Hundreds of thousands of young Americans were dispatched to Vietnam in the 1960s, and many had no intention of going back there.
But photographer Bill Snead – who in 1965 chronicled life and death in the war-torn country – itched for more.
Snead would return in 1968, and again in 2000, always enamored by the country he had seen ripped apart by violence.
Snead fell in love with photography as a teen working at the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan., then newsrooms at the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal and the Wilmington, Del., News-Journal. In 1965, the News-Journal sent Snead to cover the Vietnam War.
Three years later, United Press International brought Snead on as Saigon bureau chief and shipped him back to Southeast Asia.
He settled into his desk in the South Vietnamese capital just before the 1968 Tet Offensive.
For the then-30-year-old photographer, the story of Vietnam was bigger than war. The everyday life of Saigon continued, and Snead captured some of it on film.
His photos documented the contrasts of life in a war zone.
“Vietnam wasn’t all bodies, bombings and villages on fire,” Snead said.
“I knew no matter how many explosions were going off in your picture, (readers) don’t want to see that every day.”
He spent two years in Vietnam, returning to the U.S. and taking up photo editor positions at UPI’s Chicago office, then National Geographic, then the Washington Post.
But after stints behind desks, and photographing events at the White House – he was once named White House photographer of the year – Snead longed to get back to shooting the wider world. In 1992, he was a Pulitzer prize finalist for his images of the plight of Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq.
Snead settled back in his hometown as editor of the Lawrence Journal World in 1993 and ran the newsroom for 10 years.
Reluctant at first, he revisited Vietnam in 2000.
“One day I woke up and said ‘I’ve gotta get back there,’ and it was terrific,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to visit.”
Snead, now 77, still shoots occasionally for the Kansas Health Institute. He also plans to give thousands of his old photo negatives to the University of Texas.
Today, Snead is fighting leukemia and lives quietly with his wife in Lawrence.
These girls dressed in white smock-like dresses considered themselves hostesses. If some were not busy with a customer they would gather at the door and sometimes open it to bade the male passerby to enter.
When inside the hostess would yell out something in Vietnamese and escort you to a booth. By magic a shot glass filled with real tea would appear on the table. And your new best friend would suggest that you order a beer, whiskey or something non-alcoholic for yourself..
A tea went for about $3 and your drink would be a couple of bucks and on up.. But you had to watch your new friend that she didn’t drink her teas too fas or order two at a time.
Vietnamese Jockey: A young jockey gets creative with the smoke from his Salem cigarette between races at the Phu To Race Track on the outskirts of Saigon. Racing continued in Vietnam until the1968 Tet offensive when the racetrack became a command post filled with American tanks artillery and armored personnel carriers.
Getting around Vietnam was not always by foot, plane or helicopter and when push came to shove hopping a ride in
the back of an army trash truck to Camp Eagle definitely beat walking.
Photo 7. -Casualty of war –Vietnamese baby whose parents were killed during fighting near Bien Hoa eats grapefruit in a refugee camp, oblivious of her situation. After this photo was transmitted across the world by United Press International hundreds of offers to adopt the child were received by the news service. Returning to the refugee camp we found the child gone with no records of where she went. A hunt for the child was unsuccessful.
Photo by Bill Snead-The last Vietnamese taken out of the United States Embassy during the Tet Offensive of 1968, the offensive that changed the war. The prisoner, holding a U.S. identification card in his hand, was taken to the back of a nearby hospital and shot by Vietnamese military police.
Photo 8. Last VC in US Embassy- US Military Policemen escort the last probable Viet Cong found inside the U.S. Embassy during the Tet Offensive fighting in Saigon, February, 1968. Most of the American and South Vietnamese troops were positioned outside the city leaving the MP’s to battle Viet Cong who had infiltrated the city. The prisoner, holding his U.S. government identification card, was taken to a nearby hospital, escorted to the back of the building and shot by South Vietnamese military policemen
Photo 17- One of the many appropriate nick names Huey helicopters have is “Dust Off”. This one is landing south of Da Nang to pick up some very dusty troopers
Civilian residents of a Saigon suburb scurry out of their neighborhood, some waving white flags, to a quieter part of town during fighting. In some cases the Viet Cong would infiltrate an area individually and regroup before dawn attacking strategic targets.
Faces of Frustration-A Vietnamese mother carries her daughter on her back as she watches worshipers outside the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh City. Many who lived in the war-torn agricultural areas of the Delta would have to travel to cities to beg for food and shelter.
Photo 15–Winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese population was a slogan often heard during the Vietnamese War. In this case someone
in the US Military got the idea that helping Vietnamese get back in the elephant business could possibly move hearts in that direction. UPI editor Dick
Oliver got a short ride during an elephant operation in Tra Bong.
Photo 13–You could cover lots of ground fast when you got a ride in General Olinto Mark Barsanti’s helicopter, when he was
dropping in on his troops at Camp Eagle and beyond in Vietnam. Barsanti was the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles.”
It would get interesting when he asked his pilots to drop down to get a closer look, Plus, on the headset, you could hear his comments during the ride. He was
a real gentleman much appreciated by his troops.
Photographer Tim Page: Tim Page was and remains one of the true characters in journalism. I guess he felt he needed
an extreme close up of a young Vietnamese protester in downtown Saigon when this photo was taken.. Page was in and out of Vietnam many times during the conflict and had the distinction of being wounded four times while photographing combat. Following the war Page and Horst Faas, an Associated Press photographer published “Requiem” dedicated to the photographs of all photographers who lost their lives in the war. It is a terrific book.
Vietnamese Airborne with M 79.– A Vietnamese Airborne trooper lays low with his M79 grenade launcher pointing towards some noises
he and his comrades had heard earlier. After about 30 minutes his unit moved to higher ground. This action was only a few miles from
Tan Son Nhut Airport on the outskirts of Saigon. During the war it was one of the busiest airports in the world.
Photo 18-The blank stare of a Vietnamese girl mirrors the trauma of losing homes, friends and family. This was in the Da Nang area.
Elephant grass landing-Despite limited vision in eye-high elephant grass two GI’s hit the ground running as the door
gunner keeps his eyes focused in the direction they’re headed.
Machine Gun At Ease-A heavy-duty M60 machine gun rests on the bank of a rice paddy during a rainy-day sweep by South Vietnamese troops in the Delta. Farmers working the paddies were rounded up and searched.
Photo 3 –1n 1968 I was sent tp Pu Loi to shoot some photos of a new helicopter, the Bell AH-Huey Cobra. It seated two and had incredible firepower. Bell, the manufacturer had some problems and wanted photos to show it working in Vietnam Spent a couple of days shooting those. Getting back to Saigon presented a problem until I found a G.I.and told him I could use a ride back to Saigon Headed for Saigon, He found one in that finally started. On the flight to Saigon I took My first hand held Selfie with a Nikon fish eye lens. The US military lost about 300 Huey cobras during by the end of the VN war, many by accident.
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