they can
show people, places or things. Like adjectives, they can depict living or working
conditions, battlefields or the aftermath of battle. Like verbs, they can trigger actions
like recovery of faded or suppressed memories, and like adverbs they can modify or
condition those actions and highlight or emphasize the historical record.
From nearly 200 years of war photography, we gain a perspective that there are really two
main types of war photograph - those that show combat, and those that don't. Many of the
most famous war photographs such as the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi depict the effects
of war, rather than combat itself. The reason is pretty simple, for most of us, a camera
is not our highest priority when under fire. Many professional photographers have died
getting too close to the action; some 135 died in the Vietnam Wars alone.
Most of the photographs on this website were taken by soldiers assigned to the 1st
Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry. In a few cases, professional photographers took
them. Speaking for myself, I never expected that my "happy snaps" would ever be
works of art or would ever form part of a valuable historical record... and I was probably
correct: however, many of the photographs by my fellow soldiers on this website really do
show history... the history that we were part of... the history that we helped make!
Despite that, few of our photographs show actual combat. itself . We were, after all,
combat infantrymen... with a tough job to do.
And so our photographs carry on, in a modest way, the traditions started by Mathew
Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner and honored by such distinguished
photojournalists as Frank Hurley, Damien Parer, Georgi Zelma, Joe Rosenthal, Therese
Bonney, William Eugene Smith, Larry Burrows, Robert Capa, Henri Huet, and Kyochi Sawada.