A U.S. Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter comes down in flames after being hit by enemy ground fire during Operation Hastings, just south of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam, July 15, 1966. The helicopter crashed and exploded on a hill, killing one crewman and 12 Marines. Three crewman escaped with serious burns.
William Morgan Hardman is interrogated by North Vietnamese military authorities in front of Hoan Kien Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam on Aug. 24, 1967. Hardman, a U.S. pilot, was captured after his plane was shot down.
A U.S. crewman runs from a crashed CH-21 Shawnee troop helicopter near the village of Ca Mau in the southern tip of South Vietnam, Dec. 11, 1962. Two helicopters crashed without serious injuries during a government raid on the Viet Cong-infiltrated area. Both helicopters were destroyed to keep them out of enemy hands.
This is a work by a British Photographer called Larry Burrows, taken amongst the carnage of Vietnam. On his return from Saigon he is quoted as saying it was "Quite lively in a way". I have spoken before of certain images pulling me in due to some sort of aesthetic quality. This picture is one of those images. The photo has an inherent compelling narrative of a black man struggling to assist a fallen soldier,despite his own injuries, held back from helping his white comrade he, stricken, arms out resembling a dying Christ, except this time, there will be no Resurrection. This is religious fairytale without any happy endings, the attendant Saints nothing more than solders, themselves perhaps next in line for a bullet.
The sense of abandonment felt in the picture is echoed by the actual events of the day. The picture was taken from a fierce fight for Hill 484. A 19 year old medic Ron Cook described the scene "There were Marines lying everywhere, wounded or killed," and he recalls filling a helicopter with wounded soldiers only to see it moments later get shot down, "it just disintegrated in the air." That afternoon the Marines eventually took Hill 484 the next day it was decided that it held no strategic importance after all.
Above are relating pictures helping us to decode the visual language of the photo. I believe it is self-evident how the composition of the photo, intentional or not, is reminiscent of the Renaissance Rubens "Decent from the Cross." I include the Monet in order to illustrate the technique commonly used in Impressionist art of including a bright red spot in a picture in order to draw the viewer into the very space of the work.
Burrows died along with other photographers after his helicopter was shot down in Laos in 1971. The protagonist of the story, the man reaching out to help a friend is Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jeremiah Purdie. He died in 2005 aged 74.