The first photograph in Ed Eckstein’s Grunts: The Last U.S. Draft, 1972 (Schiffer, 128 pp., $24.99) is a stark black-and-white shot of ten young men walking single file into the U.S. Army Examining and Entrance Station in downtown Philadelphia in December of 1972. The last one is a pic of four guys in a Jeep at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.
In between, Eckstein’s camera chronicles what happens as the men get processed into the Army at the AFEEs station, get sworn in, arrive at Fort Jackson for more processing, and then go through Basic Training.
Eckstein undertook this assignment nearly five decades ago for a magazine called Youth. “I was probably the first photographer to be embedded in a basic training platoon,” Eckstine says in the book’s short introduction.* “I was given complete, uncensored access to the rituals of basic training during the time I spent there. I hope these photos convey, in unflinching detail, the rigors of basic training, juxtaposed with the vulnerability of the young soldiers.”
That’s exactly what these stark, un-posed, black-and-white, caption-less photos do. The images need no captions. Every one of them will hit home with anyone who went through the process during the Vietnam War.
*Another professional photographer, Dick Durrance, who was drafted into the Army in June 1966, took photographs (also black and white) starting with his time at the induction center at Hamilton, New York. He kept shooting on the train ride to Fort Jackson and at Basic Training there, as well as Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT), and throughout his subsequent tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He published a selection of those striking photographs in his 1988 book, Where War Lives.