Remember by Roger Raepple

Remember (Brilliant Press, 76 pp. $45) by the photographer Roger Raepple is a vivid collection of photography and verse honoring those who paid the ultimate price while serving in our nation’s military. It’s a beautifully produced coffee-table book with 32 photo plates, some on extended fold-out pages. Most are accompanied by a few lines of prose or poetry. Most of the images are of grave markers, war monuments, and statuary. Raepple served in the U.S. Army in the mid-1960s.

On one page there’s the line from Frederic Weatherly’s “Danny Boy” that reads, “I shall sleep in peace.” It begs to be compared to Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem a few pages before, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” with its famous lines:

I am not there I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle Autumn rain.

Accompanying a photograph of the Faces of War Memorial in Roswell, Georgia, are these lines from a poem by Michael O’Donnell:

I kicked up the stones

Along the alley way behind the house

And tapped a stick I found

To no familiar rhyme …

I was not going to think about you …

You were all I thought about. …

Alongside a truly stunning photo of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Raepple writes, “If one place can evoke every emotion, this place can: anguish, contempt, remorse, bitterness, hatred, love, betrayal, fondness, warmth, forgiveness.”

A nice surprise for me was the inclusion of the complete lyrics of the song “Boxes” by my good friend, the Texas singer-songwriter Sam Baker. In “Boxes” Baker writes that among the keepsakes a woman has held onto for many years—photographs, trophies, and drawings—is a letter informing her, “Your first lieutenant is not coming back.” The book also contains poems by Raepple, Morgan Ray, Josephine Pino, and others.

Among the photographs are Raepple’s images of the “Three Servicemen” statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (below), the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (aka the Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in D.C.

Facing the page with a photograph of the “Follow Me” statue at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Fort Benning is the famed World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches,” with its blistering final stanza:

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go.

A second poem by Michael O’Donnell, written a few months before he was killed in action in Vietnam, includes the following lines:

And in that time

When men decide and feel safe

To call the war insane,

Take one moment to embrace

Those gentle heroes

You left behind …

This book encourages—indeed, insists—on such remembrances. Remember would make a great gift. I hope this book gets picked up by libraries, and believe it would also fit well in waiting-room areas of offices dedicated to helping veterans and their families.

The book’s website is remember-vets.com

–Bill McCloud

From Hell to Hollywood by Hal Buell

One would be hard pressed to find a journalist, Vietnam War veteran, or Baby Boomer who does not know the work of the Vietnamese-born war photographer, Nick Ut, especially his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Kim Phuc, known as “the Napalm Girl.”

Fellow photojournalist Hal Buell’s new book, From Hell to Hollywood: The Incredible Journey of AP Photographer Nick Ut (Associated Press, 216 pp. $35, paper; $11.49, Kindle), younger generations can learn about what a profound impact his photography had on an entire generation—whether they served in Vietnam, reported and photographed the war, or protested it at home.

The book contains 198 pages of photographs Nick Ut shot for the Associated Press in Vietnam from 1965 until he retired from the AP in 2017. There are many stirring photos he shot during the war, in which he was wounded twice.

What makes From Hell to Hollywood even better is Hal Buell’s fine prose, which details Nick Ut’s guarded entry into photography after his older brother, Huynh Thanh My, a well-known actor, CBS cameraman, then AP photographer, was killed photographing an ARVN operation near Can Tho in 1965. He’d been wounded and was killed by Viet Cong soldiers after they overran the battlefield.

“In that moment, the worlds of Huynh Cong (Nick) Ut and Arlette, My’s wife, collapsed. She was now a 21-year-old widow with a 5-month-old daughter,” Buell writes. “He was now a teenager whose mentor, the central foundation of his life, was taken away.”

Nick Ut’s sister-in-law pleaded with AP photo bureau chief Horst Faas to put him to work because his family needed a new bread winner. He was only 16 years old. Faas resisted at first; didn’t want to be responsible for the demise of two people in one family. But Faas relented and put the young man to work in the Saigon bureau’s darkroom.

It was there that Nick Ut became fascinated with the entire photographic process, and soon yearned to go out in the field as his brother had done. AP correspondent Peter Arnett helped make that happen and Nick Ut soon was doing what his brother had done in Vietnam and in Cambodia.

The photo he took for which he remains best known to this day was an image of then 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc as she was running down a road, naked, after her village was napalmed by a South Vietnamese Air Force plane on June 8, 1972. I interviewed Nick Ut about that fateful day for News Photographer Magazine in 2006.

“I saw a little girl running,” he told me. “She had torn off all her clothes. She was yelling, `Nóng quá! Nóng quá!’ [Too hot! Too hot!]. Her body was burned so badly. I didn’t want her to die, so I poured cold water on her.”

He didn’t know that cold water actually spread the napalm gel, exacerbating her pain.

“Then I borrowed a poncho from an ARVN 25th Division soldier because I did not want her to be naked,” he said. “She kept saying, `Chắc con sắp chết! Chắc con sắp chết!’ [I think I’m dying! I think I’m dying!].”

Ut said that Kim Phuc was in shock when he and other AP staffers got her to a hospital in Cu Chi. ARVN soldiers were mostly milling about. In a fit of exasperation, he showed his media pass and screamed: “If she dies, I will tell the story of this hospital.” Thanks to Nick Ut, Kim Phuc did not die.

In exacting, masterful prose Hal Buell tells the story of a photojournalist extraordinaire who went from capturing the horrors of war for the Associated Press to photos of American baseball (as foreign to him as cricket is to Americans), and countless movie stars.

According to Buell, when Nick Ut retired in 2017, he was constantly asked what he would do with his life now. His response? “I will always take pictures. Taking pictures is my doctor, my medicine. My life.”

From Hell to Hollywood will appeal to Vietnam War veterans, journalists, journalism students, and Baby Boomers.

–Marc Phillip Yablonka

Yablonka’s books include Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film, profiles of 35 American military journalists who plied their trade during the Vietnam War. 

United States Marine Corps in Vietnam by Michael Green

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Michael Green uses images as his building blocks for United States Marine Corps in Vietnam: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives (Pen & Sword, 205 pp. $2.95, paper; $13.99, Kindle) and cements them together with a definitive narrative. Green, a prolific military historian, offers his version of the Vietnam War’s history in four sections: “The Opening Act” (1965), “The Fighting Increases in Scope” (1966-67), “The Defining Year” (1968), and “Coming to an End” (1969-75).

Green gleaned the photos and facts primarily from the Marine Corps Historical Center. His 150 pages of pictures alternate with 50 pages of analysis of combat from the American war’s start to its finish. Eight pages of photographs are in color.

The images include practically every weapon employed on each side of the battlefield: artillery, mortars, rifles, machine guns, pistols, flamethrowers, hand grenades, close support jet aircraft, helicopters, cargo planes, tanks, and other seldom-seen vehicles with tracks. The captions expand on what’s mentioned in the narrative and add finer details about the ebb and flow of the Marines’ war.

That said, the photographs convey little of the destructiveness of the weapons. They more resemble a catalog of military equipment.

Along with the weapons, personnel—mainly Marines, along with a few Vietnamese from North and South—appear in most of the pictures. They usually show Marines firing weapons or advancing through the bush. Green includes a handful of photos of the wounded and dead, but they are not horrifying images.

Although the images do not convey the intensity of combat, Green’s narrative does deliver that message. Citing archival accounts, he emphasizes the determination of troops on both sides and memorializes Marine Medal of Honor recipients.

His narrative discusses the difficulty of constant face-to-face encounters with the North Vietnamese Army along the DMZ, a major part of the Marines’ responsibility in northernmost I Corps. He deplores the high casualty count resulting from search-and-destroy missions. Things would have been much worse, he says, if not for “Marine supporting arms that turned the tide of battle as almost always.”

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The first Marines landing in Vietnam, March 1965, Da Nang

Green takes a hard look at the pros and cons of contentious issues between Marine Corps leaders and Army MACV commanders who usually had the final word. He concludes that Army generals generally underappreciated the Marines.

The book would be an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with the Vietnam War’s tactics, strategy, and equipment. Old timers might enjoy finding the faces of former friends.

I was not a Marine, but I flew many C-130 support sorties for them during Tet in 1968. The chapter covering that period brought back sad memories for me. Nobody had it tougher than the Marines.

United States Marine Corps in Vietnam is Michael Green’s twenty-first book in the Pen & Sword Images of War series.

—Henry Zeybel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cameras, Combat, and Courage by Dan Brookes

Decades ago Dan Brookes and Bob Hillerby decided to tell the stories of Army and Marine combat photographers in the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, along the way, Hillerby died in an accident. Nevertheless, late in 2019, Pen & Sword published Shooting Vietnam: The War by Its Military Photographers with both men as its authors.

Their accounts of the grunt-like existence of their fellow Vietnam War military combat photographers made me see them as infantrymen with cameras. As I put it in my review: “Their spellbinding stories and photographs raised question after question in my mind.”

Now Dan Brookes has produced a second volume about cameramen in action in the Vietnam War: Cameras, Combat and Courage: The Vietnam War By The Military’s Own Photographers (Pen & Sword, 216 pp. $32.95). The new book follows a format similar to the first volume: It presents autobiographies of eight photographers alongside their photo work.

Assigned to the U.S. Army’s 221st Signal Company and the 69th Signal Battalion, they shot front-line activities with both still and motion picture cameras. The book includes many pages of frames from footage of field operations.

Above all else, the second volume reconfirms the risk and drama associated with photographing armies in time of war. The men recollect their roles in operations large and small across the span of the war, including the 1968 Tet Offensive, Lam Son 719, the incursion into Cambodia, Operation Medina, and the siege of FSB Ripcord.  

I was surprised to learn through these stories that photographers usually worked independently, choosing when, where, and with whom they went into the field. Because they were in their early twenties, not surprisingly, the photographers often chose to partake in haphazard adventures. Brookes’ recounting of their experiences provide excellent reading.

Brookes pays deep tribute to the only Vietnam War photographer who received the Medal of Honor, Cpl. William T. Perkins, Jr., who smothered a hand grenade with his body to save the lives of fellow Marines. Brookes also immortalizes five 221st photographers killed in the downing of Ghost Rider 079, a UH-10 Huey helicopter.

Haddon Hufford on the job with the 1st Cav in Vietnam

Brookes closes the book’s photographic display with a gallery of stills focusing on Vietnam’s people, cities, and countryside.

Cameras, Combat, and Courage is a fitting follow-up to Shooting Vietnam. Both merit a center shelf position in your library because they are books you will pick up time and time again.

—Henry Zeybel

Other Streets by Mark F. Erickson

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Born in Saigon in 1972, Mark Erickson was evacuated as part of Operation Babylift in April 1975 and adopted by an American family. He returned to Vietnam in 1993 to photograph the country of his birth that he hardly knew.

The result, Other Streets (194 pp. $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is both a photographic achievement and a cautionary tale about self-publishing. Erickson graduated from Harvard with a keen understanding of Seventies street photography personified by Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. His photos are black and white with the characteristic black border that results from a filed film carrier.

“This book is not about the war or famous people or infamous places,” Erickson writes in the preface. “Instead, it is about the beauty that I found in ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places.” After “carrying this film around for over a quarter of a century,” he says, he put together his book.

It is a fine documentation of Vietnam at a particular time—long after the war concluded but before the economy lurched into overdrive.  Mark Erickson lovingly depicts men and some women working and relaxing in a small and still-simple country. Many of the images are quite striking and one gets the feeling that his subjects were as interested in him as Erickson was in them.

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Mark Erickson

Erickson is the book’s photographer, its author, its designer, and its publisher. This may suggest the book’s problem. It includes 90 duotones. A sharper, better presentation would have pared them down to perhaps 75.

The reproductions in the paperback version are not very good. This makes the photos overly dependent on the captions and the book easy to dismiss. That’s a shame because this volume contains some lovely photographs full of hope and a wistful longing.

A hardcover version of the book (with better-quality images) is available at the author’s website, markferickson.com

The e-book version (on Kindle) is available on line at this page on amazon.com

–Michael Keating

 

 

 

 

Lost in Vietnam by Chuck Forsman

 

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Back in the 1950s the Swiss photographer Robert Frank photographed the United States. Frenetically racing back and forth across America’s highways, he amassed a vast collection of photographs—stark and unyielding images seen through a foreigner’s trained eye. He was sympathetic but detached. His photos shocked by their suddenness and how the moment stood for the eternal. His seminal book was The Americans.

In Lost in Vietnam (George F Thompson Publishing/Casemate, 192 pp., $45) Chuck Forsman, a University of Colorado Professor of Art Emeritus, has done a similar thing in Vietnam—albeit traveling by motorbike. Like Frank, he has eschewed the monumental landscapes and the historical documentation. There aren’t any grand temples or grandiose French public buildings, although Vietnam’s long history whispers in every one of the book’s 112 images.

And perhaps surprisingly for a Vietnam War veteran who is also an accomplished photographer and painter, there’s little indication of the country’s wartime past. Forsman’s images are crammed with people, but there are no celebrities or politicians—just folks going about living their lives.

In Forsman’s book Vietnamese live and work and play and work some more. They’re tourists and brides and cooks and laborers and fishmongers. Bicyclists wend their way through monsoon-drenched city streets and boys play soccer in a field shared with water buffalo. Everywhere life is hard, and everywhere life is beautiful—and full of color and light.

Forsman’s work doesn’t have the gritty rawness of Frank’s grainy black-and-white images. Forsman also has been nurtured by “the decisive moment,” art photography, fashion photography, and travel photography. And, of course, it’s all in color.

But mostly Forsman’s work is remarkable for its curiosity and its respect for the people and culture of Vietnam. With each carefully composed image, he asks, “What’s this?” Or at least says, “Look here!”

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This is a remarkable book and a remarkable documentation of the lives and cultures of the Vietnamese people. The photos are preceded by a heartfelt and loving introduction by Le Ly Hayslip (When Heaven and Earth Changed Places) about Mẹ Vietnam—Mother Vietnam, its significance to the Vietnamese, as well as its history and continuing fascination.

Forsman’s website is chuckforsman.com

–Michael Keating

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Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans by Martin Tucker

There are two kinds of photo searches. One is a focused, narrow pursuit of a particular subject or time. The other is more meandering, more casual, and the results are more often than not delightful surprises.

Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans: The Memories They Brought Home (The History Press, 192 pp. $26.99, paper; $12.99, Kindle) is an example of the latter. While teaching photography at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Navy veteran (1967-69) Martin Tucker conceived the idea of soliciting negatives from area Vietnam War veterans for students to use to practice their darkroom-printing skills. As side benefits, veterans would receive high-quality prints; the students, a history lesson.

The project both failed and succeeded beyond Tucker’s dreams. Most of the veterans didn’t have negatives; they had prints. Many had been stored away for decades. As word got out and Tucker’s benevolent intentions were confirmed, though, images started coming in. Soon there were thousands—all of which needed to be carefully scanned and cataloged.

Recognizing the significance of the collection he had inadvertently amassed, Tucker edited the images down to a manageable number. Then he printed and framed them, and exhibited the collection at the Sawtooth School. The veterans were invited to the exhibit, and their reactions to their images recorded. They became the captions for the photos in the book. The exhibit toured the country for two years and is now permanently housed at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

The book does not attempt a narrative. It simply presents photographs taken by young troops of a very novel world they had fallen into. Sometimes facing images repeat themes or concerns; more often, they don’t. There are photos of Vietnamese people and others of the countryside. But mostly these are photos of the young men themselves navigating a strange, enticing, and very dangerous terrain.

The book does not contain photos of combat or lurid depictions of the war. Nonetheless, the war lurks behind every image. The book shows the things that the young men of North Carolina saw during their tours: The way they lived, the guys they hung out with, and the everyday experiences they shared. At their best, these are the clear-eyed, optimistic, and ever-curious images of American young men.

Mike Callahan, at the end of a Vietnam photo album he assembled for his daughter, wrote: “For sure, I did other things, some tedious, some terrible. This accounting is what I choose to remember and it is how I would like to be remembered.”

Callahan’s remarks, which conclude this volume, could speak for the entire book.

–Michael Keating

Shooting Vietnam Dan Brookes & Bob Hillerby

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Network television captured the lightning and thunder of the Vietnam War and gave a new dimension to war reporting. Same-day combat action appeared on evening news programs as correspondents presented graphic footage of death and destruction in color. In comparison, Americans at home saw World War II and the Korean War mainly through black-and-white still photographs, primarily in the widely read weekly Life magazine.

Shooting Vietnam: The War by Its Military Photographers (Pen & Sword, 251 pp.; $32.95, hardcover; $15.99, Kindle) by Dan Brookes and Bob Hillerby recreates the 1966-67 world of black-and-white news photography, along with accounts of the lives of military combat photographers in the Vietnam War. Both authors served with the 69th Signal Battalion.

Bob Hillery fills the first half of the book by explaining how some in-country photographers were really infantrymen with cameras. He took part in more than a hundred air assault missions with the 1st Cavalry Division and says, “I’d come to think of the danger, fear and adrenaline rush as being normal and couldn’t understand why some of the shooters tried to avoid going to the field.”

Attached to the 1st Cav’s B Troop, 1/9th, he describes working side-by-side with American soldiers at their best. The unit’s nickname was “The Headhunters,” and it was considered “the Cav of the Cav,” he says.

Dan Brookes then describes the jobs of behind-the-line photographers stationed at Tan Son Nhut and Cam Ranh Bay. Certain to be drafted, he enlisted to get a Lab Technician assignment, which he calls “a million dollar experience (that I wouldn’t give a nickel to do over).”

Brookes and his fellow “lab rats” developed and printed film and produced slides for highly classified briefings. Working regularly scheduled eight-hour shifts, they had free time to explore Saigon and its environs and photograph people and places. Occasionally, they manned the base perimeter when the VC attacked nearby—but they did not experience combat.

Separated by three years, the older Hillerby faced the war like a half-mad avenger. Brookes, on the other hand, wandered through the war zone partaking in coming-of-age experiences. Their slight age difference clearly reflects the distinctive moods of the time.

The book wraps up with two thought-provoking articles. Brookes revisits the My Lai massacre to discuss the responsibilities of photographers who encounter and record these kinds of dire events. Tony Swindell confirms Bob Hillerby’s account of the grunt-like existence of combat photographers, a situation that was not fully evident to Swindell until he found himself continually under fire in the hellhole of LZ Bravo near Duc Pho during 1968-69.

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Army photogs CPT Roger B. Hawkins, SFC Harry Breedlove, & Spec5 Ken Powell

Swindell offers a passage that, to me, clearly summarizes a grunt’s existence: “I used to lay on top of our bunker and look into space, wondering if aliens were watching us. If so, they probably figured we were packs of violent apes and turned their attention elsewhere.”

His spellbinding stories and photographs are the best part of the book. They raised question after question in my mind. His analyses of the Pacification and Phoenix programs thoroughly exemplify the misdirection and futility of the war.

Shooting Vietnam‘s importance lies in its examination and explanations of duties about which I had limited knowledge. I suspect many readers will feel the same.

The book is enlightening.

—Henry Zeybel

 

Unfortunate Sons by Joe Tyson, Sr.

The subtitle of Joe Tyson, Sr.’s Unfortunate Sons: The Beginning of Marine Corps Tanks in the Vietnam War and How I Survived Vietnam as a Marine Tanker (Friesen Press, 552 pp., $31.49, hardcover; $27.49, paper; $6.99, e book) covers the seventeen months in 1965 and 1966 that Tyson served as a young Marine tanker with B Co. in the 3rd Tank Battalion. In his book, Tyson describes the daily routines of patrols and combat situations. The story unfolds from his “internal foot-locker” of memories, as Tyson puts it.

Before he went to Vietnam, Tyson witnessed a mid-air helicopter collision that resulted in nine deaths and was on board a C-130 that made a rough landing in a blizzard and ended up sideways in a cornfield. He had been in the Marines for nearly two years when he volunteered for duty in Okinawa, “the Party Capital of the Marine Corps,” as Tyson puts it.

When Tyson arrived in Da Nang in March 1965, his unit was among some of the first tanks to deploy in the Vietnam War. His tank company operated around Marble Mountain in support of the 9th Marine Regiment.

Tyson and the members of his platoon had their time in-country involuntarily extended twice. All that time, he points out, they never saw a USO show or received any R&R on China Beach.

For the first five months the tankers were not involved in much action. But then things became more serious, including regular mortar attacks. When that happened, Tyson says, routine daily inspections ended and everyone began carrying loaded weapons.

The men seemed to spend most of their time battling heat, bugs, and snakes, but also had to be constantly on alert for anti-tank mines and grenades tossed at them.

Tyson carried with him a reputation for always saying what he was thinking. That led to a few run-ins with officers, usually lieutenants. He points out several times how decisions in Vietnam often were more trustworthy when they were made by someone with experience in-country, regardless of rank.

His time consisted of conducting sweeps with infantry, some company-sized and some with just a few squads. Some days there would be no enemy contact, other days a lot.

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As the months dragged on, Tyson and many of his fellow Marines become bitter over how the war was being fought, mainly because they felt that nothing was being accomplished. Looking back, he has nothing positive to say about members of the peace movement back home.

Tyson uses a lot of detail, especially in describing the firing of tank weapons, which becomes pretty repetitive by the end of the book, although that could be his point.

The book is filled with much reconstructed dialogue, Tyson’s way of pulling the reader into his story.

Dozens of photographs are spread throughout the book.

—Bill McCloud

Shooting War by Anthony Feinstein

Anthony Feinstein’s Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers (Glitterati Editions, 224 pp., $50) isn’t a photo book. It’s about war photographers; each one’s profile usually is accompanied by a single photo. Despite the striking Vietnam War image on the cover, anyone expecting the book to center around that conflict will be disappointed. Only two profiles are about photographers who covered that war. Just one of the profiled photographers—Chim Seymour—worked in World War II.

Conflicts have continued since 1975, and the men and women profiled here—several born after the conclusion of the Vietnam War—courageously documented fighting in such places as Serbia, the Central Africa Republic, South Africa, Libya, and Israel. Feinstein interviewed each photographer (or friends or relatives in the cases of Alexandra Boulat and Tim Hetherington, both of whom died in the conflicts they covered), then wrote individual essays describing their work, their motivations, the personal cost of their occupations, and what they witnessed.

Don McCullin has made a life’s work of covering conflict, including the Vietnam War. He was there at Hue during Tet ‘68, documenting some of the worst of the fighting. His stunning image of a battled-fatigued American Marine in Hue graces the cover of the book. Feinstein—a University of Toronto psychiatry professor who won a Peabody for his documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat—considers McCullin’s “intoxicating allure of war itself,” and compares his work to Goya’s etchings, The Disasters of War, which depicted Napoleon’s occupation of Spain.

“The name Tim Page is synonymous with the Vietnam War,” Feinstein writes. Page’s up-close images of that war are well known, as is his delight in working alongside the troops. Despite serious head injuries and obvious PTSD, Page recalls the war Vietnam with awe:

“What a great place to have a war,” he told Feinstein. “Good-looking women, great food, beaches, and the best dope.”

—Michael Keating