Monday, October 9, 2017

Striving for perfection -- for all the wrong reasons

If you were to ask me why I spent my own money, why I never asked for a promotion or why I'm not rich from what I have done over the years, I probably couldn't give you a good reason for any of these things.


Because there was no personal interest in any of that.

And I ask, have you ever seen a living leaf in the air without roots tying it to the ground and feeding it life?

Have you ever heard a baby cry without a need?

Have you ever seen someone just react to a life or death situation because it was the right thing to do?

I can't think of anyone who wants to die to live.  Although there was a Cajun joke where one was telling the other he had to die to get better.

I can't think of anyone who does something continuously with a conscious commitment to do so.

In fact, I can't see someone crazy enough to walk in my shoes and do what I have done for no other reason that it had to get done.

Where's the glory in that?

Fact is, and this may surprise you, what motivated me to do the things I have done all my life has been the desire to survive and not fail.

When my father cane back from the Korean War, I asked mom who he was and then found myself on the other side of the room. Stinging from the well placed butt punt, I vowed never to ask that question again.

When my parents were arguing violently at the table, it was I with tears rolling down my face who told them they were behaving like children.

When my father got kicked out of the Army during the McCarthy era when he said something politically wrong, it was I who was asked to help him with the cleanup of the Circle Drive In Movie theater so we could make ends meet.

As time moved on, it was I who picked up the princess phone that was directly connected to Tony Curtis' home phone and I who met Buddy Hackett on the same day. All because my father decided on his own to have a 40 Pounds of Trouble movie promotion.

Have you any idea what it feels like to have a father who puts the York Sisters on the Ed Sullivan, has images of Debbie Reynolds in pig tails and gets invited to parties sponsored by Billboard Magazine? 

Ah, its crazy.

So, what do I do? Picture for just a moment a kid with no depth perception wanting to be a pilot and a brother with perfect 20/20 vision wanting to fly model airplanes and you have an idea what my parents hard to go though the first time a Piper Aircraft door was opened and I wasn't invited.

Sometimes it pays to go into emotional crisis.

And from that I started a flying club at Moorestown Senior High School. Kept it alive by pestering the Courier Post to run a story on it, got a call from Trudy Haynes do do a news feature on my flying club and organized a flight of 30 students in 20 airplanes to go to Lock Haven, PA to see Bill Piper Senior and tour Piper Aircraft.

So, yeah, too scared to fail was my theme song. Hiding the sexual abuse was one of the stanzas.

Don't know how it worked in most families back then but in mine, the guys in the family got the door and the girls got the college education.

At $2.10 per hour, in one week, I was making more than a I would as a private in the Army in one month.

Never did that figure until just now.

My interest was in getting the GI Bill.


A song done by Jefferson Starship for a movie called The Mannequin, filmed at the John Wanamaker's Store in Philadelphia. I worked at the one at the Moorestown Mall in Moorestown, NJ.

I also worked with Jefferson Starship in Lake Charles, LA as I had two young ladies to volunteer to use my metallic makeup on stage with them and pose as Mannequins.

Mickey Thomas said it served to enhance the song.

I'm also indirectly responsible for River Boat Gambling in Lake Charles. Although a bit seedy, the industry has changed the financial tapestry from either working for minimum wage or working for the refineries to additional income opportunities.

But back in 1969, this always overweight, wet behind the ears soldier was about to come up close and personal with a reality check. Never sign on the dotted line unless you understand what things really mean on the contract.

That I survived Vietnam in one piece was a miracle in itself. That I was able to do he things I did in the Army was just as amazing.

So were the people I worked for, and worked and shared my life with.

You can't put a dollar amount on any of it because it was priceless. 

All because I was too scared to fail. 



Friday, October 6, 2017

The End of the past with a hint of a new beginning

If there is one thing I've learned which holds true for every job I've had, is the fact that the job you had before prepares you for the one you're about to be part of.  Regardless of its initial outcome, staying firm in your beliefs, hold purity in your heart, and striving to be the best at what you do trumps disappointment.

You can't make people like you. But you can always like them.

So, after I left the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division,  I wrote on the average of 7 articles per week for around 6 weeks. I don't remember how many of them got published but I know a lot of them did.

After that, I was reassigned to the 2/17th Cavalry with the official reason being my Cobra crew chief MOS was in critical shortage. The real reason, Soldiers Magazine pissed off the Department of Information Services trained journalists off because they were calling me and not them.

But it really didn't matter why, in truth, it had to happen. As a matter of fact, everything had to happen.I just didn't know why at the time.In fact why is sometimes realized in bits and pieces.

So, in March, the first piece of the puzzle aligned. Major General John M. Brandenburg was about to become the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airborne Division. Yeah, the same General who requested a picture of me with him.

Believe me when I say this, when General Brandenburg came over to my unit to meet with my Commanding Officer, I tried to hide from him. Unfortunately, he spotted me, excused himself from turned around and walked up to me.

I saluted him and he saluted me.

"Sergeant Edwards, didn't I just send you to Germany?"

"Yes sir."

"What are you doing back?" He laughed and walked away.

Now, I knew why everyone was stir fry nuts in Germany.

And also, now, suddenly, my Commanding Officer at the 2/17th Cavalry found himself in a rather uncomfortable situation. He just witnessed a E-5 whose cozy with the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airborne Division.

Still, the exchange between us was hilarious.

You know, sometimes being bored out of your gourd is a good thing. And while I was waiting for REFORGER 78 to start taking shape, I tjhought about an issue that has been

During REFORGER 78, the images were again mixed up:

At least, Army Aviation Magazine got the patch right this time.

Okay, so I was asked what was I doing back? Hum, well, I created a way to know what group in what troop had ordered manuals by putting extra holes in IBM 21 punch cards and that worked.

Up to that time, we had to call each troop to ask if they had ordered the manuals. After the inclusion,. we no longer had to do that.

When REFORGER 78 was about to happen, I was assigned to A Troop, 2/17th Cavalry and asked to take pictures and write stories. I talked with and sent pictures to the editor of Army Aviation Digest, I had a Black widow spider in my tent which was really cool to watch the smaller spiders try entering my tent and then back out of it. Didn't know she was in there until I split my poncho apart from my half tent.

Apparently, she died as the flap of my poncho caught the chopper blades and pretty much smacked her around until she was dead.

Arrived in Germany with 20 rounds of 36 shots slide film, 6 rounds of 36 shots black and white film. for my semi automatic 35mm packing a 28 mm lens and a sharpshooter 80mm to 210mm double barrel shot gun.

I was armed and dangerous baby and I wasn't takn prisoners!

I know all of the above sounded pretty silly. But you have to remember, I was back in country and the people I knew, the people who knew me were about to get a healthy dose Deja vu.

Sent Werthiem goes to Werthiem to Stars and Stripes and then thanked the editor for publishing it. His last words to me, "Just like old times, Sergeant Edwards"

I swear on the stack of 500 bibles that I'm not making any of this up.  So I'm walking around all the evening activities, listening to the bitchy, high pitched screams of mobile generators, hearing the clanking of torque wrenches as rotor blades were being reattached to helicopters and I'm thinking, wow, I really have it made.

All I have to do is get the pictures my CO wants and do what he has no idea what I can do here and everyone is going to be happy. I'm back and, not only that, I'm back at Giebelstadt.

What could possibly go wrong in paradise?

You know whats coming, don't you?

I didn't.

I got back over to our GP medium and slept soundly until the smell of hot coffee and freshly cooked bacon drifted over my senses. After breakfast, we started throwing our gear into our duffel bags and preparing to go to the field.

Someone yelled "Ten-hut" and we all stood at attention. The voice from the colonel said, "At ease. Is there a Sergeant Edwards in here?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Report to General Brown, now."

How in the heck can a simple article published in Stars and Stripes be that wrong?

So, I reported to him.

"Sergeant Edwards, do you have film in that camera?"

MG John M. Brandenburg use to rib me with the same question.  So, I wasn't sure how to answer him. I assumed he wasn't joking with me.

"Yes, sir."

"Consider that film and all the film in your possession to be official Army film.  You are now the Task Force 229th official Army photographer."

"Any questions or concerns. No, sir. But I do have one concern. My CO purchased the slide film."

"You tell that Major that if he has any problems to report to me."

"Yes, sir. Thank you sir."

I saluted and walked away.

I had no idea what just happened. I mean, wasn't I already doing this?

What now?

What has changed?

What was I supposed to do next?

And more importantly, how the heck am I going to explain to my CO that the film he bought just got compenscated by the US Army?

So, I got back to the tent and the guys wanted to know what was going on.

"I don't think you're going to believe me if I told you.  But here goes. So the photographer who came over to take the official images for the 101st and for Task Force 229, got his leg broken while jamming it between a 5 ton and the trailer it was pushing back.

"I am now the official 229th Task Force photographer. Even I can't believe this is happening.

"Now, I have to tell our boss his film he bought for this is no longer his."

There was a good luck with that chuckle.

"He said w h a t!!!"

After the laughter died down. "Sir, I'm not making any of this up. General Brown told me to tell you that if you have any problem with this to see him."

"Alright, I'm not going to go see General Brown over the slide film and it looks to me like you're over your head, am I right?"

"Only on the logistics side of getting out to places and taking images of all of us here.  The Task Force and not just A Troop, 2/17 Cavalry. As you have already seen with my Werthiem Goes To Werthiem piece in Stars and Stripes, I still have some ties with in country publications.

"The effort needs to include the Press Center for this exercise and getting the work back to our press folks from Public Affairs that are also here for this exercise."

"Forget the Press Center, let's keep your efforts in line with the chain of command expectations. Stay with us, I'll get you out to where you want to go and once a day, a chopper will pick up your work and get it over to our division Public Affairs staff."

"Thank you, sir."

I felt like Ernie Pyle. I would go out, take pictures and sit in front of my duffel bag while I typed on my portable typewriter.  At 12 noon, a chopper would land, I gave them the film and the stories I wrote and never saw any of it after that.

On day three of the exercise, I went out with our Blue Platoon and took pictures of two of our soldiers riding speeding away on their motorcycles.

Notice that the 101st Airborne insignia is taped over.  We were technically in enemy territory.
And I was loving every minute of it!

After dropping them off, we move to our pickup point. After we landed, it was obvious to me and everyone else on that chopper that we didn't exactly pick the best spot for a pickup point.

"Unless that's an earthquake, we got tanks around here somewhere. Sir, I'm going to take a look around the corner. See what's up the hill. If I give you the signal, we've go to go!"

I turned to corner and all I'm seeing is tank after tank after tank. So I go up to the tank commander leading the first tank by foot. Snap some images and pull out my notepad and pencil and do what I generally do during a REFORGER exercise and start asking questions.

"Are you sure you're not the enemy."

"Yeah, I am and that's why I'm out here in the middle of no where taking pictures of you and your unit cause I want to die trying to get my stories published in EurArmy.  Do you read EurArmy?"

"Yes. Does Sergeant Richard Edwards ring a bell? Drowning is Dumb?"

"Wait a minute, you're that guy."

"No, I just stole the name just to come up here and harass you."

He laughed.

"Look, I have to go.  Have a chopper to catch and get this back over to the Press Center. Thanks for making this article more interesting. Anything else you want to add?"

He shook his head.

I walk calmly back down the road, turn and when I'm out of sight of the tank commander, I give our crew the "let's get the hell out of there."

I buckled in, we raised to a high over to clear the trees, looked down, saw the referee who smiled at us, shook his head and gave of the your dead for 30 minutes cut throat sign.

Oh, well, I tried.

Major General John N. Brandenburg once asked me what I was doing back after he sent me to Germany, the result of my efforts here during this REFORGER exercise was my way of answering that.

Second column. Read the We were in REFORGER paragraph.

Major General John N. Brandenburg sent me a personal and official letter of appreciation after that and I was quickly reassigned to DISCOM in an E-7 slot, Public Affairs.

The last article I did for Soldiers was "Earning My Wings". It was about me going through the Air Assault School.

What was the funniest thing that happened before I got out?

Remember me being asked to take images of the AAAA Convention in Arlington, VA?

Neither did the 2/17th Cavalry. In fact, our Legal Beagle at the Cavalry called me a lie to my face when I told him about it. It troubled me and I thought I had a pretty good excuse as to why I couldn't go when I got home from REFORGER and saw a note on the table:

Over at the hospital.  Crystal is running a 104 temperature.

So I called the AAAA Convention line, talked to a colonel and told him to let Art know I have an emergency as my daughter was in the hospital with a 104 degree temperature.

Upon arrival back at Fort Campbell and since my Squadron Commander met me getting off the airplane and gave me the next 3 days off,  I thought I was off the hook. Until Thursday night when a neighbor on the second floor told me that some Sergeant from the 2/17th Cavalry HAS to talk to you.

It was our legal Beagle.

"Sergeant Edwards, why is the Secretary for General Kastner wanting to know why you aren't on his airplane?"

Oh, did I want to laugh.

"Army Aviation Convention at Arlington, VA ring a bell?"

"Never mind that, get the secretary off my back."

So, I called Art, apologized. Told him what happened, told him the crisis was over and if they still needed me. I would be more than honored to go.

Orders were cut and a Captain drove me to the Nashville airport in less than 4 hours.

At the end of the convention General George S. Blanchard told General Bernard Rogers to get out of his way because he wanted me to take a picture of him and an X POW Major.

General Rogers turned to me and said, "I don't know, Sergeant Edwards, should I get out of the way."

I'm usually pretty lousy at standup quick response.

But I said, "I don't know sir, which one of you has more time in service, time in grade? Pull rank."

They both laughed and General Rogers got out of the way.

Publication with my bylines and credits from 1977 to 1979:

  • Air Force\Navy Safety Publication
  • Army Aviation Digest
  • Army Aviation Magazine
  • Army Magazine
  • Army Times
  • Army War College Review
  • Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
  • Lake Charles American Press
  • EurArmy Magazine
  • Fort Campbell Courier
  • Hopkinsville New Era
  • Soldiers Magazine
  • Stars And Stripes 

Proudly served:

2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry
  • Valorous Unit Award for THUA THIEN-QUANG TRI
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for SOUTHWEST ASIA
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1968
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1968-1969
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1969-1971
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1971
  • Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal, First Class for VIETNAM 1968-1970
  • Troop A additionally entitled to:
    • Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for DAK TO
    • Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for DONG AP BIA MOUNTAIN
    • Valorous Unit Award for TUY HOA
    • Valorous Unit Award for THUA THIEN PROVINCE
    • Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for VIETNAM 1965-1966
    • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1966-1967

Generals I've known and talked to personally:

General I knew before he became a 4 star:

  • General Gary E. Luck

In 1980, in August, SAGA Magazine published: Killer Copters Our Deadly Middle East Weapon.

For me there's never been a meet destiny half way. I spent ten years trying to make Cobras, their pilots and the people who support them look good.

I spent more than $10,000 dollars of my own personal income to do it.

Now that I'm retired, I look back and wonder if anyone remembers me or wants to make my golden years just as memorable. 



Thursday, October 5, 2017

A big change in the air

Something was starting to change and I wasn't quite sure why it felt wrong.

What I did know is what I didn't know was making me feel very close to falling off my high horse.

And I had already been warned by some senior non-commissioned officers that the meat grinder was waiting for me should that happen. I no longer had John Michael Coleman. I was doing things way above my pay grade. I had to fill out my own award recommendation -- singular, not plural.

And a had to put up with a performance assessment by LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe which, basically, spoke volumes about being thrown under the bus because, suddenly, it was much better to have done nothing and specialized on soldiering than it was to have significant impact through public affairs efforts on our unit's identity and awareness.

LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe had a few months to go on his 18 month cycle of  job titles. It was like everyone was disappearing  and I was left with a no promotion or advancement check.

I even had LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe's replacement call me up. How many enlisted men have their new Battalion CO call them up three months before they take over?

But the real clincher that convinced me it was time to move on?

When we took David Burnett over to take pictures of General Alexander Haig and LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe stopped me from going with him to take pictures of him.

Citing my being overweight as a public sore eye for the Army.

What LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe didn't know was I was also in contact with the editor of Newsweek and was told afterward that had I been able to have been able to take a picture of General Alexander Haig, they would have used my images.

Bottom line, it was time to move on.

But where?


The Army made that decision for me.

As far as I can tell, this was also a first for the Army: a soldier, a 76Y20 Cobra Mechanic in a critical shortage MOS, was assigned on orders to the 101st Airborne Division Public Affairs Office directly from USAREUR and 7th Army.

So, in light of what was just said about the job conditions at the 3rd CAB, there were certain people who saw the accomplishments and not the man as his true worth and potential.

LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe and I put this montage of images together and it was published in Army Aviation Magazine before. I left Europe I have no idea why the montage included the 101st Airborne patch as, clearly, the 3rd Infantry patch is on the shoulders of the soldiers photographed.


The worst was the best and the best, was impossible for anyone to believe.

A battalion level stringer who paid for his one camera equipment, film and photographic papers.out of his own pocket, worked with Hilary Brown, David Burnett, had 27 articles accepted by EurArmy Magazine, 2 by Soldiers Magazine, pictures published in FrontLine, Pillars and Posts, The Fort Campbell Courier, Army, Army Times, Army Aviation Digest, Army Aviation Magazine, AARES (A Holland Publication), worked with Diana Dannis of AFN TV, the AV team from USAREUR and 7th Army and Stars and Stripes.

I was also asked to take images at the Army Aviation Association of America convention in 1978

All in 9 months.

Despite my dyslexia and my weight issues and my weaknesses in writing, I still managed to prove Major Shielly wrong. I did get my unit published but that wouldn't have happened without LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe and John Michael Coleman edging me on and honing my writing skills.

Some things aren't better left undone

"I'm going to need a ride over to Rammstein AFB so I can use the photo-lab there. The guys developing the images at the Press Center are using a film developer that takes about 5 minutes to process film.  And the results are horrifying.

"That will also keep me out of the hornets' nest for a day and I will have better control over my work."


Again, I like done.

The next day, one of our S-2 Officers, a very mad West Point Officer flew me over to Rammstein AFB.

My brother met us on arrival.

"Who the heck is your brother?"

"I'm a West Point Officer and I had to fly your enlisted brother here from Stuttgart to Rammstein AFB."

I looked at my stunned brother and smirked slightly, "Sir, I have between 3 to 4 hours of work to do at the photo-lab here.  Don't know if you've been to Rammstein before but this is big base. Or if you want, you can leave and I'll lima line in to Colonel Lethcoe and tell him I've completed my work."

"Make it 3 and I'll wait."

"Yes, sir."

I pushed 10 rolls of Ilford Pan 100 using Microdol-X 3:1 at 72 degrees for 11 minutes. Within the first hour, I was done with the film processing and had one hour to work on prints, 30 minutes to work on drying them and 10 minutes to get back to the OH-58.

"Good, you're early."

"Want to see the prints, sir?"


He started going though all 50 of them.

"I want this one."


"Can I have this one?"

"Yes, sir."

"These are really good." he said in amazement.

I think it was starting to sink in as to why it was so important to come to Rammstein.

David Allan Burnett -- A genius with a temper

Its not hard to spot the civilians from the military. Especially when a guy walks past you with a HAIR style black curly head of hair.  His camera brands replaced with something that ended with SKI. Is Pollaski even a word?

Anyway, I said hello and asked him if he was having any luck getting out to the field.  He said no.  And I said, "Let's see if I could cook him up something for tomorrow, say 9 am?"

He smiled and said, "that would be great!"

Here's a link to Davids lastest work

As soon as I got back to our field location, LTC Lethcoe was waiting for me.

"Dick, we need to talk."

"Dick, we have a problem.  The Division Public Affairs Officer has complained about you doing his job for him. He wants to take over the Wednesday press trip."

"Sir, I don't have a problem with that.  But I do wish to speak freely."

"Go a head."

"My father knew General Pat W. Crizer over in Korea and told me he was an exceptional officer. But no one is going to know that if the Public Affairs Officer is more interested in the girls at the press center than promoting Pat's career..

Editorial note:

This was part of Pat's Eulogy:

The 3d Division was special for Pat. He nurtured his division, trained it as well, maybe better than any other in the Army at the time, and developed a camaraderie, esprit de corps, and a professional respect between himself and his officers and men." General George S. Blanchard, US Army, Retired, recalled Pat's command of the 3d Division: "He was an outstanding division commanding general and I remember one Reforger when, through his division's brilliance, the 'enemy' was completely befuddled and practically collapsed." A classmate and close friend, Major General, US Army, Retired, Dick Bresnahan, wrote: "...Recently I met an officer who had commanded a division with great success in the Middle East War. He had been a major in the 3d Division when Pat commanded it. He said. 'Much of my success and that of several other officers over there was the result of lessons we learned from General Crizer while serving under him. He knew his business and was a great teacher.' What else is there to say about such a loyal friend?''

Continuing on with my story: 

"You pissed off the division Public Affairs Officer. Seems he's been watching you."

"I guess that piece we got on national TV made him look bad, sir"

That made LTC Lethcoe laugh. But he quickly regained his composure. "Let's do this.  Put him in the hot seat and set his head set to private. You can still direct things and he'll be thinking he's the hot shot."

"This public affairs officer is not doing his job.

"If he was, I wouldn't be pulling off what I've been able to pull off."

"Permission to speak freely, sir."


"Who knows Major General Pat W. Crizer? That's a rhetorical question. I do. You know how? My father said he knew him as a Captain during the Korean War and was impressed with him. And I've only seen him once or twice but when I have and heard him talk to the troops, he makes General Alexander Haig look bad. He's just an unbelievable cool and interesting human being.

"Dick, we know that. Just play along."

(Something tells me that a similar remark was made when General Pat W. Crizer was told to back of from totally destroying the opposing force during REFOREGER 77, too.)

"That sounds like a good plan to me, sir.  You do know who this guy is, right?"


"His name is David Allan Burnett and he's there to take pictures for Time Magazine."

"That might explain why Ruddy Williams wants to tag along."

"Wait", I said incredulously,  "The Rudy Williams?"

"Yes, something wrong?"

"No, not really. We - meaning you, me and John Michael Coleman -- have only run circles around this silver spooned photo-journalist at the speed of light for the past 6 months."

My real thoughts, placed bets that it was his way of claiming rights to another image he didn't take or he's so darn desperate to grab some association attention with the legandary David Allan Burnett.

Missing That Iconic Shot While Loading Your Leica

Nick Ut-Children Fleeing an Aerican Napalm Strike-1972
David Burnett, Washington Post, June 12, 2012:

It’s difficult to explain to someone who has grown up in the world of digital photography just what it was like being a photojournalist in the all-too-recently-passed era of film cameras. That there was, necessarily, a moment when your finite roll of film would end at frame 36, and you would have to swap out the shot film for a fresh roll before being able to resume the hunt for a picture. In those “in between” moments, brief as they might have been, there was always the possibility of the picture taking place. You would try to anticipate what was happening in front of your eyes, and avoid being out of film at some key intersection of time and place. But sometimes the moment just wouldn’t wait. Photojournalism — the pursuit of storytelling with a camera — is still a relatively young trade, but there are plenty of stories about those missed pictures.

In the summer of 1972, I was a 25-year-old photojournalist working in Vietnam, mostly for Time and Life magazines. As the United States began winding down its direct combat role and encouraging Vietnamese fighting units to take over the war, trying to find and tell the story presented enormous challenges. On June 8, a New York Times reporter and I were going to explore what was happening on Route 1, an hour out of Saigon. We visited a small village that had seen some overnight fighting, but were told by locals that there was a bigger battle going on a few kilometers north. There, at the village of Trang Bang, I waited and watched with a dozen other journalists from a short distance as round after round of small-arm and grenade fire signaled an ongoing firefight. I was changing film in one of my old Leicas, an amazing camera with a reputation for being infamously difficult to load. As I struggled, a Vietnamese air force fighter came in low and slow and dropped napalm on what its pilot thought were enemy positions. Moments later, as I was still fumbling with my camera, the journalists were riveted by faint images of people running through the smoke. AP photographer Nick Ut took off toward the villagers who were running in desperation from the fire.

In one moment, when Ut’s Leica came up to his eye and he took a photograph of the badly burned children, he captured an image that would transcend politics and history and become emblematic of the horrors of war visited on the innocent. When a photograph is just right, it captures all those elements of time and emotion in an indelible way. Film and video treat every moment equally, yet those moments simply are not equal.Within minutes, the children had been hustled into Nick’s car and were en route to a Saigon hospital. A couple of hours later, I found myself at the Associated Press darkroom, waiting to see what my own pictures looked like. Then, out from the darkroom stepped Nick Ut, holding a small, still-wet copy of his best picture: a 5-by-7 print of Kim Phuc running with her brothers to escape the burning napalm. We were the first eyes to see that picture; it would be another full day before the rest of the world would see it on virtually every newspaper’s Page 1.

When I reflect on that day, my clearest memory is the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of Nick and another reporter beginning their run toward the oncoming children. It took another 20 or 30 seconds for me to finish loading my stubborn Leica, and I then joined them. It was real life, unfolding at the pace of life.For some years afterward, I wondered what had happened to Kim Phuc. She eventually left Vietnam for Cuba, and later, on a stopover in Canada, defected with her husband. They now live near Toronto, where she runs a foundation dedicated to helping children deal with the trauma of war. Nick Ut is still photographing for AP in Los Angeles.I think often of that day, and of the unlikelihood of a picture from such a relatively minor military operation becoming one of the most iconic pictures from the entire war — or any war. For those of us who carry our cameras along the sidewalk of history for a living, it is comforting to know that even in today’s digitally overloaded world, a single photograph, whether our own or someone else’s, can still tell a story that rises above language, locale and time itself.Except for one photo, which was published in Life the next week, my own pictures have lived in my archives for 40 years, like witnesses in waiting — until now.

"This is going to get interesting."

And it did. The Public Affairs Officer called in a Zulu time pickup. So, we landed at 9am instead of 8am. Not only that, we were flying a Huey with a condition red X problem where because of the fuel indicator malfunctioning, we had to land every 25 minutes and top off the fuel tanks.

The second time we landed, Burnett lost it.  Between all the yelling and dirt kicking,  he made it clear as I also figured out that we needed to change choppers. So, this was explained to Burnett and luck switched sides.

I should explain at this point who I was sitting with. On the right side of the helicopter sat three photo-journalists: me, Rudy Williams and David Allan Burnett.

The first photo-op had both me and Burnett in stitches. We were both cutting up so badly, the pilots looked back to try to figure out what was so funny. We also noticed that Rudy Williams did see what we saw as being so funny.

I went hot with the mike. "Sir, we need to land."

So what was so funny.  Picture two GIs sitting at a picnic table casually eating lunch behind them in a small open area were tanks and APCs with their guns pointed directly at them.

It was one of those, "What, me worry" moments that was a humorous images asking to be taken.

After eating and changing choppers, we got too busy to remember much about what we were taking images of.  Just that the action shots were out in front of us and there was a lot to pick and choose from.

Suffice to say, some of the images I took in black and what were also taken by Burnett and published in Time Magazine.

There were three other times when I saw Burnett out in the field after that.  Once when I was with my boss and we were watching the drop of an APC out of the back end of a C-130 and once again at the Press Center.

You can see the video of this here.

We arrived with the AV team that took this video.  Because they had to set up rather quickly the tops of our choppers show up in the image.

There was supposed to be a 4th time but that was stopped by my boss. We had brought some of the press up to where General Alexander Haig had flown in by helicopter.

I was within a quarter mile of him but was stopped by my boss who told me that because I was overweight, I would not be able to go take pictures of General Alexander Haig.

Little did he or I know that this event stopped me from getting published in Newsweek who told me that had I had an image of a prominent figure, they would have published my work.

When I did say goodbye to Burnett at the press center,  I wanted to see if his ego was a big as his hair do.

So I asked, "Do you think I have a chance getting published in Time Or Life?"

To this day, what he said next I will remember for the rest of my life:

"It is not a question of whether or not you have a shot at getting published in Time or Life.  It is more a question of do you have the willingness to continually send them your best images until they use something you've made available to them. You have to have your name on each slide and you have to have cut lines for each image.

Never give up."

By the way, the picture in question:

Rudy Williams claims he took this picture. 

Which would be fine if he did. But he didn't. 

I did. But I couldn't prove it for years because no credits were given for images published in December 1976 Army Aviation Digest Magazine and I didn't have a back copy of the images published in Army Aviation Magazine.

Okay so, that gives me credit for being there and, as you can pretty well guess, some of these are exactly the same as the ones published in Army Aviation Digest.

Okay, so I've established that both Rudy Williams and I were on the field taking images of the Air Assault In Action demo. So how can I be so sure it was my picture?

Because it got published in Army Aviation Magazine. And the only images that could have made it into print were the ones I printed up in my photo-lab. 

How can I say that with certainty?


  1. The deadline for submission of images for the December issue would have been 3 months prior to publication.
  2. Bob "Silver Fox" Crossly, Director of AV at USAREUR & 7th Army told me to send my images to him because the images he had were bad.
  3. Even if Rudy Williams did take a similar image and that image -- by some miracle -- did manage to get into Army Aviation Magazine, it would have his byline on it.
  4. Unless he was in my photo-lab and had given the images to the Colonel who picked up the images for LTC Gary E. Luck, his would not have been included.

I rest my case.  

Bigger Fish To Catch


They say that when one door closes and another opens.  Problem is, I always have to hunt in the dark for that other door.

So, I looked up the Time Magazine Correspondent in Cologne by the name of Barrett Seaman, called him up and told him that if he would show up at the Press Center the first Monday of the first week during the REFORGER exercise, I would get him into the front seat of a AH-1Q Cobra.

He got all enthusiastic and told me he was looking forward to it!

(Boy, was I talking through my butt!)

So, I went down stairs, knocked on my boss's door and heard LTC Lethcoe invite me in.

"Sir, is there any way we can possibly go to the Press Center on Monday the first week of the exercise?"

"Do you need to go over to the Press Center?"

"Not really. Barrett Seaman the Time Magazine Correspondent up in Cologne and I got to talking and he mentioned that he'd love to take a ride in one of our Cobras."

I was fully expecting the wrath of god.  Instead, I got,  "Wow, that's awesome! I'll do my best to make that happen!"

It was a more of a why didn't I think of that tone. And then, there was a time on April 27th when my wife went into labor and first daughter was on her way and he called me and told me he was trying to get me to Wurzburg from Heidelberg via OH-58.

I ended up riding in the back of a 5 ton truck and got there after my first child was born.

But he did try as the weather was pretty nasty for flying that day.

Tuesday, we showed up at the Press Center and I was totally surprised at what I saw. It was a buzz with typewriters pounding out content, the place was two stories high, filled with a mix of tobacco products including pipes, cigars, cigarettes and writers and photographers none of whom I knew.

There was a bit of ruckus behind me and I turned around to see Hillery Brown of ABC News -- she I recognized.  I introduced myself and asked if I could be of service.

"I;m here to cover the WACS."

Well, we don't exactly call them that these days, I thought. "We have some working with us and I can get you a chopper in here tomorrow."

"Sounds great."

"Only one thing, we need you to cover our Cobras,"

"We're not here to cover the Cobras."

"Well, then, you can choose to take your chances and, perhaps, cover the WACS while they are out in the field training with us or you can get picked up tomorrow, do your story on the women in the field and cover the fact that its the first time in the History of Army Aviation that a battalion of AH-1Q TOW Cobras assigned, trained and deployed in Germany has become the first of its kind formidable and lethal anti-tank weapons system."

"Pick us up a 9am."

And we did. Not only did she get her story on the women in combat, but our battalion was on TV the next night. Aviation tank killers was beginning to be accepted as a reality.

When a helicopter has an accident happens, who are you going to call?

That be me. It was one of those additional Add On jobs LTC Gerald E Lethcoe add to my plate.

There were a total of three helicopter accidents and 1 U-21 accidents that I was tasked to take pictures of. None were fatal and two were so humorous they way they happened that I'd like to go into some detail about them.

Let me get the least two interesting ones out of the way.

AH-1Q TOW Cobra

While returning from a training exercise, the group of helicopters experienced an almost white out 
condition due to an isolated snow storm that they encountered. One of the AH-1Q TOW Cobras settled down on what the pilot thought was solid ground.

When the pilot in command rolled off the power to the blades, the helicopter rolled sharply to its left side, the blades hit the ground and were completely destroyed. The Cobra was a total loss.

Please bear in mind that these images are almost 40 years old.

The other incident involved an OH-58 when the pilot was flying using nap of the earth tactics came up to a high point in the terrain pulled pitch and flew right into a high power line. While the blades stayed on the helicopter their were terribly damaged and the only thing keeping the entire transmission and rotor section was the bolt on the 5 mount.

The first most memorable incident occurred while I was taking images for my Drowning Is Dumb article for EurArmy Magazine.

Apparently, two pilots -- both CW4s -- were doing touch and goes on our Harvey Barracks 8000 foot long runway while flying a U-21 aircraft. One feathered one of the engines to stimulate a engine failure. The other elected to land the aircraft as the wheels began to retract. For 1900 feet -- I know this because I had to take pictures where the tips of the propellers nicked the surface of the runway and counted the distance.

The plane eventually came to a stop in the grassy part of the runway, in tact with more ego bruised than the aircraft itself. After I took the images around the aircraft and inside, the plane was moved to the outside of the hanger, the engines were removed and replaced and the plane was flown from Harvey Barracks back to Heidelberg.

This one involved a friend of mine by the name of Captain Harry Patterson and it occurred down in Stuttgart during REFORGER 77. Apparently, Captain finally convinced our operations Master Sergeant that helicopters were safe to fly in. 

Well, as it turned out, the fuel filter got clogged up and caused the engine to fail.

If you've been in Germany, you know that the streets in the small towns are very narrow. And Captain Paterson almost pulled off a beautiful Hail Mary landing. I say almost because there was a street light in the way.  Upon hitting the pole, the main rotor blades removed themselves from the helicopter, hit the corner of home and ended up in the back yard of the owner's home.

Here's where it gets funny. Still dazed from the landing but safe -- so was the Master Sergeant, I should add -- Captain Patterson found himself in a bear hug from the owner of the home thanking him for not crashing into his home.

I still get a chuckle out of that. And we had to actually drive into town to take the images of the downed helicopter. Once the images were developed and in the right official hands, we were given permission to remove the helicopter from the street and that was the end of the incident.