Above photo: A medic area designed by Food Machinery Corporation. July 28, 1969. Credit Cynthia Copple/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
By Finbarr O’Reilly. This article originally appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 30, 2018
For more than four decades, Art Greenspon kept his recollections of photographing the Vietnam War for Overseas Weekly tucked away deep in his memory, as inaccessible as the images themselves. Then, in 2014, a treasure trove of 35 mm negatives emerged from the gloom of a Scandinavian cellar, vividly reminding Mr. Greenspon of his time working for the scrappy little alternative tabloid.
“I was thrilled and horrified at the same time,” Mr. Greenspon wrote in a new book showcasing the long-forgotten images. “I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to see my photographs once again. But it also stirred up troubling memories and emotions that I had worked hard for decades to keep in safe storage.”
He is among the photographers whose rediscovered work is part of “We Shot the War: Overseas Weekly in Vietnam,” a book and exhibition of the same title running through Dec. 8 at the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion at Stanford University.
A soldier examines his C-ration meal. South Vietnam. May 3, 1969. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Black soldiers at Camp McDermott stand by a barbed-wire fence intended to segregate their living quarters from those of white soldiers. Oct. 10, 1970. Credit Brent Procter/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives. NOTE: This photo statement generated the most controversy within the comment section of the original post
Troops clap as Johnny Cash performs “The Folsom Prison Blues.” March 1, 1969. Credit Don Hirst/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Ann Fabos of U.S.A.I.D. leading a protest against the Army ban on women’s pants, after an incident in which she was denied entrance into the Rex Hotel in Saigon for an Overseas Weekly story. Jan. 10, 1970. Credit Cathy Domke/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
The featured photographs are not the iconic images we often associate with the Vietnam War. Although the photographers covered combat, few scenes in the book depict the blood-soaked drama of the battlefield. Instead, they offer relaxed portraits of American G.I.s and Vietnamese civilians taken between 1966 and 1972. They mostly show the long hours of boredom and tedium that dominate life at war.
Both the book and exhibition also explore the outsize role of a publication led by two tenacious women, Marion von Rospach and Ann Bryan, both Stanford alumnae. Ms. von Rospach founded Overseas Weekly with her husband in Germany in 1950 for American military personnel stationed in Europe. Ms. Bryan opened the paper’s Pacific office and published the first edition in 1966.
Early on, Ms. Bryan, the only female bureau chief in Saigon, ran a one-woman show from her second-floor apartment, working as a reporter, photographer, editor and operations manager. Her mission was to write for soldiers in their own language. She fought for the right of women to report from combat zones despite — or perhaps because of — remarks from officers such as, “What the hell is a woman doing here?”
Capt. Joseph F. Stringham issuing commands to his company on Black Leach Hill. February 1968.Credit Art Greenspon/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
A weary soldier taking a break at Landing Zone in Evans, Cambodia. May 11, 1970. Credit Don Hirst/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Rescue helicopters pick up combat patrols of B Company. South Vietnam. 1968. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Ms. Bryan was “a no-nonsense woman, a female boss in a man-centric war zone,” according to Mr. Greenspon, who arrived in Saigon on a one-way ticket, a two-week tourist visa and $50 in his pocket. Ms. Bryan gave him his start. Mr. Greenspon, who also sold pictures to newswires, went on to make one of the war’s most memorable images, “Help from Above,” showing a soldier with arms outstretched to an incoming medevac helicopter. The image was the inspiration for the poster for the 1986 film “Platoon” starring Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.
With a crew of mostly freelance contributors, including the book’s featured reporters — Cynthia Copple, Don Hirst, and Brent Procter — Overseas Weekly focused on the G.I.s rather than military brass or the official policy reports found in Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper based in Washington, D.C., that operates under the Department of Defense. Long before blogs and social media offered a platform for alternative voices, the tabloid covered issues faced by the grunts, including salacious reports about courts-martial in sex cases. This, along with the use of pinups of semi-clad women on the front pages, earned it the nickname Oversexed Weekly. It was popular among troops, but not the brass. The Army briefly banned the sale of the paper in Europe in 1953 for “irreverent treatment” of the military, but Congress members and the American Civil Liberties Union helped overturn the ban.
A refugee faces questioning by a U.S. Marine. March 1968. Credit Art Greenspon/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
In this image marked by an editor for publication, Specialist Fifth Class Jimmy L. Arnold holds a toddler in his arms and obtains a present from Santa for him. South Vietnam. Dec. 25, 1966. Credit Ann Bryan/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
An unidentified South Vietnamese police officer with a band of bullets around his waist glances backward while keeping guard. Nha Trang, Vietnam. 1968. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
The paper earned its muckraking reputation — and the ire of the Pentagon — by printing articles on racism, drug abuse, the military justice system, and the sex-reassignment surgery of a transgender World War II veteran. It was put up for a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the underground activities of the American Nazi Party within the U.S. military.
“Many Army officers maintained that though the facts were usually right … the stories fostered disrespect for the military establishment,” wrote The New York Times in a 1969 article.
Throughout the conflict, the paper’s staff was devoted to reflecting the war back to the young Americans fighting it. Mr. Hirst documented Johnny Cash, June Carter, and Carl Perkins’s 1971 performance for U.S. troops at Long Bình — an experience that was later recounted in Cash’s song “Singin’ in Vietnam Talkin’ Blues.”
“Unlike photographers working for major media outlets the Overseas Weekly photographers found that their subject was also their audience,” wrote Eric Wakin, deputy director at the Hoover Institution, in the book’s foreword. “They took photographs that were never intended for a civilian viewership.”
Gunner Pete Jenkins. South Vietnam. 1968. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
First Lt. Pete Runnels radios while holding an M16 rifle equipped with an M148 grenade launcher. South Vietnam. July 26, 1966. Credit Ann Bryan/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
A medic attends to a wounded man. July 26, 1969. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
With the publication of the forgotten archives, a new generation of civilians and service members now has access to a valuable record of a war that killed one million Vietnamese and over 58,000 Americans, a toll that still resonates nearly half a century later.
“Combat scars everyone, soldiers and journalists alike. And the psychological wounds don’t heal, even after fifty years,” Mr. Greenspon wrote in his essay. “Now, Hoover has stirred up a whole new set of traumatic recollections and resentments. I am both excited at seeing some of my lost photos and, at the same time, troubled by the memories they spark.”
Vo Thi Phuong resting in a hospital, with one of her children standing by the bed. Pleiku, Vietnam. April 20, 1970. Credit Don Hirst/Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Soldiers await medics and tend to injured Vietnamese peasants. South Vietnam. 1970. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
People accused of being National Liberation Front guerrilla soldiers blindfolded and taken prisoner by military police. South Vietnam. Dec. 11, 1966. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Soldiers marching through fog and dust. South Vietnam. May 3, 1969. Credit Overseas Weekly Collection/Hoover Institution Library and Archives
Finbarr O’Reilly is a photographer and the co-author with retired Sgt. Thomas James Brennan of “Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War,” published in paperback this month by Penguin. Follow him on Instagram.
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