Exhibit Honors The Work of U.S. Army Combat Photographers
Captured by the Special Operations Photographers of the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO), These Photos Provide A Unique Perspective Of The War.
Original photographs and motion pictures by the men of Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO) are at the center of a new exhibit, FACES OF WAR: Documenting the Vietnam War from the Front Lines, by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library on the Vietnam War, now on view. This collection of photographs and motion pictures captures the Vietnam War as it was experienced by some of the 3.4 million Americans who served in the Southeast Asian Theater—the aggression, the misery, and the hope—as well as the millions more who attempted to carry on as the conflict waged at their doorsteps. Produced in partnership with the DASPO Combat Photographers Association, the Museum & Library’s new FACES OF WAR exhibit and permanent online gallery are largely supported by the contributions of private donors and the DASPO veterans themselves.
The exhibit—titled FACES OF WAR: Documenting the Vietnam War from the Front Lines—includes dozens of rarely seen photos and motion pictures from Vietnam; a collection of artifacts, including original cameras, gear, and equipment; and an audio tour with commentary by DASPO veterans on their experiences and the legacy of their work. The men of DASPO were dedicated professionals who took pride in documenting United States Army activities around the world. Putting their lives on the line, these still photographers and motion picture cameramen covered every United States Army campaign of the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War (1955-1975) traces its roots to the colonization of Vietnam by France in the late 19th Century. In 1884, all of Vietnam fell under French rule; in 1887, it was fully integrated into French Indochina. France developed a Western system of education throughout its colonies, propagated Roman Catholicism, and developed a plantation economy to promote the export of tobacco, indigo, tea, and coffee. French settlers moved mostly into southern Vietnam and based themselves around the city of Saigon. Independence movements against French rule developed at the start of colonization, but France maintained control of Vietnam until World War II (1941-1945), when Japan occupied the country.
During World War II, a national liberation movement formed under the direction of communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh to combat the French and the occupying Japanese forces. The Viet Minh, as they were known, coordinated their efforts with Allied troops fighting in the war’s Pacific Theater until the eventual defeat of Japan in 1945. After the war, the Viet Minh moved to the city of Hanoi in northern Vietnam and proclaimed national independence under a provisional government—a move that would lead to the outbreak of the First Indochina War (1946-1954) as France sought to reclaim its colony.
Backed by communist governments in the Soviet Union and the newly formed People’s Republic of China, the Viet Minh held their ground. In 1950, the fighting escalated to a Cold War crisis as the Korean War raged to the north. At the Geneva Conference of 1954, an accord was reached with the hope of finding a peaceful resolution, calling for the separation of Vietnam at the 17th parallel with French loyalists moving to the south and communist sympathizers moving to the north. The Geneva Accords stipulated that Vietnam be reunified by a national election in 1956, but as unification efforts stalled and Cold War tensions continued to build, the United States became increasingly involved. In addition to contributing equipment and millions of dollars in financial aid, the U.S. soon deployed a contingent of non-combat personnel with its Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to train Republic of Vietnam (RVN) forces and to oppose the spread of communism into South Vietnam.