The special operations teams of Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO) captured some of the most unique and telling images of the Vietnam War.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy authorized the activation of DASPO. Their duty was to provide the government with an unbiased view of military subjects all over the world. The photographers and videographers of DASPO put their lives on the line to document an important perspective of on-the-ground operations.
Pictured here is Sergeant First Class Martin "Marty" Steinbis, U.S. Army, DASPO, in Vietnam.
First Lieutenant John G. Gilroy
Pictured here is First Lieutenant John G. Gilroy, U.S. Army, DASPO.
"My message to my guys was, you know, we're here. Let's shoot the best possible film and the best possible quality and just knock their socks off with what we do. Let's just do it as creatively and as good as we can," Lt. Gilroy said of DASPO's mission in Vietnam.
Specialist 5 Richard Durrance
"I knew I wanted to be a combat photographer, and I was fortunate enough to be assigned to DASPO. I was there to photograph the war. That's what I was looking at," said Specialist 5 Richard Durrance.
"I wanted to try and understand why it is that war is still with us, and I was able to do that. I understand it. I came to realize that war, the urge to fight, simply is a part of our human nature. And there's not much likely to change that," Durrance explained.
In this photo taken by SPC Durrance in 1968, an artilleryman with the U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division reads a letter from home.
"One of the things that struck me when I came across this guy sitting on his howitzer, reading a letter from home, is that behind him was a guy who did not have a letter, did not have someone reaching out to him -- underlining the loneliness of living in a war zone so far away from home," said Durrance.
"I think there was no lonelier day than the day that the mail came from halfway around the world. Because in that moment, hearing about the life that's so far away we felt just terribly alone out there in the middle of the jungle."
"This picture of this soldier...reminded me of the fact that we spent a lot of time on long, lonely walks. Going from point A to point B, eating dust if we were on a highway, getting bit by bugs if we were in the jungle. We spent a lot of time walking," Durrance remembered.
This photo by SPC Durrance shows an infantryman with the U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division carrying an M-60 machine gun in Quảng Trị Province, north central Vietnam.
In this photo by SPC Durrance, a crewman with the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division takes a break inside an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) on yet another hot day near Tan Thoi Nhut, Vietnam.
"I shot 11 rolls of film that were on my DASPO rolleiflex that were in my pocket, and just after I took this picture a kid just one APC over from us got hit, so I ran over to pick him up and help him get back to a trench," Durrance explained.
"In doing that I lost the 11 rolls of film that I'd shot for DASPO, which was most of the battle. Only when I got to the trench did I realize that it was gone, so I wasn't going to go back into the fire fight to find it."
Sergeant First Class Howard Breedlove
Pictured here is Sergeant First Class Howard "Harry" Breedlove, U.S. Army, DASPO.
"Harry Breedlove was probably the best photographer we had in the unit at that time. He was just fabulous. Harry was one of these guys that was raised in the holler, and I don't think he had any shoes until he got in the Army," a fellow DASPO member said of SFC Breedlove.
Base Camp Operations
This 1968 photo by SFC Breedlove shows members of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division passing sand bags at Phu Bai Combat Base in central Vietnam.
"He had the knack. He could see light and dark, he could see contrast, and he could see a simple image of a guy just eating some sea rations and take that picture, and it was beautiful. He was a great photographer," a fellow DASPO photographer said of SFC Breedlove.
Specialist 5 Theodore Acheson
"I hate to say this, but when you're under fire, the adrenaline's going -- it was almost like an aphrodisiac, getting this footage," said Specialist 5 Theodore "Ted" Acheson, pictured here, of his time in DASPO.
"I mean with [the enemy] firing back at you, the adrenaline is really going and it was, from the standpoint of a photographer, it really intrigued me to get as best footage as I could. It may never happen again."
Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon
Specialist 5 Robert C. Lafoon was a DASPO photographer during the Vietnam War.
"We had just landed on a helicopter assault. There was a lot of smoke in the front," SPC Lafoon said of taking this photo.
"I [took the picture] from the back, and you can see where there's a couple of parked radio telephone operators, RTOs, surrounding the company commander."
An exhausted soldier rests inside an M113 APC near Củ Chi, Vietnam in 1967.
"We had a pretty bad day. Even though you're out there with Army Personnel Carriers, most of the time you're dismounted and you're walking. It was really hot," said SPC Lafoon, who took the photo.
"He was exhausted, in fact I'm pretty sure he was asleep. There was sweat and dirt just trickling down the side of his face. So I just very quietly got a shot of him."
In this photo taken by SPC Lafoon in 1966, a soldier holds a puppy while sitting on top of an M113 APC near Laike, Vietnam.
"The story with that little dog was we had had a little bit of a fire fight and they brought in close air support. But I mean the area in front of us was hit like crazy, and here comes this little dog. I don't even know how the dog survived," said Lafoon.
This 1968 photo, taken by Sergeant First Class Alfred "Bat" Batungbacal, shows members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division operating north of Huế, Vietnam.
On the Attack
In this 1966 photo by SFC Batungbacal, a helicopter takes members of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division to the Cambodian border.
Sergeant First Class Henry Swartout
Sergeant First Class Henry "Hank" Swartout was a member of DASPO, during the Vietnam War.
Members of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division are on the pursuit of enemy units in Bình Dương Province, Vietnam in this 1969 photo by Captain Roger Hawkins.
Specialist 5 Daniel Bauer
"It was operation Rang Dong, he had just gotten [to Vietnam]. He got initiated real quick to irrigation canals, leeches, and that such. Of course he's up to his waist in water," a fellow DASPO photographer said of this photo of Specialist 5 Daniel "Dan" Bauer.
This photo was taken by Private First Class Carl C. Hansen in 1968. It shows members of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division in Chu Lai, Quảng Ngãi Province, Vietnam working as a blocking force for members of the 2nd Vietnamese Army Division.
Specialist 4 Andy Anderson
Shown here is Specialist 4 Andy Anderson, U.S. Army, DASPO, during the Vietnam War.
Specialist 4 Kermit Yoho
This photo of Specialist 4 Kermit Yoho was taken one day before he was killed in action on February 10th, 1966. Yoho was one of two DASPO members killed in the line of duty during the Vietnam War when he was hit by an exploding grenade while on a search and clear mission.
SPC Yoho was just one week away from completing his 90-day assignment in Vietnam when he was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Vietnam Service Medal. This year marks 50 years since his passing.