"Most of the images have both a literal and a symbolic interpretation. It was not intended at the time of photographing, but the situation seems to have dictated the final meaning."
Paul Owen, RA16973000
DaNang, Vietnam 1967
"If we weren't walking, we were riding helicopters. I felt suspended emotionally -- from my family, home, country, and culture. Perhaps more important, I was living in a world with different social and morals codes than I had been raised with. 'Do unto others' and 'thou shalt not kill' were no longer the rule. It was like being in another dimension."
"This photograph was taken while on ambush. In this case, it was more of a rest than a threat to the enemy. We were bunched too close together, and guys were falling asleep."
"The radio we carried was the only contact with the outside world. The radio cord was our umbilical cord."
"While in the jungles, cuts or scratches became infected and turned into painful sores. We referred to these sores as jungle rot. At one time, while I was a point man for the L.R.R.P.s, I was bandaged from both wrists to elbows and both ankles to knees."
"While in the L.R.R.P.s (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol), we used to crawl into heavy brush at night as added protection from being detected. When it rained, we usually rolled up in our ponchos and slept in the water and mud. This photographed event is unusual because we hung ponchos as protection from the night's rain. I remember the incident and was surprised because we were advertising our position. I assumed that we were not in a particularly dangerous location. I was more nervous than usual that night."
"Martin was in the trees trying to spot enemy in the valley below. The jungle was too thick to see, so a trip in the trees afforded a better view. He seems so alone and almost part of the tree. His eyes are so dark and hollow that he looks like a monkey or a skull. It is as though he is death looking at us."
"We were resting on this burning hillside (mountaintop). There must have been napalm or white phosphorus bombardment not long before we arrived. It was surreal, like being on another planet."
Exhibition of framed pictures in NYC
A letter to me in Vietnam
(An old nickname)
A letter to me in Vietnam
Leaflet with Tiger Face
While participating in the training, I was housed in a hotel. It seemed very quaint -- the architecture French, small and old. It was near the time of the Tet holiday, when there is usually an offensive by the North Vietnamese. There were sand bags, concertina wire, and a machine gun on the first-story roof, just above the entrance. I was given a bed in a room on the second floor.
I was amazed at how comfortable the men stationed there were. For months, I had been sleeping on the ground or in a hole I dug. Now I had a real bed in a building. The soldiers there even had music.
Lan was thirteen, but she looked much younger. I first saw her at a ferry crossing on the Macong River. She was playing with other children and intermittently flirting with me. One young girl noticed a Catholic medal around my neck, the patron saint of paratroopers. She said, "Catholics number ten, Buddha number one."
Lan retorted, "Catholic number one."
And they began to argue.
Lan was a beautiful child with large alert eyes that looked directly at me. I tried to speak with her. An M.P. appeared almost immediately and told me I could not speak with the children.
Later, I was standing inside a concrete parapet waiting for a military bus. Lan came over, leaned over the wall, and spoke to me. The M.P. again appeared, this time more aggressive, and said that if he caught me talking with another Vietnamese, he would throw me in jail. He chased the children away.
I was disappointed and very angry. I had no opportunity to be with any of the "people," and I was excited to be able to talk with this young girl who spoke English. This exchange was perhaps the most pleasant event since I had arrived in Vietnam, and this M.P. was stopping me. I asked him why he was doing this, and he said that sometimes the children carried hand grenades because they could get close to the G.I.s. I was extremely disappointed.
One evening, a couple of days later, I was sitting in my room writing a letter. Some of the guys asked if I wanted to go to a whore house, but I was content to stay and enjoy the comfort and security. Later, someone came to my room and asked if there was a "Chip" here. I said, "Yes, that's me."
He said, "Someone is at the front door asking for you."
I was confused and thought it was a mistake; how could someone possibly know me here.
When I got downstairs, waiting at the front gate was Lan, the young girl from the ferry crossing. Later, I discovered that she lived not far away and knew all of the G.I.s who were stationed there.
She was truly amazing, young and pure. I still remember how she looked at me -- close, direct, with clear brown eyes as if she was in love with me. She drew me in with such tenderness.
Lan was small. I remember how she stood on the curb while I was in the gutter. She straightened my uniform while she told me that she wanted me to meet her father. I looked at the soldier standing guard at the gate. I asked if I could do that. With a knowing smile he said, "Just don't let the M.P.s catch you."
Lan took my hand and pulled me into a run, saying, "We hurry; don't let M.P.s see us."
She turned, pulling me from a dimly-lit, side street into a dark, narrow walkway. This passage was strange, surreal, and frightening. Like a carnival "fun house," stark-white faces emerged from dark doorways like masks. Hands reached for me. As one grabbed me, Lan pulled harder and said, "Come."
We turned right into another narrow walkway, behind and between houses situated close together. We went into what seemed to be the back door of a house - her home.
There was a wooden platform on the right. There lay a baby, her young brother, on a reed matte. Wide-eyed, naked. Lan went into the other room and quickly emerged with an old man. She introduced her father, who could not speak English.
Lan interpreted our conversation. She had learned English -- I presume mostly from the G.I.s, considering her "raw" vocabulary. Her father showed me pictures of his many children. He was very polite and proud. Soon he returned to the other room.
Lan and I sat facing one another across an old wooden table. We talked. Eventually, she asked me for a photograph of myself. The only one that I had with me was a high school graduation picture in my billfold. When I gave it to her, she pulled out an old cigar box, opened it, and gently placed my picture inside. As she did, I noticed that the box was filled to the top with pictures of other G.I.s. I asked for one of her.
"I made this sketch near Chu Lai at our base camp (101st Abn Div). Shortly thereafter, we were overrun during the 1968 Tet offensive. The Vietnamese had rocket launchers set up on our chopper pads."
"At times, there was a surreal peacefulness...shortly before finding a place to hide for the night."
"A mountain stream below the darkness of the jungle canopy. One of the few occasions to wash."
"My proposed design for an Army Christmas card. I was not in the typical, peaceful, holiday state of mind. For me, it was an icon for what we experienced there."
"A sketch of a Vietnamese man."
"When we were in one place long enough, we often took the opportunity to write home. I remember reaching over my "slack man's" shoulder to take this picture. It wasn't until many years later, when I made a mural size print from the negative, that I was first able to read what he wrote to his girlfriend."
"The Hueys did not have doors. We just crowed in, with all our gear, and held on. If you happened to be located in the middle of the doorway (on occasion I was), there was no place to hold on. When the chopper banked into a turn, we would all have to hold on to each other. I remember the vibration of the choppers and hanging on to one another to keep from falling out.
"Once in the air, I felt as though I was floating, not moving forward. Then we would begin the descent; the sound of the chopper would change, and I could feel the drop. On occasion, Gunships would move alongside and below as they commenced with rocket and machine gun fire. This would always awaken the butterflies in my stomach. The choppers left after barely touching the ground. We would immediately get lost in the cover of the jungle."
"There was a lot of tension in the bush. Everyone had their own way. Some needed to act crazy in order to stay sane. (If you didn't act a bit crazy, you could go crazy.)"
"Raised on movies of John Wayne, Audy Murphy, and the strict tenets of the Catholic Church, he marched off to the jungle wearing a crucifix and toting a machine gun."
"Recon soldier with Swedish K. This out-of-focus image seems a realistic portrait of that time. It all seems like a dream I once had. We met up with a line Company and were having a one day stand down, waiting for resupply."
"While I was with the Hawk Recon, we stayed in the jungles for three months without returning to a base camp. During that time, I recall only three occasions when we washed more than our faces. Notice the Mohawk haircut on some of the men. That's another story."