clear
Thursday September 20th, 2018 9:17AM

Burnished in history: How an AP photo showed the cost of war

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Dallas Brown can still see the bullets coming for him 50 years later, smacking into the dirt at his feet as north Vietnamese soldiers fired on his platoon during an ambush deep in the jungle.

Minutes later, as the deadly firefight wound down, Brown and his fellow soldiers in the 101st Airborne would be immortalized.

In one of the most searing images of the Vietnam War, Brown grimaces as he lies on the ground with a back injury. Not far away, a platoon sergeant raises his arms to the heavens, seemingly seeking divine help.

Landing on the front page of The New York Times, the black and white image by Associated Press freelancer Art Greenspon gave Americans back home an unflinching look at the conditions soldiers endured in what would become the war's deadliest year. Captured on April 1, 1968, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and appeared prominently in Ken Burns' recent Vietnam War documentary.

But for the young Americans who have decided to talk about it a half-century later, it was merely a moment in another sweltering day in a Southeast Asian jungle with well-hidden enemies all around. Some of them have spent years putting the experience in perspective.

"When I look at that picture now, I say, 'If I can survive that, I can survive anything,'" said Tim Wintenburg, who in the photo helps carry a wounded soldier over brush hacked away to create a helicopter landing zone.

Sgt. Maj. Watson Baldwin has his arms raised to guide in a helicopter that would take away the wounded men, including one shot in the leg by the Vietnamese soldier who was firing at Brown. Baldwin died in 2005, according to Fort Campbell officials who recently tracked down soldiers in the photo.

Brown, who lives near Nashville, and Wintenburg, of Indianapolis, met with an Associated Press reporter at Fort Campbell in Kentucky to recount the events surrounding the photo — their first news media interviews ever on the war.

After he received his draft notice in 1965, Wintenburg visited a recruiting office and was told he looked "like Airborne material."

By early 1968, he was 20 years old and on the front lines.

Brown, who was 18 when he landed in Vietnam, remembers being inspired by "The Ballad of the Green Berets." He was encouraged to go through airborne training. Both men ended up at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne.

In the spring of 1968, Brown and Wintenburg's squad was in the dangerous A Shau Valley on a weekslong "search and destroy" mission, meaning they never took prisoners. Firefights were commonplace.

Brown recalls their battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, telling them before one mission: "You get a body count, you get a prize."

"To my knowledge we might have taken a handful of prisoners the whole time we was in Vietnam," Brown said.

The soldiers were hiking up a slippery mountain trail after a monsoon when they paused to eat lunch.

Brown, sitting on his rucksack with his M-16 rifle across his lap, thought he saw a sapling move down a ravine. He didn't feel any wind. He switched his rifle to full-automatic as an enemy fighter stepped into view.

Known in the platoon as "hillbilly" for his Tennessee drawl and proficiency with a rifle, Brown fired on the first north Vietnamese soldier, killing him and then another behind him. He was reloading when a third enemy fighter fired back.

"You know you see these movies where you see clods of dirt jumping up? I could see them, I mean they was coming right at me and that's when I got off that rucksack," Brown said. "I thought, this guy, he means to kill me as sure as the world."

Brown lunged for cover, and a bullet struck the leg of a soldier who had been behind him. Once the ambush was put down, Brown carried the wounded man up the hill, injuring his back on the way.

Brown grimaced as the photo was snapped. Wintenburg, who had lost his helmet, helped the wounded soldier up to the landing spot. He glanced back toward Greenspon.

Greenspon now lives in Connecticut. He declined to be interviewed, saying the soldiers should always be the focus of any story about the photograph.

Brown and Wintenburg each spent about a year in Vietnam, and both men struggled with anxiety for years. But now, 50 years later, they relish opportunities to reunite with fellow 101st Airborne members.

Brown has a copy of the photo hanging in his home, and he has plenty of stories of how he convinced relatives and friends that he's in it. A few years ago, Brown's granddaughter and her boyfriend — now her husband — asked about it. Seeing it through their eyes reminded him of the growing pride he now takes in his piece of history.

Wintenburg shares that pride, though he is perhaps more sanguine about what led him to that moment.

"We didn't really have a choice back then," he said. "We did what we had to do."

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Daughter: Popular crooner Vic Damone dies in Florida at 89
Family members say crooner Vic Damone has died in Florida at the age of 89
12:31PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Burnished in history: How an AP photo showed the cost of war
Two Americans whose faces were burnished into history in one of the most iconic photographs of the Vietnam War have spoken with media about their experiences for the first time
12:29PM ( 6 minutes ago )
The Latest: Budget hikes missile defense, amid NKorea threat
President Donald Trump's budget for 2019 shows the administration's concern about the threat from North Korea and its missile program
12:26PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump's $4.4 trillion budget moves deficit sharply higher
President Donald Trump unveils a $4.4 trillion budget for next year that heralds an era an $1 trillion-plus federal deficits
11:41AM ( 54 minutes ago )
Chuck Schumer visits Mitch McConnell's hometown in Kentucky
Senatorial courtesy was in full display when the Senate's top two leaders - Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer - shared the same stage in McConnell's hometown in Kentucky
11:40AM ( 55 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump's $4.4T budget features soaring deficits
President Donald Trump is sending Congress a $4.4 trillion spending plan that provides a huge increase in defense spending while cutting taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, resulting in soaring budget deficits
11:30AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Family IDs British tourists killed in Grand Canyon crash
Family identifies Grand Canyon crash victims as veterinary receptionist, her boyfriend and his brother
9:42AM ( 2 hours ago )
APNewsBreak: White nationalist's planned campus visit off
An attorney for Richard Spencer says the white nationalist's plan to speak on the University of Cincinnati campus during spring break has been scuttled by a legal standoff over the Ohio school's demand for security fee of nearly $11,000
9:26AM ( 3 hours ago )
'We are being targeted': Voodoo believers fear a backlash
Practitioners of a religion they know as Haitian Vodou are defending their faith after two criminal cases in Massachusetts
9:14AM ( 3 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Daughter: Popular crooner Vic Damone dies in Florida at 89
Family members say crooner Vic Damone has died in Florida at the age of 89
12:31PM ( 4 minutes ago )
The Latest: Budget hikes missile defense, amid NKorea threat
President Donald Trump's budget for 2019 shows the administration's concern about the threat from North Korea and its missile program
12:26PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Trump's $4.4 trillion budget moves deficit sharply higher
President Donald Trump unveils a $4.4 trillion budget for next year that heralds an era an $1 trillion-plus federal deficits
12:20PM ( 15 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump plan might sell assets, including airports
President Donald Trump's infrastructure plan calls for possibly selling two of the three major airports serving the nation's capital
12:07PM ( 28 minutes ago )
Virginia climbs atop AP Top 25 for first time since 1982
Virginia has climbed to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in more than 35 years
12:01PM ( 35 minutes ago )