Dan Brookes, Cameras, Combat and Courage (Pen & Sword, 2020)
How do we know what happened during the Vietnam War? The usual written sources, of course, but Vietnam was also the first televised war and it was heavily photographed by a cloud of cameramen from all walks of life – two of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century were taken during Vietnam. Cameras, Combat and Courage describes the War as experienced by military photographers whose job it was to record the war, but also to fight when necessary. They took millions of pictures; some of them died in combat while doing so.
Cameras, Combat and Courage is episodic for the most part with different photographers taking a chapter to tell their story. And what tales they share: William Muchler spooked while walking through a deserted VC village; Roy McClellan under fire in a paddy field; Christopher Jensen dodging mortar shells at Firebase Ripcord; Marvin Wolf’s encounter with VC snipers. Those were men that survived. Bill Perkins did not; he gave his life saving his comrades from a grenade and was awarded the Medal of Honor. His story is movingly told by his friend. Five others died when their helicopter was shot down near Pleiku. Brooks ends his book with an essay on what photographs meant to the Vietnam War and a eulogy for the men that took them.
As you might expect, Cameras, Combat and Courage is seeded with dozens of photographs covering all aspects of the Vietnam War. Some of them are incredibly poignant like the GI with the classic thousand-yard stare who will die in combat, others seem mundane, pictures of everyday life, but all tell a little part of the remarkable story that casts a long shadow over American history. The pictures, stories, and the men make this a remarkable book worth reading. 8/10