We Can Do It!

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Rosie The Riveter poster
Behind the camera: J. Howard Miller
Where: Miller’s Studio
Photo Summary: A poster put out by the US government to encourage women to head out into the workforce
Picture Taken: 1943
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee, J. Howard Miller

While other girls attend their fav’rite cocktail bar
Sippin’ dry martinis, munchin’ caviar
There’s a girl who’s really puttin’ them to shame
Rosie – is her name
All the day long, whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the Assembly Line
She’s makin’ history, workin’ for Victory
Rosie! The Riveter

-Rosie The Riveter was written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, America entered the war. Companies who had been already producing some war material for the Allies switched to full wartime mobilization. As factories stepped up production, they faced an immediate problem, manpower shortages. Men working in the American labor force left by the millions to serve their country in the military. Companies who had just signed lucrative contracts with the government desperately needed workers and they turned to as yet untapped resource, American Women.

Women in the Workforce

Women in the workforce were not a new thing, especially for minorities and the poor. These working women though were mostly restricted to the traditional female professions. The attitudes of the time placed the ideal role of a woman as a homemaker raising the kids. Compounding this way of thinking was the high unemployment during the Depression. Most saw women in the workforce as taking jobs from unemployed men. The American government seeing that it would have to smash these mind-sets launched a media campaign to get women into the labor force.

[bigquote quote=”Do the job he left behind” author=” American government slogan”]
With slogans like, “Do the job he left behind” or “The more women at work, the sooner we will win”, the government launched a media blitz intended to get more ladies into the factories. The “US Office of War information” even put out a “Magazine war guide” for publishers. It had ideas, slogans, and information on how to recruit women workers. Publishers were told to write articles depicting work as glamorous, with high pay but most of all emphasizing patriotism, doing all you can do. Articles soon appeared talking about how because of the war it would not reflect poorly on the man that he was not the sole moneymaker, that a family with a working wife was a patriotic family. Posters and ads of the time also stressed that the female in the factories scenario was temporary, to allay the fear that women were taking Men’s jobs. While making more money was also pressed as a plus, the government warned that the more money coming in shouldn’t be overemphasized or else women might go crazy with spending and cause inflation.

The Empowerment Posters

Part of the campaign was a series of propaganda posters encouraging all Americans to buckle down and do their part. An example of this was a poster created by Westinghouse War Production Co-Ordinating Committee artist J. Howard Miller. It was simply entitled “We Can Do it”. He based the poster on a United Press International (UPI) picture taken of Geraldine Doyle working at a factory. At the time of the poster’s release, the woman pictured wasn’t named Rosie. The Rosie name came later when a popular patriotic song called “Rosie the Riveter” was released. The song was written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and recorded by big band leader Kay Kyser. The name Rosie still wasn’t cemented as a household name until the Norman Rockwell Cover on the Saturday Evening Post came out.

Feminist Icon?

Recent research has been done on the purpose behind the “We Can Do it” poster. While modern culture has assigned the poster a symbol of women’s rights the original purpose may have been much different. Analysis by Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade have put forward the theory that the poster wasn’t created to be a feminist symbol rather it was a short run poster hoping to promote management and prevent strike action. They note that the poster has instructions in the bottom left corner telling to hang the poster from Feb 15 to Feb 28 [1943]. Also, a small company badge on her shirt collar is noticeable, so rather than being a poster for the general public Sharp and Wade claim that it was an internal poster for employees that already worked for the company not a call-up for more women from the general public.

the message wasn’t designed to empower workers, female or otherwise; it was meant, as were the other posters in the series, to control Westinghouse’s workforce … Images of happy workers expressing support for the war effort and praising workers’ abilities served as propaganda meant to persuade workers to identify themselves, management, and Westinghouse itself as a unified team with similar interests and goals … Kimble and Olson write: “…by addressing workers as ‘we,’ the pronoun obfuscated sharp controversies within labor over communism, red-baiting, discrimination, and other heartfelt sources of divisiveness.” Indeed, the authors note that such measures were effective, since “patriotism could be invoked to circumvent strikes and characterize workers’ unrest as unAmerican.” Today, we see the poster through a lens shaped by what came later, particularly Second Wave feminism.
–Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade

Rockwell’s Rossie

The May 29, 1943, edition featured Rockwell’s take on women doing their part for the war effort. Rockwell painted a statuesque factory worker named Rosie who contemplating the greater things in life while eating lunch is crushing a copy of Mein Kempf under her feet. Rockwell based the image on Michelangelo’s depiction of the prophet Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel. Like many of his painting, he used a model from Arlington, Vermont the small town where he spent most of his time. The 19-year-old telephone operator, Mary Doyle (later Married as Mary Keefe) posed for the picture and was quite surprised when Rockwell turned her small frame into the muscled Rosie seen on the cover.

Real life Rosies

The popular Rockwell cover and hit song prompted the government to launch a campaign promoting the fictional character of “Rosie the Riveter”. Rosie was seen as the ideal woman worker: loyal, efficient, patriotic, and pretty. Media were encouraged to go along and soon they started to find their own real-life Roses. One such Rosie was Rose Hicker, who with her rivet partner was reported to have broken a record for driving rivets into a Grumman “Avenger” Bomber at the Eastern Aircraft Company in Tarrytown, New York. Hollywood star Walter Pidgeon discovered his own Rosie when touring the FORD Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Michigan. He found a Rose Monroe riveting plane parts together, he quickly had her moved from the factory floor to the film stage, playing herself riveting in war bond films.

The similarities between the “We can do it!” poster and the Rockwell cover ensured that both women were labelled as Rosie. Soon every woman in the workforce was referred to as Rosie. Women who worked in the factories during World War II are still called Rosies. The Miller poster and Rockwell’s cover were seen as the ideal Rosie and each had a huge demand. Yet, Rockwell’s cover was copyrighted which slowed reproduction. Miller’s poster had no restrictions and it was soon on everything, as everybody wanted to show their support for Rosie. The Rockwell cover, while it had helped create the Rosie legend, slowly faded from view and Miller’s “We can do it” poster, rechristened Rosie the Riveter became the image everyone remembers.

Millions of women took up the call to fill the factory the floor’s vacated by the men during World War II. It became so hard to find women to do traditional jobs that many companies had to shut down, for example, some 600 hundred laundries were forced to close due to lack of workers. While women enjoyed the independence and money their jobs brought, after the war as the men started to return home most left or were forced from their jobs. They went either back into the home or into traditional female employment roles but not all left, as after World War II women in the workforce would never dip below pre-war levels.

Geraldine Doyle

For decades Geraldine Doyle, born July 31, 1924, was thought of a woman who inspired Miller’s poster. She has toured the country signing Rosie the Riveter posters. She didn’t make the claim she was Rosie until the 1980s when she found the picture in a 1942 Modern Maturity Magazine. Only 17 when she took the job at a metal pressing plant near Ann Arbor, Michigan she quit after only two weeks upon finding out that another woman had badly injured her hand doing the same job. Doyle loved to play the cello and was worried that the job might cripple her. In 1992 the U.S. Postal service created a stamp with Rosie’s Image. Geraldine Doyle died on December 26, 2010, from complications of her arthritis. Her daughter Stephanie Gregg said that Doyle was quick to correct people who thought she was the original women worker. “She would say that she was the ‘We Can Do It!” girl,” Gregg said. “She never wanted to take anything away from all the Rosie the Riveters who were doing the riveting.”

Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter

Naomi Parker Fraley

The image that started it all

When Doyle died in 2010 associate professor of communication at Seton Hall University in New Jersey James Kimble began to see holes in her claim to be the woman who inspired the poster. Central to the identity of Rossie is an uncaptioned photo that is claimed to have inspired J. Howard Miller. After years of research, in 2015, he made a breakthrough when he found a series of photos with the caption that listed the woman in the photo as Naomi Parker Fraley.

Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating, [The women wore] safety clothes instead of feminine frills … And the girls don’t mind – they’re doing their part. Glamour is secondary these days.

Naomi Parker Fraley was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in August 1921 to mining engineer Joseph Parker and his wife Esther. Eventually, they had eight children and moved throughout the country following mine work. After America joined WWII 20-year-old Naomi got a job at the Naval Air Station in Alameda with her sister Ada. It was there that a photographer took her picture. She didn’t make the connection until 2011 when she saw learned that the picture was the inspiration of the poster. No one would listen to her claims until Professor Kimble tracked her down to her home in California. When they went public the Omaha World-Herald asked how it felt to finally be known as the real Rosie she shouted through the phone “Victory! Victory! Victory!”

Mrs. Fraley’s first marriage, to Joseph Blankenship, resulted in a son Joseph Blankenship but the marriage ended in divorce. She got married again but her second husband, John Muhlig, died in 1971. Her third husband, Charles Fraley, died in 1998 after 19 years of marriage. On January 20, 2018, Naomi Parker Fraley herself died while living with her sister.

In 2016 in an interview with People Magazine she said: “The women of this country these days need some icons, If they think I’m one, I’m happy.”

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Bloody Saturday

battle of shanghai babyBehind the camera: H.S. ‘Newsreel’ Wong, also known as Wong Hai-Sheng or Wang Xiaoting. News footage was taken with Eyemo newsreel camera, this photograph was taken with his Leica camera.
Where: Platform of the Shanghai South Railway Station
Photo Summary: A crying baby sitting in the ruins of a bombed out train station
Picture Taken: August 28, 1937
This image is in the public domain

During an aggressive bombing raid on Shanghai by the Imperial Japanese army in 1937 untold thousands of Chinese civilians died and the city was largely destroyed. Photographer H.S. “Newsreel” Wong took the iconic photo “Bloody Saturday” which has also been largely referred to as “The battle of Shanghai baby” photo. This photo went on to be voted one of the top ten pictures of the year by “Life” magazine in 1937 and in 2003 appeared in the Time-life book “100 photographs that changed the World”.

The Battle of Shanghai

In 1937 the Battle of Shanghai was the first of the twenty-two major battles to be fought between the Imperial Japanese army of the Empire of Japan and the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese war.
Although air operations commenced on the 14th of August with heavy causalities on both sides, the bloodiest period of the bombing was during the “second phase” of air operations which were conducted from August 23rd to October 26th. It was during this Second phase of combat that the “Bloody Saturday” photo was taken.

Taking the Photo

H.S. “Newsreel” Wong was a cameraman working for the Hearst Metrotone News. On August 28th, he was gathered with many other reporters and cameramen on top of the Butterfield and Swire building to take photos of a supposed incoming bombing raid. By 3 PM no aircraft had been seen so most of the reporters left. Wong remained, however, and at 4 PM 16 Japanese aircraft emerged and then bombed a group of war refugees at Shanghai’s South Station. Wong left the building and quickly took his car to the Station. According to Wong, the level of gore and death was nearly unfathomable. Walking between the bodies Wong, “noticed that [his] shoes were soaked with blood.” He immediately began filming. Wong then claims that he saw two children on the tracks with a woman he presumed was the babies’ mother. A man came and grabbed one child, moving it to the platform, this is when Wong took the iconic shot of the long child, then the man, presumably the father, returned and took the next child, all the while Wong continued shooting as another wave of Japanese aircraft closed in on the ruined area. Wong was going to take the child with him but another survivor took the children. He was never able to determine if it was a boy or a girl and he never saw them again.

Reaction to the Photo

By the end of 1937, over 140 million people had seen the still black and white image of the child at the station. The photo was used to fan Anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. It was shown to movie audiences during the new-reels and it was also in newspapers and magazines. It caused Senator George Norris to claim that the Japanese were “disgraceful, ignoble, barbarous, and cruel, even beyond the power of language to describe.”

Controversy surrounding the Photo

Another picture with brother being placed on the platform

Another picture from the series that shows another child was rescued
Immediately the Japanese called the photo a fake, and a price of 50,000 USD was placed on Wong’s head (The equivalent of US$ 760,000 in 2011). Other photos were taken by Wong at the same show another child in the frame, along with a man. Wong claims this is the man that was moving the children to safety however the Japanese insisted this was his assistant, Taguchi, arranging the children to be more pitiable and hence photogenic. Another account has it that the man in the photo is an aid worker that posed for the photo and some have even alleged that Wong somehow added smoke to the photographs to make the surrounding damage seem more extensive than it was. A secondary photo of the child exists in which the baby is on a medical stretcher being given first aid by a Chinese boy scout and although this would seem to legitimize Wong’s account it is often not included in discussions even to this day.

Wong would go on to continue reporting but due to constant death threats from the Japanese, he was forced to take his family and relocate to Hong Kong. After the war, Wong retired to Taipei, Taiwan and died of diabetes at his home at the age of 81 on March 9, 1981.

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Farrah Fawcett – Swimsuit Poster

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Behind the camera: Bruce McBroom
Where: Farrah Fawcett’s home in Bel Air, California
Photo Summary: Farrah Fawcett in a red swimsuit
Picture Taken: Summer of 1976 poster released in Sept of same year

During World War II Betty Grable was the pin-up queen. After the war, the title was passed from various Hollywood bombshell to Hollywood bombshell but Farrah Fawcett ruled the 70’s. This poster which was released the same year as when she played Jill Munroe on the TV show Charlie’s Angels went on to sell a record 12 million copies making it one of the most famous pin-ups ever.

Pro Arts Inc.

Mike and Ted Trikilis dropped out of Kent State in 1967 to open an art gallery that sold posters. A shipment of anti-war posters soon became their number one breadwinner and so they sold the store and became the Pro Arts Inc. Ohio’s number one and only Distributor of Youth-Oriented Posters. They struggled for a few years but then a poster of the Fonz sold more than a quarter-million copies which bumped Pro Arts in the big leagues.
In April of 1976, Ted was working on his farm with the neighbor’s son Pat Partridge when Pat mentioned that if he running Pro Arts he would make a poster of Farrah Fawcett. He admitted that he and his friends had been buying women’s magazines just to get pictures of her from the Wella Balsam shampoo ads. Ted had never heard of Farrah but knew that if students were using ads of her then a poster would be a big seller. He soon got in touch with Fawcett’s agent Rick Hersh and tried to get a deal. After Ted finished talking Hersh was puzzled and asked, “What type of product is Farrah to be selling on the poster?” “We want to sell Farrah on the Farrah poster,” Ted explained.
Hersh passed the idea on to Farrah who thought it was “cute” and said she had a photographer she likes to work with.

Taking the picture

When the photo was taken Farrah Fawcett was still an unknown actress wanting to make it big. She hadn’t yet signed on for her hit show Charlie’s Angels but got some work doing commercials. Bruce McBroom a freelance photographer had worked with Farrah before and so Pro Arts agreed to hire him for the shoot. They wanted a bikini shot of the blond beauty.
The shoot was at Farrah’s Bel Air, Calif., home of her and then-husband, actor Lee Majors. She did her own hair and they took the photos behind the home by their pool. She modelled several different swimsuits but McBroom didn’t get excited about any of the pictures he shot. When she came down in the now famous red one-piece swimsuit to cover a childhood scar on her stomach McBroom knew he had something. For the backdrop McBroom grabbed the old Indian Blanket covering his car seat and hung it up, “I should have told people I styled this,” McBroom says, “but the truth is it came off the front seat of my ’37 Chevy.”
He took a number of shots, using his Nikon, including a sultry Farrah eating a cookie but Farrah chose the final frame that would make her one of the most famous people of the ’70s. In the early summer of ’76 McBroom sent a package of 25 shots of Farrah indicating which one Farrah wanted to use.

I’ve since heard that when the guy in Cleveland got the pictures, he went, “First of all, where’s the bikini?” He told me he wasn’t ever gonna pay me, because he hated the pictures. But I guess he showed them around to people in his business and they changed his mind. It was Farrah’s pose, Farrah’s suit, Farrah’s idea. She picked that shot. She made a lot of money for him and for herself, and made me semifamous.

McBroom was paid $1000 for the assignment but is happy to be associated with such a cultural icon. In 2006 on the 30th anniversary of the image, Fawcett said: “I was a little self-conscious [of the image], probably because my smile is so big, but it always more ‘me’ than any other photograph out there.”
Ice Used?

It was all Farrah
– McBroom

Legend has grown around Farrah’s prominent features and that she used ice but the photographer, McBroom has always dispelled the rumour saying, “It was all Farrah,”.

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett (born Ferrah Leni Fawcett on February 2, 1947) in Corpus Christi, Texas to James William Fawcett and Pauline Alice Evans. She is the second of 2 daughters. Her older sister, Diane, passed away from lung cancer in 1998. As a child, Farrah displayed a natural athletic ability which her father encouraged. She was raised Roman Catholic. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

In 1976, Fawcett played the character of Jill Munroe for one year in the successful TV series Charlie’s Angels. She was paid $5,000 an episode but with the popularity of the poster earned $400,000 in royalties. She broke her contract and left the show after one season. As settlement to a lawsuit stemming from her early departure, Fawcett appeared six more times as a guest star in seasons three and four.

Fawcett went on to receive achieve critical praise and her first of three Emmy Award nominations as a serious actress for her role as a battered wife in the 1984 television movie The Burning Bed. She also won acclaim in the stage and movie version of Extremities, in which she played a rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. She then played a predatory role in another miniseries, Small Sacrifices, receiving a second Emmy nomination. Her third Emmy nomination came in 2004 for her work in The Guardian. Fawcett has been nominated for several other awards as well including the Golden Globe Award and ACE awards.

Fawcett posed in the December 1995 issue of Playboy, which became the best-selling issue of the 1990s, with over 4 million copies sold worldwide. She later posed for the July 1997 issue, which also became a top seller.
Farrah Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. At approximately 9:28 a.m., PDT on June 25, 2009, in the intensive care unit of Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California Farrah Fawcett lost her battle with cancer.

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Che Guevara

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Che Cropped
Behind the camera: Alberto Korda
Where: Memorial service for the victims of the 4 March 1960 explosion of the Belgian arms transport ‘La Coubre’
Photo Summary: Che Guevara in, ‘The most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century.'” — Maryland Institute College of Art”
Picture Taken: March 5, 1960

On March 4, 1960, a terrific explosion rocked Cuba’s Havana Harbor. The French freighter La Coubre carrying Belgian munitions exploded. The initial explosion plus a secondary explosion killed over a hundred people and was immediately blamed on the CIA as an act of sabotage against the Castro regime. The next day, a memorial service was held that quickly turned into an anti-imperialist rally. Among the audience was a photographer, Alberto Korda. While Castro was giving one of his endless speeches, Che Guevara appeared near the front of the stage and looked over the crowd before moving out of sight again. In that short time Korda was able to snap one of the most iconic images of all time. Titled, Guerrillero Heroico, it would grow in fame as a symbol of the late 60s leftist protest movement. It would later be called, “the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century.” by the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna

Scene from the 2009 documentary: Chevolution

Che Guevara, real name, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born June 14, 1928, in the city of Rosario, Argentina. His upper-class family was of mixed Spanish, Basque and Irish descent. Throughout his life, he suffered from crippling bouts of asthma. The treatments of the time gave little relief and it was perhaps this helplessness that inspired him to learn medicine, eventually graduating from the University of Buenos Aires medical school in 1953.

While he was a student, he would often travel throughout South America on the fly, with little or no money. He often used to write in a journal and to home about the poverty and injustice he saw in his travels. The written record of one of these journeys with his friend, Alberto Granado, was published as a book and eventually a movie by the same name, The Motorcycle Diaries. It was during these travels that he was given his nickname, “Che” because of his frequent use of the word. “Che” is the equivalent of “mate” or “pal” in English and is a regional word only used in Argentina and Uruguay.

While in Mexico, he met and became a member of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, which was devoted to the overthrow of the Batista’s Cuban regime. In 1956 when the movement tried to storm Cuba it was almost wiped out in its first battle with at about 20 rebels, including Che, surviving. Quickly retreating to the Mountains Castro’s movement grew and became more and more successful. In 1959 Castro seized power and Batista fled the country. In February of the same year, Che was declared Cuban citizen by birth and held a number of high ranking positions in the country including, head of the National Bank of Cuba and Minister of Industries. Che espoused a modest lifestyle and avoided the trapping of power but was never successful in government. Eventually, he sought to prove himself again in battle and embarked in 1965 in an effort to spread Cuba’s revolution, and to start as “many Vietnams” around the world as possible.

His first stop and first failure was in the Belgian Congo, later Zaire and currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he assisted African rebels including Laurent-Désiré Kabila. CIA support of Congo government forces and Kabila’s seemingly interest in women more than revolution where major factors in the revolt being crushed. Although Kabila would 30 years later force Mobutu to flee Zaire when he entered Kinshasa on May 20, 1997, seizing control of the country.

Che’s next stop was Bolivia where a series of disasters leads to his rebel army being surrounded and himself being captured by a CIA-organized military operation. Guevara was killed in an old schoolhouse in La Higuera near Vallegrande on October 9, 1967. He was photographed dead, his hands removed and his body secretly buried in an effort to prevent his corpse from becoming a shrine and himself becoming a martyr. It was these photos of Guevara’s handless corpse that the American’s wished to be the lasting legacy of Che. Yet it was another photo, one of him alive, taken 7 years earlier by Alberto Korda that he would be immortalized.

Alberto Korda

The unaltered photo Alberto Korda took

Alberto Korda (September 14, 1928 – May 25, 2001) whose real name is Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez was born in Havana (Early in his career he changed it to Korda in hopes that people would hear “Kodak”). The son of a railway worker he took many jobs before choosing photography. Behind the camera, he found he was able to achieve his main goal in life, women. His first wife, Natalia Menendez, became the first Cuban fashion model. She would later recount, “He loved three things in this world – women, rum and the Cuban Revolution.” During Batista’s rule in the ’50s, Korda lived a double life spending his days photographing models and nights smuggling guns and people as a secret member of the urban anti-Batista underground.

After Castro triumphantly ousted the Batista government, Korda became Castro’s photographer and also worked as a photographer for the Cuban daily newspaper, Revoluciòn. It was while on assignment for Revoluciòn at the La Coubre memorial on March 5, 1960, that he took pictures of Cuban dignitaries and famous French writers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Included in the film roll where shots of all the speakers and two pictures of Che’s brief appearance. The editor of Revoluciòn decided to only use his shots of Castro and the French writers, sending the Che shot back to Korda. Korda knew that Che’s image was powerful and made a cropped version to hang on his wall. Korda would say he chose the image because “there’s something about his eyes in the photo. A kind of mystery. His personality comes through. It’s always hung on my walls and I’ve given it to many people as a present.”

Enter Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

Korda's roll of film negatives. Guerrillero Heroico appears on the fourth row down, third picture over

Passed out to the occasional friend and one or two Cuban publications Che’s image remained relatively unknown for 7 years until Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli entered the picture. The Italian was famous in Europe for smuggling the “Dr. Zivago” manuscript out of The Soviet Union. Feltrinelli had just come from Bolivia where he had hoped his fame would help in negotiating the release of a French journalist and professor Regis Debray. Debray had been arrested in Bolivia in connection with guerrilla operations lead by Che Guevara. Debray was able to tell Feltrinelli that Guevara was leading a doomed mission to overthrow the Bolivian government. The Italian publisher seeing a business opportunity in the publicity that would erupt if Che were killed had obtained the rights to publish Chè’s Bolivian Diary and asked Cuban officials where to get Guevara images.

Directed to Korda’s studio Feltrinelli presented himself and a letter of introduction from a high-ranking member of the Cuban administration. The document asked for Korda’s help in finding a good portrait of Che. Korda knew right away that his favorite image of Che fit the bill and pointed to the 1960 shot of Che hanging on the wall, “This is my best Che picture”. Feltrinelli agreed and ordered 2 prints. When he returned the next day to pick them up Korda told him that because he was a friend of the revolution he didn’t have to pay.

Che becomes iconic

Not long after this Debray’s prediction of Che’s doom became true when CIA agents and their CIA trained Bolivian military Special Forces hunted down and executed Che on Oct 9, 1967. The Cubans named the year after his death year of the Guerrillero Heroico. Korda’s daughter thinks this is why he titled his image,

Guerrillero Heroico.

After his death, Feltrinelli quickly released Che’s Bolivian Diary with the Korda shot on the cover and also a poster to promote the book. The poster went on to sell well over a million copies with no mention or credit given to Alberto. The Feltrinelli publishing house has argued the poster was only to promote Che’s Bolivian Diary book. Still, Korda never received any money or credit for the reproduction of the picture even though unlike others who used his image, Feltrinelli knew who was the actual photographer. It wasn’t until 1980 that it was revealed that the photographer was Korda.

Che art poster

Jim Fitzpatrick's version of Che's picture

While Feltrinelli made millions off Alberto’s work and even though he never saw a penny refused to bear any ill will towards the Italian. “I still forgive him, because by doing what he did, he made it famous.” Not that Korda was able to do anything about it the first place. Under Fidel, Cuba was not a signatory to the Berne Convention on intellectual property. Castro considered copyrights and intellectual property “capitalist bullshit”.
The Feltrinelli poster was not the only source of Alberto’s image. The Korda image was appearing in Europe before the Feltrinelli poster was published and is confirmed to be used in at least one article, a Paris Match magazine dating from August 19, 1967, about the whereabouts of Che.

Jim Fitzpatrick

Around this time Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick was also using Korda image as a basis for creating his own stylized posters.

… the first image I did of Che was psychedelic, it looks like he is in seaweed. His hair was not hair, it was shapes that I felt gave it an extra dimension. That was the image I produced for the magazine and that was done before he died and that is the important thing about that image…. For reference I was looking at a photograph that I had seen in the German ‘Stern’ magazine, a strong political magazine with left-wing views. It was a photo taken by ‘Korda’, but I didn’t know that at the time…. I did a number of graphic versions from the photo. The first was a square, b/w. The second that I re-photographed, had poster proportions, 20 x 30. The third image was the black on red, because I had decided to do leaflets … I re-drew the photograph, that’s what I call a line drop-out. I wanted it to look photographic but I drew it by hand, on Litho film … that was printed then in [two colors red and black] and I decided that the star should be yellow, so I painted that in with a magic

Fitzpatrick “wanted the image to breed like rabbits” and printed thousands of images giving them away to anyone, getting friends to pass them out and encouraging others to make their own versions. In Fitzpatrick’s and other’s artistic reproductions of the original photograph, it is interesting to note a small change in how Che is looking out toward the crowd. In the original photo, Guevara is looking to the crowd or the area in front of him whereas in other versions Che is looking toward the distant horizon. This small shift in the gaze makes it look like he looking towards the future in defiance. To a future when Che’s socialist dreams would become reality.

Around the time of the Fitzpatrick image, Pop Art was starting to make its way into the mainstream. The concepts of Pop Art blended perfectly with the style of the simplified Che poster. Thus Che image entered a new world, one of Art. Korda’s picture instead of being one of defiance towards the capitalist system, which Che fought against, has gone from a political statement to an artist’s muse to the very symbol of capitalism. The picture of Che has now been turned into a trendy marketing ploy, with his image selling everything from T-Shirts to wristwatches.

Korda puts his foot down

Silent while his Che image was reproduced, a million times over without ever getting any proceeds, he finally put his fist down when he saw that his photo was being used to sell Smirnoff vodka. In 2000, 40 years after he took the picture, he sued the advertising agency Lowe Lintas, and Rex Features, the company that supplied the photograph. “To use the image of Che Guevara to sell vodka is a slur on his name and memory,” Korda told the media. “He never drank himself, he was not a drunk, and drink should not be associated with his immortal memory.” He was able to affirm his ownership of the photo and won an out-of-court settlement of $50,000. He promptly donated the money to the Cuban medical system, “If Che were still alive, he would have done the same.” Korda’s daughter now owns and manages the Che image.


The copyright of this image is in dispute. The Korda estate run by his family insists that they own the copyright and have successfully sued various companies to either halt the use of the image or receive financial compensation. Korda sued vodka maker Smirnoff based on Che’s “moral rights”. This “moral rights” ruling is not valid in America, though many countries view it as an important part of their copyright law. Under the Berne Convention moral rights are included but Castro and Cuba never signed the Berne copyright laws. However, if Korda was alive he could sue in other courts but since he has died the moral rights have died with him as they aren’t transferable. As for the ruling that he owned the copyright, that was never decided upon in court as the Case of (Korda v. Lintas & Rex) was settled “sensibly and amicably” out of court. Also in Ariana Hernández-Reguant’s writings, Copyrighting Che: Art and Authorship under Cuban Late Socialism Public Culture it was noted that “There was never any official ruling on whether the depiction constituted a violation of copyright.” The author goes on to state that: ~ “Korda took the picture while working for a state-run newspaper, his actual property rights would be questionable under both Cuban and international law.”

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Vietnam Airlift

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Vietnam Airlift 1975
Behind the camera: Huber Van Es
Where: 22 Gia Long Street (now Ly Tu Trong Street), downtown Saigon where senior Central Intelligence Agency employees were housed.
Photo Summary: South Vietnamese refugees fleeing communist forces
Picture Taken: Tuesday, April 29, 1975

1975 saw the crumbling of the country of South Vietnam under the final North Vietnamese push to unite the two countries under Communist rule. Under the January 1973 Paris peace accords, America agreed to a near-total withdrawal of US forces in early 1973. The only Americans left in Saigon in 1975 were some private contractors and government officials there to back up the South Vietnamese government. However, a number of spectacular defeats of the South Vietnamese forces in central Vietnam led to a total rout of the South Vietnamese army. As Northern forces closed in on Saigon thousands rushed to escape the communists. Since the airport was vulnerable to communist forces the Americans initiated Operation Frequent Wind a helicopter evacuation of Saigon. This picture, on top of the CIA building, is a shot of one of those evacuations.

Taking the Picture

Vietamese Airlift Es series 1975

More from the series

Huber Van Es a dutch press agent was working at the UPI office which was in the penthouse of Saigon’s Peninsula Hotel. He was processing pictures from earlier in the day, shots of the evacuation of Foreign personal from Saigon. The “secret” code that was to signal the start of the evacuation was a quote on Armed Forces Radio: the comment that the temperature is rising, followed by eight bars of White Christmas. (Japanese journalists were concerned that they would not recognize the tune and had to get someone to sing it to them). The code was compromised and Van Es had a number of chaotic shots of Marines trying to keep crowds of Vietnamese at bay while only allowing foreigners on the evacuation buses.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon one of the journalists started shouting that there was a helicopter on the roof of another building. Van Es quickly ran to the penthouse balcony and observed that around four blocks away there was indeed a helicopter on a place called the ‘Pittman Apartments’. It was well known that the CIA and its officers lived there and it was revealed that several weeks earlier the roof had been reinforced with steel plates so that it could take the weight of a helicopter. Van Es recalls what happened next:

..I grabbed my camera and the longest lens left in the office — it was only 300 millimetres, but it would have to do — and dashed to the balcony. Looking at the Pittman Apartments, I could see 20 or 30 people on the roof, climbing the ladder to an Air America Huey helicopter. At the top of the ladder stood an American in civilian clothes, pulling people up and shoving them inside.
Of course, there was no possibility that all the people on the roof could get into the helicopter, and it took off with 12 or 14 onboard. (The recommended maximum for that model was eight.) Those left on the roof waited for hours, hoping for more helicopters to arrive, to no avail.
After shooting about 10 frames, I went back to the darkroom to process the film and get a print ready for the regular 5 p.m. transmission to Tokyo from Saigon’s telegraph office. In those days, pictures were transmitted via radio signals, which at the receiving end were translated back into an image. A 5-inch-by-7-inch black-and-white print with a short caption took 12 minutes to send.

Hubert didn’t want to evacuate with the other foreigners instead choosing to see the war play out. He remembers that, “As a Dutch citizen, I was probably taking less of a risk than the others.”. He stayed in Saigon until he was invited by the new regime to leave on June 1, 1975. He has since returned a number of times to Vietnam but is based out of Hong Kong where he died on May 15, 2009. His wife said that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage a week earlier and never regained consciousness. He was 67 years old.

Operation Frequent Wind

Saigon Airlift 1975

Another color picture

North Vietnamese artillery shells and rockets had been pounding the Tan Son Nhut airport forcing it to shut down for a time on April 28. The next day a U.S. C-130 transport was hit by a rocket on the runway and burst into flames as the crew escaped. When the airport at Tan Son Nhut was deemed unsafe by the man in charge of American personal, Graham Martin the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, advised President Ford to start Operation Frequent Wind. At 10:45 p.m. April 29, the President ordered Operation Frequent Wind to commence. During the operation, some 6,236 passengers were removed to the safety of American ships offshore, despite severe harassing fire. To some, however, it seemed that the DAO area and the evacuation process itself were deliberately spared by the North Vietnamese.
On April 29 and 30, 662 US military airlift flights took place between Saigon and ships 80 miles away. Ten Air Force HH/CH-53s flew 82 missions, while 61 Marine Corps CH-46s and CH-53s flew 556 sorties. There were 325 support aircraft sorties by Marine, Navy, and USAF aircraft. Air America, the CIA private “mercenary” airline, joined in, even though having flown 1,000 sorties in the previous month.
Rooftop, 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon.jpg

The Rooftop of 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon in 2002

On April 30, 4:58 a.m. a CH-46 helicopter, call sign “Lady Ace 09,” flown by Capt. Jerry Berry transported ambassador Martin from the embassy roof to the waiting US fleet. All that was left in the embassy was a group of Marines left to provide security for Martin’s take-off. Due to a miscommunication, it was assumed that the marines left on this flight. It wasn’t until the Ambassador had landed on the USS Okinawa that the mistake was discovered. Almost three hours after ambassador Martin’s helicopter lifted off, at 7:53 a.m., the last flight of Operation Frequent Wind took the Marine personnel who had been defending the embassy to the waiting USS Okinawa. They abandoned around 300 South Vietnamese in the embassy and hundreds more outside the embassy who had been promised a way out.

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Burst of Joy

Burst of joyBehind the camera: Slava ‘Sal’ Veder
Where: Travis Air Force Base, in California
Photo Summary: The Stirm family running to their father, Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm. In the lead is 15 year old Lorrie followed by Robert Jr., Cindy, Roger and wife Loretta.
Picture Taken: March 17, 1973

With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 American involvement in the Vietnam was over. Through a series of diplomatic negotiations a deal was reached with the North Vietnamese government that allowed the return of 591 American POWs held by the communists. In Operation Homecoming from February 12 to April 4 there were 54 flights out of Hanoi, North Vietnam to bring the POWs home. One of these runs was the plane with Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm. After giving a short speech Stirm’s family ran across the tarmac to greet their father who they hadn’t seen in six years. Slava “Sal” Veder who was working for the Associated Press caught this image. It went on to win the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for photography.

Taking the photo

The March 17th flight bringing 20 POWs home from Vietnam had a lot of press come out with a large crowd of around 400 family members and supporters. 46 year old Associated Press photographer Slava “Sal” Veder on assignment saw that after Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm finished his speech his family had appeared on the runway. “You could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air,” he said. He snapped off a couple of shots and then rushed to the makeshift AP darkroom that had been set up in the Air Base ladies’ bathroom (United Press International were in the men’s). He and another AP photographer, Walt Zeboski, picked six to develop. Sal picked his favorite, titled it Burst of Joy and sent it out over the wire. It was published across the country and because Lt. Col. Stirm’s had his back turned towards the camera the anonymous image came to represent all the Vietnam homecomings.

Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm

Robert Stirm was born in San Francisco, California, in 1933. In 1953 he joined the Aviation Cadet Program and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force on November 3, 1954. He served as a fighter pilot in Holland before getting training in the F-105 Thunderchief and going to Vietnam in August 1967. On October 27, 1967 Stirm was leading a flight of F-105Ds over Canal Des Rapides Bridge, Hanoi when he was shot down and captured that night. Before October 27th he had flown 33 combat missions. Throughout his six years as a POW he was held in several camps including the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He endured starvation, torture and a total of 281 days in solitary confinement. For part of his imprisonment he shared a cell with future politician John McCain. Robert Stirm remained in military service after his return retiring as a colonel in 1977. He lives in Foster City, California.

The Stirm family

LT. COL. Robert L. Stirm, a recently released prisoner of war, greets his family upon his arrival at Travis Air Force Base

Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm, a recently released prisoner of war, greets his family upon his arrival at Travis Air Force Base.

While in the Air Force Robert Stirm married his wife Loretta on February 6, 1955. They had four children Lorrie Alynne, Robert L. Jr., Roger David and Cynthia “Cindy” Leigh. Lorrie was only 9 when her father was shot down. After 6 long years he finally came home. While her Dad gave a speech on behalf of the 20 POWs on their flight the family was stuck in the Stirm’s station wagon on the tarmac at Travis Air Force Base. Minutes passed that seemed like hours but finally with the formalities over, the children jumped out of the car and ran to their father. Lorrie remembers that she “just wanted to get to Dad as fast as I could, We didn’t know if he would ever come home … That moment was all our prayers answered, all our wishes come true.”
The happiness of the reunion didn’t last long. Three days before Stirm returned to America a chaplain had handed a Dear John letter from his wife. When he returned they tried to keep the marriage alive. Lorrie remembers “So much had happened—there was so much that my dad missed out on—and it took a while to let him back into our lives and accept his authority.” Robert and Loretta Stirm divorced within a year. His wife remarried in 1974 moving to Texas with her husband. Robert Stirm also remarried but this marriage too ended in divorce.
The oldest Robert became a dentist and the younger Robert, like his father, joined the Air Force rising to the rank of Major. Lorrie the oldest is an executive administrator and the youngest daughter Cindy is a waitress. Except for pilot Robert, who lives in Seattle, they all live in California. All four keep the picture mounted in their houses. “We have this very nice picture of a very happy moment,” Lorrie says, “but every time I look at it, I remember the families that weren’t reunited, and the ones that aren’t being reunited today—many, many families—and I think, I’m one of the lucky ones.”

The photographer

Slava J. Veder was born on August 30, 1926 in Berkeley, California. An alumni of Modesto Junior College, Pacific College and Sacramento State. After working in several jobs such as fireman, sportswriter for the Richmond Independent and staff on the Oakland Hockey Club in 1949 he joined the Almeda Times-Star before moving to the Tulsa World were he got work as an editor. In 1956 he left the Tulsa World and worked for a number of papers around America working as an editor. In 1961 he returned to California to work for the AP in Sacramento before transferring to the AP San Francisco office. It was in San Fran that he took Burst of Joy and a year later won the Pulitzer.

Copyright info

AP Images owns the rights to this image, Vietnam Released POW

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Vietnam Napalm Girl

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Behind the camera: Associated Press photographer Nick Út (Also known as Huynh Cong Út), ITN news crew including Christopher Wain and cameraman great Alan Downes. Also there was NBC cameraman Le Phuc Dinh who filmed Kim running towards the reporters.
Where: On the Vietnamese highway (Route 1) that leads from Saigon towards the Cambodian border just outside the village of Trang Bang, about 25 miles WNW of Saigon.
Photo Summary: Kim Phuc (aged 9) running naked in the middle with her older brother, Phan Thanh Tam (12), crying out to the left. Her younger brother, Phan Thanh Phuoc (5), to the left looking back at the village and to the right are Kim Phu’s small cousins Ho Van Bo, a boy, and Ho Thi Ting, a girl.
Picture Taken: June 8, 1972

This photo of Kim Phuc (full name Phan Thị Kim Phúc) was taken just after South Vietnamese planes bombed her village. She had only lived because she tore off her burning clothes. AP Photographer Nick Út and NBC cameraman Le Phuc Dinh filmed her and her family emerging from the village, after the airstrike, running for their lives. This photo has become one of the most famous and memorable photos of Vietnam and won Nick Út the Pulitzer prize in 1972.

Air Strike on Trang Bang

AP reporter Nick Út was among a number of reporters sent to the small village of Trang Bang along Route 1, the highway that leads from Saigon towards the Cambodian border. Travelling with Nick was ITN correspondent, Christopher Wain, North Vietnamese troops had taken control of the Highway there and Nick was sent to cover the South Vietnamese soldiers from the 25th Army Division who were ordered to retake Trang Bang and open the Highway. When Nick arrived he and other reporters also on assignment stood with South Vietnamese soldiers just outside the village watching the action.
The South Vietnamese commander of the unit requested an airstrike and propeller-driven Skyraiders, Korean-war vintage planes from the 518th Vietnamese Airforce Squadron, dropped Napalm on the village. When the smoke cleared villagers from the Trang Bang ran screaming from the village to the soldiers and reporters up the road. Taking pictures with two cameras, his Leica and a Nikon with a long lens, Nick Út remembers seeing Kim Phuc running naked down the street:

As soon as she saw me, she said: “I want some water, I’m too hot, too hot,” – in Vietnamese, “Nong qua, nong qua!” And she wanted something to drink. I got her some water. She drank it and I told her I would help her. I picked up Kim and took her to my car. I ran up about 10 miles to Cu Chi hospital, to try to save her life. At the hospital, there were so many Vietnamese people – soldiers were dying there. They didn’t care about the children. Then I told them: “I am a media reporter, please help her, I don’t want her to die.” And the people helped her right away.
–Nick Út

Christopher Wain also remembers the event after the napalm struck:

There was a blast of heat which felt like someone had opened the door of an oven. Then we saw Kim and the rest of the children. None of them were making any sound at all – until they saw the adults. Then they started to scream. We were short of film and my cameraman, the late, great Alan Downes, was worried that I was asking him to waste precious film shooting horrific pictures which were too awful to use. My attitude was that we needed to show what it was like, and to their lasting credit, ITN ran the shots.

Nick quickly released that without help Kim would die and so drove her and other injured family members to the hospital. Kim already thought she was doomed and while reporters and soldiers tried to treat her horrible wounds she told her brother Tam, “I think I am going to die.” Driving an hour to the provincial Vietnamese hospital in Cu Chi, halfway up the highway to Saigon, Kim passed out from the pain.
The hospital was used to war injuries, and after years of civil war knew that Kim’s chances of living were slim to none and tried to triage her, or put her aside so they could treat other wounded who had better chances of living. Only at Nick’s urging that the girl had been photographed and her picture would be shown all over the world did the hospital staff agree to operate. Nick didn’t leave to develop his film until she was put on the operating table. At first, his editors refused to run it because she was naked but when nick explained that she had no clothes because they had been burned off her body they changed their minds and sent it around the world.

Life after the napalm

On June 12, 1972, then American President Richard Nixon was recorded talking to his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, discussing the Vietnam War. Among other things he was recorded saying they should use the Atomic bomb in Vietnam and talking about Kim’s photo said, “I’m wondering if that was fixed,” Haldeman replied, “Could have been.”
While Nixon debated with his staff about whether she was a fraud Kim defied all expectations and after a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures, she returned home to the napalm bombed village of, Trang Bang. Nick continued to visit until the fall of Saigon three years later, in 1975, when he along with other American media employees were evacuated.

As Kim grew up there was a lot of pressure from government and anti-war groups who forced her to be used as an anti-war symbol. She requested and was eventually granted permission to move to Cuba to study pharmacy. In was in Cuba that she meet her future husband, Bui Huy Tuan. They were married and a Korean friend paid for a vacation to Moscow in 1992. On the return flight, their plane stopped over in Gander, Newfoundland, a province in Canada. As it was refueling she and her husband walked off and defected to the Canadian government.
The two live in Ajax, Ontario Canada and have two children, Thomas and Stephen. In 1997 she established the Kim Foundation a non-profit charitable organization that funds medical care for child victims of war around the world. For her charity work she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law from York University in Toronto, Ontario, in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Order of Ontario in 2004.
These days find her touring the world and giving speeches at churches and schools talking about her story, the Kim Foundation and her hopes for peace:

I should have died

My skin should have burned off my body

But I’m still beautiful, right?

…Don’t see a little girl crying out in fear and pain

See her as crying out for peace.

Who ordered the Strike

The picture has since become a powerful anti-war piece and symbolizes everything wrong with American involvement in Vietnam. This is ironic considering a South Vietnamese commander ordered an airstrike carried out by the South Vietnamese Airforce which was flown by Vietnamese pilots. By June 1972 the “Vietnamization” (The handing over of American duties to their South Vietnamese counterparts) in the country was in full swing and most Americans had been withdrawn back to the States.
But did America have any involvement in the airstrike? In 1996 Kim gave a speech at the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day where she said that we cannot change the past but can work for a peaceful future. After the speech, Vietnam war veteran John Plummer, now a Methodist minister, talked to some of his old buddies and got them to ask if she would like to meet him for he stated that he was the one who ordered the bombing. She accepted and they met briefly and Plummer remembers that, “as I approached her, she saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow. She held out her arms to me and we embraced. All I could say was “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’ over and over again. And I heard her saying to me “It’s all right. It’s all right. I forgive. I forgive.” He also claims that later in the day, they knelt together (Kim had converted to Christianity in Vietnam) and prayed together. Plummer said, “Finally, I was free. I had found peace.”

Plummer claimed that he received a call from an American military adviser working with a South Vietnamese army unit, who requested an airstrike on the village of Trang Bang. He relayed the request for a strike to U.S. Air Force personnel, who asked the South Vietnamese air force to launch it. Later, he saw the photo in Stars and Stripes, and recognized the bombing as one in which he was involved.

His version of events sparked quite a bit of controversy as he originally was quoted as saying he ordered the attack. His former superior retired Maj. Gen. Niles J. Fulwyler, was quoted as saying that Plummer didn’t have the authority to order the attack and that, “He did not direct that Vietnamese aircraft in that attack,”. In response to outraged Vietnam vets claiming he exaggerated his role in the bombing Plummer has since said that while he didn’t order the attack he definitely relayed the orders to others in the military machine.

Nick Ut

Nick Ut (born March 29, 1951 as Huynh Cong Ut) is a Vietnamese photographer born in the town of Long An, then part of South Vietnam. On January 1, 1966, when Ut was only 14 he began to take photos for the Associated Press after his older brother Huynh Thanh My, another AP photographer, was killed in Vietnam. While covering the war Ut was wounded three times. When South Vietnam fell Ut moved and worked for the Korean, and Japanese branches of AP before settling in Los Angles, America in 1977. Ut and his wife, Le Tuyet Hong, live in Monterey Park, California, with their two children.

In LA he became a celebrity photographer and in 2007 famously captured Paris Hilton being forced back to prison exactly 35 years after taking the Napalm Girl photo. When New York Daly News asked about the Paris Hilton shot Ut replied, “I was lucky to get the shot I did, I focused on her blond hair when she got out.” when asked about celebrity versus war photography, he only said, “It’s very different.” The Paris Hilton shot gained even more media controversy when it emerged that standing beside Ut was photographer Karl Larsen who took a similar shot. Many media outlets used Larsen’s picture and credited it as Ut’s. Larsen ended up having to sue stations like ABC for lost revenue.


Copyright for this image is handled by AP Images. They deal with the photo taken by Nick Ut.

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Vietnam Execution

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Eddie Adams Vietnam Execution

Behind the camera: Eddie Adams
Where: In Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon, Vietnam
Photo Summary: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan killing Vietcong operative Nguyen Van Lem
Picture Taken: Feb 1, 1968

After Nguyen Ngoc Loan raised his sidearm and shot Vietcong operative Nguyen Van Lem in the head he walked over to the reporters and told them that, “These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me.” Captured on NBC TV cameras and by AP photographer Eddie Adams, the picture and film footage flashed around the world and quickly became a symbol of the Vietnam War’s brutality. Eddie Adams’ picture was especially striking, as the moment frozen is one almost at the instant of death. Taken a split second after the trigger was pulled, Lem’s final expression is one of pain as the bullet rips through his head. A closer look of the photo actually reveals the bullet exiting his skull.

Eddie Adams: The Execution of a Viet Cong Guerilla, 1968

With Color

Nguyen Ngoc Loan

“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan” – Eddie Adams. Nguyen Ngoc Loan was one of 11 children born to an affluent family in the ancient city of Hue. He finished university at the top of his class and trained as a jet pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force. It was in the air force that he meets, Nguyen Cao Ky, the flamboyant pilot who once flew a helicopter into the courtyard of his girlfriend’s house to impress her. Ky would later become Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and then Vice President until his retirement from politics in 1971. When in power Ky Surrounded himself with trusted men including his friend, Nguyen Ngoc Loan who he put in charge of the national police. As police chief Loan immediately gained a reputation among reporters for his anger and hair-trigger temper when the Vietcong struck civilian targets. 

Nguyen Van Lem

The guy killed one of … Loan’s officers and wiped out his whole family
-Eddie Adams

The prisoner whose last instant is captured in Adam’s shot was Nguyen Van Lem. A Viet Cong operative, who like other Viet Cong agents went by the secret name of Captain Bay Lop (Lop was his wife’s first name). His wife, who still lives in Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City), confirms that Lem was a member of the Vietcong and that he disappeared shortly before the Tet Offensive never to return. Lem’s role in the Viet Cong is murky. Most reports give him the role of a Captain in a Viet Cong assassination and revenge platoon responsible for the killing of South Vietnamese policemen and their families. Eddie Adams was told by Loan that Lem had killed one of Loan’s friends and his family, “They found out that [Lem] was the same guy who killed one of his —uh—Loan’s officers and wiped out his whole family.” Yet facing international pressure when the picture and footage aired Vice President Ky, said the prisoner had not been in the Viet Cong but was “a very high ranking” communist political official. History hasn’t clarified Lem’s role in the Vietcong and the Vietnamese government has never acknowledged his role in the war. Lem’s widow and children lived in poverty for years before being discovered by a Japanese TV crew living in a field. It was only then that the Vietnamese government provided her shelter. 

Taking the picture

He was a hero … very well loved by the Vietnamese
-Eddie Adams on General Loan

Adams, the man who captured Lem’s final instant was a former Marine photographer in the Korean War. Working for AP, he had arrived in Vietnam a few weeks before the Tet Offensive. This was his third tour; the first was when marines initially touched down in Vietnam in 1965. On the second day of the Tet Offensive Eddie heard reports of fighting near the Cholon, the Chinese section of the capital. The AP and NBC were office neighbors and often pooled resources when reporting the war. So Eddie teamed up with one of NBC’s cameramen, Vo Su, and went to check out the location where the fighting was reported. 
The two shared a vehicle but as they got closer started to proceed on foot. Hal Buell, Eddie’s boss, tells what happened next: 

Adams watched as two Vietnamese soldiers pulled a prisoner out of a doorway at the end of the street. The soldiers then pushed and pulled what appeared to be a Viet Cong in a plaid shirt, his arms tied behind his back. They escorted the man toward the spot where Adams and Vo Su were located.
“Eddie Adams said, ‘I just followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close – maybe five feet away – the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture – the threat, the interrogation. But it didn’t happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC’s head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time.’ “The prisoner fell to the pavement, blood gushing,” Buell, quoting Eddie. “After a few more pictures of the dead man, Adams left.


Video Footage

NBC also acquired film footage of the incident, thanks to the South Vietnamese journalist with Adams, Vo Suu, a cameraman for NBC correspondent Howard Tuckner. The color footage of the execution filmed by Vo Suu was shown to a stunned America already shocked by images of a supposed “defeated” on the offensive during the Tet attack.
After the picture and footage flashed across the world there were cries for Loan to be charged with War Crimes for his summary execution of Lem. Loan’s execution would have violated the Geneva Conventions for captured soldiers or Prisoners of War (POWs) if Lem had been wearing a military uniform. Since Lem was caught wearing civilian clothes, a plaid shirt and black shorts, Loan was only restricted by the laws of the South Vietnamese government, which allowed the use of such harsh measures.

After the War


His Vietnam execution shot won Eddie Adams the Pulitzer Prize for the Associated Press in 1969. He has always felt guilty over his role in demonizing Loan. After the picture was released in 1969 the AP assigned Adams to follow Loan around Vietnam. In this time Adams remembers, “I . . . found out the guy was very well loved by the Vietnamese, you know. He was a hero to them . . . and it just saddens me that none of this has really come out.”
Adams would later do a series of shots of 48 Vietnamese boat people who had managed to get to Thailand in a small 30ft boat, only to be towed back out to sea by Thai military officials. His reports and picture convinced President Jimmy Carter to grant asylum to over 200,000 Vietnamese boat people. “I would have rather won the Pulitzer for something like that. It did some good and nobody got hurt.” 

General Loan Taken out of Action

The guy was a hero. America should be crying
-Eddie Adams on hearing of Loan’s death

In May 1968 only a few months after the execution picture, now, Brigadier General Loan was seriously wounded. While leading the charge against a Viet Cong strong point a machine gun burst had ripped off his leg. Once again a photograph captured Loan. This time the general was bleeding profusely while the broad-shouldered Australian war correspondent, Pat Burgess, carried him back to his lines. 
Loan was taken to Australia for treatment but when it was discovered who he was there was such an outcry from the Australian public he was moved to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. After recovering from his injuries the one-legged Loan returned to Saigon where because he had been relieved of his command due to his injuries devoted his time to set up hospitals and the helping Vietnamese war orphans. 

General to Pizza Cook

When South Vietnam fell to the north in 1975, Loan at almost the last moment made it out of the country on a South Vietnamese plane after being denied help by the fleeing Americans. He settled in the United States eventually opening a pizzeria in northern Virginia. He lived a quiet life until he was forced to close his restaurant in 1991 when his identity was discovered. In 1998, at 67, he died of cancer but is survived by his four children his wife, Chinh Mai; and nine grandchildren. “The guy was a hero. America should be crying,” Eddie Adams response when he learned of Loan’s death. 


I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photograph of one man shooting another … The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still, photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?” General Loan was what you would call a real warrior, admired by his troops. I’m not saying what he did was right, but you have to put yourself in his position.  

…This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. I had kept in contact with him; the last time we spoke was about six months ago when he was very ill.
I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”
–Eddie Adams

Life After the Picture

Eddie Adams born on June 12, 1933, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania has covered 13 wars but has also become famous as a magazine cover photographer. His pictures have been seen on magazines and newspaper covers around the world including Time, Newsweek, Life, Paris Match, Parade, Penthouse, Vogue, The London Sunday Times Magazine, The New York Times, Stern and Vanity Fair. (Yes Penthouse! He shot a number of “Pets” in the 70s) He has shot cover shots for some of the most famous people in the world, presidents Richard Nixon to President Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Anwar Sadat, Deng Xiaoping, Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II. In 1988 he started an annual photo event, Barnstorm: The Eddie Adams Photojournalism Workshop. For four days the workshop brings together newbies and seasoned pros in the Photojournalism field for photography, editing tips and networking. 
Eddie Adams himself lived to 71 when on September 18, 2004, he died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Vietnam war correspondent who carried the wounded Loan to safety, Pat Burgess, also died from painful sclerosis of the nervous system, similar to the type Eddie Adams had.
The North Vietnamese failed to achieve any of their goals with the Tet Offensive. The attack was a military disaster for the Vietnamese and Vietcong forces where never able to return to the pre-Tet strength. However, in the eyes of the American pubic, it seemed like America had been the one that had been dealt a serious blow. The Offensive contradicted the message from the White House that the USA was winning. The execution photograph was a part of the media presentation of the Tet Offensive and seemed to present a battle that had been reduced to desperation and savagery. Yet for all the emotional impact that the film and picture had, the event had little effect on the presence of American soldiers in Vietnam. American G.I.s stayed for another five years. The American government still continued funding the South Vietnamese for another seven years, until 1975; the same year South Vietnam fell. 

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And babies

Behind the camera: Ronald L. Haeberle
Where: Sơn Mỹ village, Sơn Tịnh district of South Vietnam
Photo Summary: Victims of the My Lai massacre
Picture Taken: March 16, 1968

In the early 70s, a poster was created to protest the Vietnam War. It combined photos taken by U.S. Army combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle and a quote from a Mike Wallace CBS News television interview. Due to the ambiguous copyright status of the photo, it has appeared in numerous media including newspapers, magazines, poster runs, etc.

Creating the poster

In 1970 a group of Vietnam War activists called the Art Worker’s Coalition (AWC) created the And babies poster. AWC members Irving Petlin, Jon Hedricks, and Fraser Dougherty took text from an ABC interview, “And babies? And babies” and overlaid it onto the Haeberle’s photo. Peter Brandt donated enough paper for fifty thousand copies of the poster. While printing the printer staff showed intense hostility towards the AWC as the blue-collar workers were patriotic to the core and viewed any attack on government policy as an attack on the country. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) initially agreed to distribute the poster as a political statement that it was outraged by the My Lai massacre. Another obstacle encountered was when it went to MoMA directors William S. Paley and Nelson Rockefeller vetoed distributing it under the policy that the MoMA could not commit, “to any position on any matter not directly related to a specific function of the museum.” While they refused to fund the distribution they relented to allow independent distribution but the MoMA name could be used as the source of the creation. The poster was quickly snapped up and was spread and reproduced all over the world.

Exposing the photo

Only one week from finishing his tour of duty Ronald Haeberle was an Army photographer (31st Public Information Detachment) when on March 16, 1968, he accompanied Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division on an operation to the Sơn Mỹ village, Sơn Tịnh district of South Vietnam. On that day the Americans killed around three to five hundred villagers in what would become known as the My Lai Massacre. Haeberle later testified that he personally saw about 30 different American soldiers kill about 100 civilians. He recalled that he saw “Guys were about to shoot [the villagers]. I yelled, ‘hold it’, and shot my picture. As I walked away, I heard M16s open up. From the corner of my eye, I saw bodies falling, but I didn’t turn to look.” In another interview, he remembers that he ” didn’t make it to certain parts of the village where other things were going on, the rapes and the cutting of tongues and scalping and all that stuff. I didn’t see any of that.
The massacre would go unnoticed by the public until Haeberle haunted by his role in the event started to publish his pictures and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh took up the story after collaborating Haeberle’s pictures with the interviews from those involved in the massacre. Hersh tried to get his story published but most refused to believe that the event actually happened. Then a small publication the, The Plain Dealer, the major daily newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio was approached by Haeberle. Mike Roberts, a Plain Dealer Washington bureau reporter remembers that “No one believed [Hersh’s story] Bill Ware, the [Plain Dealer’s] executive editor, called; he wasn’t sure if we should go with it. Almost simultaneously, this kid comes forward with these pictures — Haeberle’s photographs legitimized the story.” In the course of verifying Haeberle story an Army prosecutor named Aubrey Daniel called and in strong language suggested that the paper halt publication of the photos. Another reporter at the paper remembered “Daniel told us, ‘You have no right to run those photos because [Haeberle] was using an Army camera,… And we told him he’d had his own camera, too.”
Eventually, 20 months after Charlie Company had mowed down hundreds of Vietnamese Hersh’s story was published and was picked up on the wire by over 30 publications. Around the same time, Haeberle got his gory photos published in LIFE magazine for $20,000. The media coverage combined with the efforts of soldier Ron Ridenhour exposed the massacre to the world. Ridenhour had found out about the event through other soldiers and when he returned to America started a letter campaign that was mostly ignored until Congressman Morris Udall (D) started to investigate. For his persistence in trying to get the story published Seymour Hersh received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

ABC Interview

On December 14, 1969, Mike Wallace, with CBS News, did a television interview with one of the soldiers, Paul Meadlo, who participated in the massacre. The text for the poster was taken from this interview:

Q:How many people did you round up?
A:Well, there was about forty, fifty people that we gathered in the center of the village. And we placed them in there, and it was like a little island, right there in the center of the village, I7d say … And …
Q:What kind of people – men, women, children?
A:Men, women, children.
A:Babies. And we huddled them up. We made them squat down and Lieutenant Calley came over and said, “You know what to do with them don’t you?” And I said yes. So I took it for granted that he just wanted us to watch them. And he left, and came back about ten or fifteen minutes later and said, “How come you ain’t killed them yet?” And I told him that I didn’t think you wanted us to kill them, that you just wanted us to guard them. He said, “No, I want them dead.” So-
Q:He told this to all of you, or to you particularly?
A:Well, I was facing him. So, but the other three, four, guys heard it and so he stepped back about ten, fifteen feet, and he started shooting them. And he told me to start shooting. So I started shooting, I poured about four clips into the group.
Q:You fired four clips from your …
Q:And that’s about how many clips – I mean, how many –
A:I carried seventeen rounds to each clip.
Q:So you fired something like sixty-seven shots?
Q:And you killed how many? At that time?
A:Well, I fired them automatic, so you can’t know hom any you killed ’cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or fifteen of them.
A:Men, women and children?
Q:Men, women and children.
A:And babies?
Q:and babies.

Copy right status

Ronald L. Haeberle took the photo while in the American military as a US army combat photographer. As such any work, he did as a government employee should fall into the public domain. However, Haeberle used multiple cameras; the first was his black and white Army issued camera and the second was his personal camera that used color film. Therefore the copyright is uncertain as he used his own camera to take the, “And babies”, poster photo. Further clouding the status of the photo is that text is overlapped over of the photo making it an altered original work of art, much like the more modern Fairey Obama Poster. Regardless of the poster status, just the photo was published by Time/Life and Haeberle granted reproduction rights to the AWC without charge on December 16, 1970.

John Morris, the photo editor for The New York Times at the time remembers:

In late morning, we received word that London papers, copying the photos from The Plain Dealer, were going ahead without payment, ignoring the copyright. The New York Post followed, in its early afternoon edition. Rosenthal decreed that it would now be ridiculous for The Times to pay. We would publish “as a matter of public interest.” The next day, November 22, [1969] The Times ran one My Lai picture on page three—downplayed to avoid sensationalism.


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Vietnam – No 13

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Behind the camera: Art Greenspon
Where: Ashau Valley near Hue, Vietnam
Photo Summary: Soldier with hands raised directing a medical evacuation helicopter to remove wounded men of A Company, 101st Airborne Division
Picture Taken: April 01, 1968 3:00 PM

Art Greenspon, who was then 26-years old, had travelled to Vietnam and was promptly hired as an AP stringer. While stationed with American 101st Airborne Division near Hue he captured this picture of a man with his hands raised directing a medical evacuation helicopter to remove wounded men of A Company, 101st Airborne.

The picture

The Ashau Valley near Hue, Vietnam was one of the main thoroughfares of the Ho Chi Ming Trail, a supply line that provided weapons and supplies to the Vietcong fighting Western-backed forces in South Vietnam. As such South Vietnamese forces often backed by American units frequently patrolled the valley seeking to stop the flow of war material.
During one such American 5-day patrol a firefight between communist fighters and the 101st Airborne troops resulted in a number of wounded. While covering the evac Art Greenspon took this picture.
When the image was sent back to the States and hit the wire famed photographer Douglas Duncan proclaimed that it was a “masterpiece” and the best picture of the war yet.

Greenspon’s shot is, of course, anchored upon the solider – head thrown back arms reaching toward the heaven … and help .. silhouetted against the dust of battle deep in the Vietnam Forest. He represents all soldiers in every war: the fact that he is guiding a rescue chopper is irrelevant … I salute this masterpiece. –Douglas Duncan

While covering the war, on May 5, 1968, later a bullet passed through a LIFE photographer’s hand before hitting Greenspon between the eyes. He returned to New York to recover from the shoot.

Possible identification

A few days later during this battle Tim Lickness, from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division was handling medical evacuations. After a helo was hit by enemy fire and crashed he organized a rescue mission to get the surviving crew members. As he did participate in medical evacuations after April 1st, he might be one of the people in this picture.


Platoon Greenspon comparison

Movie still from Platoon and the Greenspon shot

Movie Director Oliver Stone created one of the most iconic Vietnam War movies, Platoon. A veteran of the war himself Oliver Stone struggled to recreate his experiences in Vietnam. He was inspired by Greenspon’s image and created a memorable scene where Willem Dafoe’s character, Elias Barnes, is hit by enemy fire and throws his hands in the air, Christ-like, as he collapses in death. David Parsons a professor of the University of New York describes Stone’s effort of replicating this scene as trying to change the image of the American GI from aggressor to victim of the Vietnam War.

As the immediate politics of the war waned in the 1980s, American popular culture began to explore its human costs in different terms, most often locating the war’s tragedy in the experiences and suffering of American combat troops. In this version of the Vietnam War narrative, Americans themselves become posed (both literally and metaphorically) as victims, helpless to even comprehend the scope of the tragedy that has befallen them.

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