Return to Vietnam

Flame track in action

I have to confess to something of an obsession with the Vietnam War, which most likely stems from the fact that pictures of the conflict began my lifelong love of photography. McCullin, Faas, Page, Huet, Burrows and so on: all those great photographers' work then spurred further interest in the war itself.

So whenever I stumble upon a website showing some pictures from the conflict, I usually can't resist and click to see what's on offer. This week I did just that and found the work of Charlie Haughey, who it turns out was a rifleman with the 25th Infantry Division who served in Vietnam from March 1968 to May the following year.

Haughey was commissioned by his colonel to take photographs of the battalion for Army and civilian newspapers. The officer said: "You are not a combat photographer; this is a morale operation. If I see photos of my men in the papers, doing their job with honour, then you can do what you like in Vietnam."

The rifleman was stationed near Cu Chi and was part of Alpha Company, for whom he walked point or flank for 63 days. "On point, you work with the guy behind you. I didn't get to know people very well; we weren't like the band of brothers. It didn't pay to get to know people - we knew each other based on where we were from, or we had nicknames. Collins was from Chicago. He and I worked really well together. When we were on point together, I was up front, responsible for everything from the waist down - trip wires, booby traps, spider holes. He walked behind me, responsible for everything from the waist up. He flat out saved my life at least once, just from a little whistle or click or something."

His pictures of the unit have not been seen until now, having spent four decades in boxes in his home. Last year a chance meeting brought the negatives out into the open and eventually to a digital scanner with the work being catalogued by a team of volunteers. The work is now on show at the ADX Gallery in Portland, Oregon, in the north-west US.

The 28 prints are displayed in handmade frames, made by Charlie, who is now a retired carpenter.

You can follow the progress of the project and learn about Charlie Haughey's time in Vietnam on the Chieu Hoi Collection website.

Image caption An RTO (radio telephone operator) guides a Chinook delivering a slingload of materials and supplies at Fire Support Base Pershing, near Dau Tieng
Image caption Charlie's first response to this photo: "It was not uncommon to find anyone with a head bowed for a moment - more often when we were heading out than when we were coming back. Interesting that he has a flak jacket, he's taking precautions on both sides of the fence. M16, a steel pot, a flak jacket, and a prayer."
Image caption Soldiers fire a captured M2 60mm mortar, originally a weapon produced by the United States for use in World War II and the Korean War. The mortar was captured on a patrol in a rice paddy, from Vietcong forces.
Image caption A sergeant checking his M16.
Image caption An M60 machine-gun operator rests for a moment with his heavy load of ammunition. Members of the unit were all required to carry some type of ammunition or supplies, including bandoliers of bullets.
Image caption A Chinook rescues a downed Huey from a rice paddy near Trang Bang, January 1969
Image caption US soldiers patrolling a ghostly, defoliated rubber tree plantation.
Image caption Vietnamese schoolchildren in a spartan classroom.
Image caption An alert, young M60 machine-gun operator in the jungle.
Image caption Vietnamese children peer at Haughey's lens.
Image caption Soldiers on an airborne Chinook with a bird's-eye view through the cargo sling door take advantage of a few moments "out of the war".
Image caption Staff Sergeant Edgar D Bledsoe, of Olive Branch, Illinois, cradles a critically ill Vietnamese infant. The child was brought to Fire Support Base, Pershing. This image, with this caption, was originally published in Vol. 3 No. 53 of Tropic Lightning News, December 30, 1968.

All photographs copyright Charlie Haughey, A Weather Walked In/The Chieu Hoi Collection