Saturday, December 01, 2012

FACES OF AMERICAN DEAD IN VIETNAM: ONE WEEK'S TOLL

The following is taken from the Life Magazine website. When I was looking for the Life cover of the Kent State shootings, it brought back vivid memories of this particular issue of Life. I still have a copy in a storage box in the garage. I highly recommend clicking here to visit the website and page through the pictures of 101 of  the 242 military service personnel who died that week.
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In June 1969, LIFE magazine published a feature that today, incredibly, remains as moving and, in some quarters, as controversial as it was when it sparked debate and intensified a nation’s soul-searching more than 40 years ago. On the cover, a young man’s face — the very model of middle-America’s “boy next door” — along with 11 stark words: “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” Inside, across 10 funereal pages, LIFE published picture after picture and name after name of 242 young men killed halfway around the world — in the words of the official announcement of their deaths — “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam.”
 
Vietnam, One Week's Dead, LIFE magazine cover, 1969
 
 
Michael C. Volheim, 20, Army, SP4, Hayward, Calif.
 

 
LIFE, June 27, 1969


To absolutely no one’s surprise, the public’s response was immediate, and visceral. Some readers expressed amazement, in light of the thousands of American deaths suffered in a war with no end in sight, that it took so long for LIFE to produce something as dramatic and pointed as “One Week’s Toll.” Others were outraged that the magazine was, as one reader saw it, “supporting the antiwar demonstrators who are traitors to this country.” Still others — perhaps the vast majority — were quietly and disconsolately devastated. (See reader’s responses at the bottom of this page.)

Here, four decades after the last American combat troops left Vietnam — and as the United States once again fights a protracted, ambiguous war with a shadowy enemy on the other side of the globe — LIFE.com is republishing every picture and every name that originally appeared in (as the article itself was titled) “One Week’s Dead.”

Below is the text, in full, that not only accompanied portraits of those killed, but also explained why LIFE chose to publish “One Week’s Dead” when — and in the manner — it did.

From the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE:

The faces shown on the next pages are the faces of American men killed — in the words of the official announcement of their deaths — “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam.” The names, 242, of them, were released on May 28 through June 3 [1969], a span of no special significance except that it includes Memorial Day. The numbers of the dead are average for any seven-day period during this stage of the war.

It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead. We cannot tell with any precision what they thought of the political currents which drew them across the world. From the letters of some, it is possible to tell they felt strongly that they should be in Vietnam, that they had great sympathy for the Vietnamese people and were appalled at their enormous suffering. Some had voluntarily extended theirs tours of combat duty; some were desperate to come home. Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause. Yet in a time when the numbers of Americans killed this war — 36,000 — though far less than the Vietnamese losses, have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must know who. The faces of one week’s dead,unknown but families and friends, are suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes.

Below is the text, in full, from the last page of the “One Week’s Dead” feature in LIFE:

‘I see death coming up the hill’
On the back of a picture he sent home shortly before his death near Saigon, Sgt. William Anderson, 18, of Templeton, Pa., jotted a wry note: “Plain of Reeds, May 12, 1969. Here’s a picture of a 2-star general awarding me my Silver Star. I didn’t do anything. They just had some extra ones.” His family has a few other recent photographs of the boy, including one showing him this past February helping to put a beam into place on his town’s new church. His was the first military funeral held there.
Such fragments on film, in letters, in clippings and in recollection comprise the legacies of virtually every man show in these pages. To study the smallest portion of them, even without reference to their names, is to glimpse the scope of a much broader tragedy. Writing his family just before the time he was scheduled to return to the U.S., a California man said, “I could be standing on the doorstep on the 8th [of June]…As you can see from my shaky printing, the strain of getting ‘short’ is getting to me, so I’ll close now.” The ironies and sad coincidences of time hang everywhere.

One Pfc. from the 101st Airborne was killed on his 21st birthday. A waiting bride had just bought her own wedding ring. A mother got flowers ordered by her son and then learned he had died the day they arrived. A Texan had just signed up for a second two-year tour of duty when he was killed, and his ROTC instructor back home remembered with great affection that the boy, a flag-bearer, had stumbled a lot. In the state of Oregon a solider was buried in a grave shared by the body of his brother, who had died in Vietnam two years earlier. A lieutenant was killed serving the battalion his father had commanded two years ago. A man from Colorado noted in his last letter that the Marines preferred captured North Vietnamese mortars to their own because they were lighter and much more accurate. At four that afternoon he as killed by enemy mortar fire.

Premonitions gripped many of the men. One wrote, “I have given my life as have many others for a cause in which I firmly believe.” Another, writing from Hamburger Hill, said, “You may not be able to read this. I am writing it in a hurry. I see death coming up the hill.” One more, who had come home on leave from Vietnam in January and had told his father he did not want to go back and was considering going AWOL, wrote last month, “Everyone’s dying, they’re all ripped apart. Dad, there’s no one left.” “I wish now I had told him to jump,” the boy’s father recalled. “I wish I had, but I couldn’t.”

Such despair was not everywhere. A lieutenant, a Notre Dame graduate, wrote home in some mild annoyance that he had not been given command of a company. (“I would have jumped at the chance but there are too many Capts. floating around”) and then reported with a certain pleasure that he was looking forward to his new assignment, which was leader of a reconnaissance platoon. In an entirely cheerful letter to his mother a young man from Georgia wrote, “I guess by now you are having some nice weather. Do you have tomatoes in the garden? ‘A’ Co. found an NVA farm two days ago with bananas, tomatoes and corn. This is real good land here. You can see why the North wants it.”

There is a catalogue of fact for every face. One boy had customized his 13-year-old car and planned to buy a ranch. Another man, a combat veteran of the Korean War, leaves seven children. A third had been an organist in his church and wanted to be a singer. One had been sending his pay home to contribute to his brother’s college expenses. The mother of one of the dead, whose son was the third of four to serve in the Army, insists with deep pride, “We are a patriotic family willing to pay that price.” An aunt who had raised her nephew said of him, “He was really and truly a conscientious objector. He told me it was a terrible thought going into the Army and winding up in Vietnam and shooting people who hadn’t done anything to him…such a waste. Such a shame.”

Every photograph, every face carriers its own simple and powerful message. The inscription on one boy’s picture to his girl reads:

To Miss Shirley Nash
We shall let no Love come between Love.
Only peace and happiness from Heaven Above.
Love always.

Perpetually yours,
Joseph


Below are some of the reactions from readers that were published in the August 18, 1969, issue of LIFE — in which the entire Letters section of the magazine was given over to responses to “One Week’s Dead”:

Your story was the most eloquent and meaningful statement on the wastefulness and stupidity of war I have ever read. — From a reader in California

Certainly these tragic young men were far superior to the foreign policy they were called upon to defend. — From a U.S. Marine Corps Captain (resigned)

I feel you are supporting the antiwar demonstrators who are traitors to this country. You are helping them and therefore belong to this group. — From a reader in Texas

I cried for those Southern black soldiers. What did they die for? Tar paper shacks, malnutrition, unemployment and degradation? — From a reader in Ohio

While looking at the photographs I was shocked to see the smiling face of someone I used to know. He was only 19 years old. I guess I never realized that 19-year-olds have to die. — From a reader in Georgia

I felt I was staring into the eyes of the 11 troopers from my platoon who were killed while fighting for a cause they couldn’t understand — From a Marine second lieutenant in New Jersey who had commanded a rifle platoon in Vietnam



16 comments:

Bizzy Brain said...

Number of unborn babies murdered in US since passing of Roe vs Wade in 1973: 55,706, 047.

hoosierdaddy said...

BB - and how is that related?

BB said...

It puts things in perspective.

Phil L. said...

I don't know if the intent of Life magazine is to paint the picture of "war is hell" or to degrade the country. The degradation of the country since Vietnam as racist, unfair, exploitive, imperialist, homophobic, you name it, has resulted in a generation with no love and respect for their once great nation. As result, we have re-elected an America hating tyrant who is succeeding in taking the country down the tube, all in the name of "fairness."

hoosierdaddy said...

When the original article was published in 1969, I am fairly sure that it was not to degrade the country [why is it when anyone has concerns about US policy, not matter how ridiculous, the Cro-magnon Right cries that such folks are 'degrading the country'?]. IMHO the articles intent was to show that the death toll for the week was not just a statistic or a body count but rather were fine young men, each with an individual story. The US had over 50,000 deaths and the Vietnamese had over 2 million. It's not rocket science to figure out that indeed war is hell, and not something that should be engaged in without considerable deliberation. Go look at the service records of the chicken hawks who led this country into Afghanistan and Iraq - the vast majority did not serve in any capacity and are most happy to send other folks to do their bidding. They know that war is good for business and it makes their cronies very wealthy. And Phil, are you saying that there is no racism, unfairness ..... etc .... in this country? Once again, to point this out is not a sign of no love and respect for the US, but rather the opposite. But I suspect you would like to go back to the good old days when the niggers knew their place, and the fags stayed in the closet, and the bitches could not free themselves from abusive husbands, and white guys were in charge of everything. You and all the others who's mantra is Take Back America need to wake up and realize your good old days of white privilege are gone and they ain't coming back. ps - go read the Constitution - President as tyrant is impossible.

Phi L. said...

The Life article definitely put a face on the war statistics and saddened millions of people, me among them.
Regarding degradation of the country, I am not talking “my country right or wrong.” (Actually the full quote is “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Everyone knows there is room from improvement. The degradation I refer to is by the hard left liberals, such as Obama, who believe that equality and discrimination is the ruling principle of society. In order to achieve that, Liberalism attacks all the larger wholes—natural, social, and spiritual—that structure man’s existence, because those larger wholes create differences and distinctions which violate the rule of equality and non-discrimination. Liberalism attacks God, truth, religion, objective morality, standards of excellence, social traditions, the family, parental authority, sex differences, nation, ethnicity, and race. It aims at a world of liberated, equal human selves, with no God above them and no country or culture around them, free to interact on a basis of total freedom and equality with all other human selves on earth. To achieve this universal freedom and equality, the ability of actual peoples to define and govern themselves must be eliminated. Democratic and constitutional self-government must be replaced by the regime of the global elite, a regime that is beyond criticism and democratic accountability because it represents and embodies the very principle of liberal goodness: the equality of all. Satan couldn’t be more proud.

Misses Nothing said...

Phil, you didn't get your name right.

Phil L. said...

Hey, Misses, you know where you oan go plant a big one.

Dr S said...

I kind of like Phi L - kinda gets the L outta here :-) And it seems to make P a tad more rational!

Nostradumbass said...

Good to see you guys mixing it up! It's been awhile. I predict it won't be the last. History seems to be on the side of Hoosier in that we can't go back to the 50's. Back then Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex. On the other hand we help men overthrow their government who dress their wives in bags with slits for eye holes. Doesn't sound like much progress being made on that front.

Dr S said...

Nostradumbass - still love the name!! And your comment about 'women in bags' is right on. Obviously we are not expending human lives and a huge amount of money to support such repressive regimes, so the obvious question is why are we there? As they say, follow the money - who is profiting from our preemptive wars of choice?

Misses Nothing said...

Phil, I think Dr. S's plagiarism detector would earn you an F- if you had ever taken any of his classes.

Dr S said...

Misses - we gladly accept plagiarism here! No in my classes......

Hugh G. said...

Who is profiting from our pre-emptive wars of choice? I will absolutely puke, then commit suicide if anyone says Halliburton and Big Oil.

hoosierdaddy said...

Hugh G One - we don't want you to die, so here is some reading material for you, starting with the obvious - military contractors. The first link is actually investment advice on how to get in on 'a boat load of money'

http://www.investingdaily.com/10905/how-to-profit-from-the-war-in-afghanistan-military-contractors

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-war-is-worth-waging-afghanistan-s-vast-reserves-of-minerals-and-natural-gas/19769

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/visit-afghanistans-little-america-and-see-the-folly-of-for-profit-war/257962/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/apr/01/afghanistan-our-modern-opium-war

And this is only Afghanistan... Iraq, some story for military contractors and indeed oil and other endeavors:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/blood-and-oil-how-the-west-will-profit-from-iraqs-most-precious-commodity-431119.html

http://www.alternet.org/story/41083/the_10_most_brazen_war_profiteers

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/iraqwarprofits.aspx

Hugh G. said...

Wow! Sure opened my eyes. Guess that's why you're the perfessor. Thanks!