When I saw this title for the first time I was thinking this will be great visual reference for Vietnam War period models in their natural setting, I could never have been more wrong. The book does look at how America fought its second war against the spread of Communism, but more importantly it looks at the highs and lows of what is the most photographed war in history through the eyes and word of the men behind the camera. It is also important to state that this book does not try to paint a rosy picture of the Vietnam War, but shows it as it was.
The following portion of the introduction is as provided by Pen and Sword:
What was it like to be a military combat photographer in the most photographed war in history — the Vietnam War? “Shooting Vietnam” takes you there as you read the firsthand accounts and view the hundreds of photographs by men who lived the war through the lens of a camera. They documented everything from the horror of combat to the people and culture of a land they suddenly found themselves immersed in. Some even juggled cameras with rifles and grenade launchers as they fought to survive while carrying out their assignments to record the war. “Shooting Vietnam” also finally brings recognition to these unheralded military combat photographers in Vietnam that documented the brutal, unpopular, and futile war.
Firsthand accounts and photographs by military photographers in Vietnam from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, “Shooting Vietnam” puts the reader right alongside these men as they struggle to document the war and stay alive while doing it — although some didn’t survive. The cameras around their necks often shared space with a rifle or grenade launcher that enabled them to stay alive while performing their assigned military duties, killing, if necessary, to survive.
Often, during a brief respite from trudging through swamps and rice paddies or jumping from a chopper into a hot landing zone, they would wander the streets of villages or even downtown Saigon, curiously photographing a people and a culture so strange and different to them. It is these photographs, of a kinder, more personal nature, removed from the horror and death of war that they also share with the reader.
The accounts in this book come from young men thrust into a conflict half way around the world, and all who had their own unique perspective on the war. Some were seasoned photographers before the military, others had only recently held a camera for the first time.
This offering from Pen and Sword titled ‘Shooting Vietnam the War by its Military Photographers’ is a hard backed book authored by Dan Brookes and Bob Hillerby. The book offers 235 pages of good quality an informed look at Vietnam through the lens of the men who were there. Below is a little about the authors:
Dan Brookes is a writer, photographer, and graphic artist. His tour in Vietnam gave him the travel bug and he still takes to the road, ocean, and air the world over adding to his collection of stories and pictures for his next books and photo exhibits. In addition to many other things, has been the production manager of a Hollywood-based gambling magazine, piloted a riverboat through the Amazon where he helped establish schools in tribal rainforest areas, ran a catering business that fed some of the most famous rock stars on tour, co-founded a UFO research group, and recently retired from Apple where he was a computer solutions consultant. He lives in Connecticut.
Bob Hillerby was a journalism major at Amarillo College before entering the Army and training as a photographer, He spent his one-year tour in Vietnam with some of the most battle-hardened units, mostly with the 1st Cavalry Division out of An Khe. He most recently ran a family printing business in Sherman, Texas, before his untimely and accidental death in 2013. Bob was active in helping fellow veterans with PTSD through his work with the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
The book is not in anyway just a collection of photographs covering the Vietnam War; it tells the story of the men who fought there as part of the US Forces, it shows a country with a long history and the people who live there and struggled to continue their way of life despite the war that raged around them and finally it shows where some elements of the military lost their way and commited offences like the Nazi’s of WW2.
The story begins with a look a the earliest work of what can be considered a war photographer, this includes a short piece on Carol Szathmari who is considered the first of the few and who covered the war between the Russians and Turks during the Crimean War. We then move onto the story of a man going to the airport to be transported to a war zone most knew nothing about. This is followed with the settling in process such as finding your feet and making friends while learning more about your surroundings. The aspect in this portion that appealed to me was how men in combat become closer than brothers due to relying on each other to see another day. The photographs provided from this period are an interesting mix covering a large number of aspects including life and death; the first time Dan Brookes came in contact with the dead is covered here and consists of a dead VC falling off of a loaded Jeep driven by the RMP, the photograph almost shouts ‘what are you waiting for? Put him back on the Jeep’.
The stories of how these men became more comfortable with their lot in life is an interesting read and presented in a way that everyone can either understand or at least get a sense of. The photographs cover everything from local families going to the zoo in Saigon to Kiwi’s fighting with the US Forces. The part where Dan Brookes comes into contact with VC in the field who disappeared into a tunnel closely followed by US troops, meanwhile the photographer was in need of a change clothes as the troops came out of the tunnel with the VC now dead. I had not realised how heavily involved the South Koreans were in the Vietnam War. I did enjoy reading about the photographers getting close to the South Koreans and how the South Koreans came to be close to the photographers; Kimchi seems to have played a big part in this endeavour.
As the story progresses you are drawn into the lives of these young men during the Vietnam War and I gained a sense of attachment to their story and the events they photographed. The story reaches it very dark period in US Military history with the massacre at My Lai, In this location men of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade murdered between 347 to 567 men, women and children; photographs of dead civilians do not as a rule have any effect on me as it just a fact of life, but an image of a woman with a portion of her brain near her chest. This photograph has a lot of impact but it is the fact that all of the woman’s details such as name are present which brings it home as a person rather than a photograph. There are a few images covering this massacre and the blemish it puts on the country’s history as regards the Vietnam War.
This book has possibly drawn me more into the Vietnam War than any other coverage the war received; I even remember as a young child seeing stories on the news about the Vietnam War and these by far surpass them. The way this is presented drew me in to the lives of the men covering the war in their own way and viewing things in some cases that the military would rather have not occurred and certainly not documented. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wishes to see the Vietnam War from so many viewpoints that it will make you question what you thought you knew.
Darren Baker takes a look at a book from Pen and Sword titled 'Shooting Vietnam the War by its Military Photographers' and this is one you really need to read.
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About Darren Baker (CMOT) FROM: ENGLAND - SOUTH WEST, UNITED KINGDOM
I have been building model kits since the early 70’s starting with Airfix kits of mostly aircraft, then progressing to the point I am at now building predominantly armour kits from all countries and time periods. Living in the middle of Salisbury plain since the 70’s, I have had lots of opportunitie...