Declassified Military Photographs From The '60s and '70s
Clarence Ware and Charles Plaudo of the Filthy 13 prepare for a mission in England on June 5, 1944
When it comes to fascinating military photos they aren’t defined by an era, but rather what we’re used to seeing. These declassified photos that span hundreds of years run the gamut from inspirational shots of American heroes rescuing children, to spine tingling images of the horrors of combat. Each photo offers a distinct and nuanced insight into the lives of servicemen and women across the world, and they even take you back to the Civil War to show what life was like Union and Confederate camps. Look closer at these photos to see how the military has changed over time, which methods they still use, and how they adapted to the brutality of battle.
Warning, this is a rare collection of war photos and some of them can be graphic in nature. Viewer discretion is advised.
You’ve heard of the Dirty Dozen, but did you know they were based on the US 101st Airborne Division, a real group of military malcontents? Before flying into a mission after D Day the group applied war paint in order to pump themselves up for the dangerous mission ahead. Members of the group have stated that they did more than they were asked to. During their time in combat they blew up a bridge over the Douve River to prevent reinforcements from reaching the front lines and they performed reconnaissance work in France prior to the Battle of the Bulge. It’s no surprise that this exciting group had such a cool movie based on them.
Flight 19, "The Lost Patrol" before their last flight over the Bahamas
The Bermuda Triangle has claimed a myriad of different planes, boats, and travelers, but the most mysterious victim of the triangle was Flight 19 which occurred on December 5, 1945. A simple training routine, Flight 19 was a squadron of six aircraft and 27 crewmen who left Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a three hour exercise meant to practice bombing runs.
At 2:30 p.m. the flight’s leader, Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, radioed into back to the base to let them know that he wasn’t sure where he was and that his plane’s compass was broken. Normally, pilots in the Atlantic Ocean will fly west towards the setting sun in order to reach land but Taylor sent his squadron east because he thought he was flying towards the Florida Keys. The planes went down sometime around 6 p.m., and while there should have been tons of wreckage the Navy planes that went out in search of them couldn’t find the missing crafts. A higher up in the military plainly stated that the squadron “vanished,” and that no bodies or debris was ever discovered.
A Reindeer watches as RAF pilots bomb Germany
Destruction reigned throughout World War II, and it wasn’t just people who had to deal with the fallout from the near constant bombing across Europe. While this amazing photo claims to show a reindeer watching on as RAF pilots drop bombs over Murmansk, it’s actually a composite by Yevgeny Khaldei. The photographer explained:
During the bombings, a reindeer came out of the tundra. He wanted to be with people. They built him a shed to live in, and gave him a name, Yasha. Every time the alarm sounded, he ran to be with the soldiers–he didn’t want to be alone. During one of the air raids, I took this shot. In 1944, when the battle for Murmansk was over, the soldiers didn’t know what to do with him. They loaded him into a truck and took him back to the tundra, thinking he would join the other deer. But he couldn’t understand what was happening. He ran after the truck as long as he could.
German soldiers react to footage of concentration camps, 1945
Taken in 1945, this photo shows the reaction from German POWs when they were forced to watch the horrific footage of what occurred inside Nazi run concentration camps. German POWs were forced to watch these videos as a part of the Allie’s plans for “denazification,” something that they thought would help Germany rebuild their infrastructure during the war. As World War II came to an end the Allies emptied out the Nazi concentration camps while filming the atrocities that occurred. The footage included everything from mass graves, prisoners with trench foot, to people inn the camp who were marched to their death.
Sweetheart grips kept loved ones close told soldiers during World War II
These little known accouterments that were added to hand guns are known as “sweetheart grips,” and they were made of photos of loved ones - be they wives, girlfriends, mothers, or sisters - that were kept behind shaped plexiglass and screwed to the handle of a handgun. While many soldiers were keen on keeping photos of their best gal close to their hearts, some soldiers kept them close to their bullets. Some sweetheart grips were better designed than others, and it’s hard to find one from World War II that’s in great condition as many of them suffered from major water damage due to the plexiglass warping.
A Japanese plane goes down over Saipan
On June 15, 1944, U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of the Japanese island of Saipan in an attempt to gain control of a crucial air base where that would serve as a place for the military to launch their long-range B-29 bombers. Gaining a base in the middle of the Pacific was the key to knocking out the Japanese military. The battle was fiercely fought on both sides, with the Japanese refusing to give up an inch of ground. However, the U.S. military overwhelmed their Japanese enemies until their final banzai charge. On July 9 the U.S. finally triumphed over their enemies to claim the base as their own.
An Ottoman supply train resting where it was ambushed by Lawrence of Arabia on the Hejaz Railway
Built in 1900, the Hejaz railway ran from Damascus to Medina, through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, and served as the main transport for the Ottoman Turkish Empire to travel through the desert. The railroad was still being constructed when World War I broke out which meant that all building on the project came to a stop. In order to keep the Turkish army from using their railroad, British officer T.E. Lawrence who came to be known as Lawrence of Arabia led the Arabic army to attack the railroad. The train in this photo is one of the many railways that Lawrence led attacks on throughout 1917 and 1918, effectively putting an end to the railway. Many of the trains are still in the desert, right where they were toppled.
German officers watch an observation balloon near the Western Front in 1915
Observation balloons were a major part of World War 1, not only did these newly introduced dirigibles provide information to the German military, but they were easy to maneuver and could stand up to more damage than earlier balloons. These were a near constant sight over the Western Front, which made them targets for any soldiers, be they on the ground or in the air, who wanted to take down a member of the German army. These balloons were heavily defended by troops on the ground, after all knowledge is power, but if they were take down the soldier inside had to parachute out of the balloon and hope to make it to the ground in one piece.
CG-4A military troop and cargo transport glider 1943
Not every casualty of World War II was a member of the military, some of them were the men who were keen on testing the crafts and equipment that the boys overseas would use. The Waco CG-4A combat glider was one of the more controversial crafts of the era because of the fact that when these babies went down they really went down. They were used to storm the beaches of Normandy in 1944, but thanks to a disastrous test flight in 1943, they were almost grounded forever.
These gliders were constructed in St. Louis, and after the first version was created the contractor tapped the city’s mayor and members of the community to ride in the glider during a local airshow. During the airshow that occurred in August 1943 something like 5,000 spectators saw a wing of the glider snap off as it soared 2,000 feet through the air. It smashed to the ground, killing everyone inside. Initially it was believed that the glider was tampered with, but it was actually a faulty bolt that brought the craft down.
Hitler's abandoned bunker
The Führerbunker was built for Hitler in 1936 and 1944 as a part of a subterranean bunker complex that was meant to keep the heads of the Third Reich safe underground if things went awry in Europe, and awry they did go. Hitler moved into the bunker on January 16, 1945, and he stayed there throughout the end of the battle in Europe. While in the bunker, Hitler married Eva Braun on April 29, less than two days before they committed suicide. Following the end of the siege of Europe the buildings above the complex were razed and the bunker stayed mostly intact until the late ‘80s. Some sections of the bunker still exist but they’re not open to the public.
US soldiers posing in gas masks during World War I
Chemical warfare was a terrifying new reality of World War I, the introduction of chlorine gas, phosgene, and mustard gas changed what was normally a boots on the ground affair into something much more nefarious. Throughout this worldwide skirmish the Germans made the most use of these chemicals, forcing the British and the US to follow suit and deploy similar measures. There was no 100 percent way to avoid being gassed, but during the early 20th century there was a leap in gas mask technology that allowed soldiers to fight through chemicals, although it wasn’t exactly a comfortable a proposition.
A little boy getting help from a soldier to sneak across the Berlin Wall
Before the Berlin Wall went up Germany was in near anarchy. While people had grown used to traveling between East and West Berlin, on August 13, 1961 that kind of freedom was no longer allowed. If someone was on the east side of the wall that’s where they stayed, and the same went for the west side. Families were split apart, and children were separated from their parents. This boy was caught on the wrong side of the wall on August 13, so this soldier went against orders and helped the boy escape into East Berlin so he could be with his family. No one knows what happened to this soldier, and while there are rumors that he was imprisoned, it’s likely he was just moved to another troupe.
A still from "Full Metal Jacket," showing soldiers speaking with a prostitute in Da Nang
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket from 1987 is one of the most acerbic looks at the Vietnam War that’s ever been made. It was released at a time when America was just beginning to understand the way that combat effected the soldiers who fought in Asia throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. This still comes from a scene where Joker, played by Matthew Modine, speaks with a sex worker while in Da Nang. The city was a melting pot for American G.I.s and those lucky enough to call it home were still rocked by firefights on a regular basis. The film didn’t just show the way in which conflict wears on someone but the pointlessness of war.
Allied soldiers mocking Hitler from a balcony, 1945
Aside from dealing with the fallout of the chaos of the war, the days after the end of World War II must have been so fun for Allied soldiers in Germany. Not only was the fighting finished, but they could actively rip on Hitler having just defeated him. This photo shows Corporal Russell M. Ochwad standing on the balcony of the Chancellery, in Berlin, the spot where the former German leader gave most of his horrific speeches. Ochwald is flanked by British and Soviet soldiers and he’s being cheered on by their fellow troops. Even when you’re in the middle of Hell you’ve got to have fun.
A Friedrichshafen FF.29 that’s crashed through the roof of a German building
The Friedrichshafen FF.29 was a German two-seat floatplane from the 1910s that was incredibly lightweight. They were introduced to the German military in 1914, and used during World War I. This photo shows one of the planes sticking out of a German building in 1918. It’s unclear if this crash occurred during a test flight or if it occurred during combat over the countryside. It looks as if the crash happened at a fairly low speed. Much of the plane is still intact and the building that it connected with looks absolutely fine aside from the fact that there’s a plane sticking out of the top.
Irish guards stay at attention after a fellow guardsman faints in front of the Queen, 1966
Trained to stand at attention while on duty no matter what happens. Regardless of what’s happening they have to remain still and focused in their heavy suit and bearskin hats. The thing about bearskin is that it doesn’t breathe, it keeps the heat in and isn’t fun to wear in the summer. Speaking of the summer, in June 1966 the Queen visited Ireland for her birthday celebration. As she rode her horse through the square this poor solider was overwhelmed by the heat and stress of the day and just went down. According to the photographer behind the photo, James Blair, seconds after this was taken a medical crew rushed the soldier to help him out.
Raquel Welch twists with lucky soldiers at a USO show, a rare respite from the battle
Bob Hope’s USO tours were one of the most important ways for soldiers in Vietnam to cut loose throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and they were important for Hope too. He liked to perform for the boys and it made him feel good to get out and perform. During the shows he strutted the stage with a golf club making jokes about the specific bases in order to make the shows feel more personal. As great as that was for the soldiers, they looked forward to the women that Hope brought along with him. One of the most popular starlets was Raquel Welch. During the 1967 tour she got on stage to dance while Hope did his own version of “Dancin’ in the Streets.”
The Eiffel Tower under Nazi occupation, 1940
We’re used to see the Eiffel Tower lit up in the city of romance. But during World War II the sight of this wonder was anything but lovely. When the Nazis took over France in 1940 they were initially going to destroy the Eiffel Tower under Hitler’s orders. General Dietrich von Choltitz and his family claim that he disobeyed Hitler’s order to reduce the city to rubble because he knew the dictator was crazy, but French officials attribute the long lasting look of Paris to resistance fighters who liberated Paris. It’s unclear who’s version of the story is more correct, but either way it’s amazing that the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame remained standing throughout such a destructive time.
A soldier running children away from combat in Vietnam
The Vietnam War was a struggle for everyone involved: The US military men who served in the country weren’t just away from their homes for an extraordinary amount of time, but they faced extreme backlash from the people at home while living under fire every day. The people who lived in Vietnam were caught in the middle of firefights between the Americans and the Vietcong which often left them homeless, battered and beaten. The children growing up in Vietnam didn’t know what was happening to them, just that their lives were constantly in danger. American troops did whatever the could to keep these kids safe even if it meant putting themselves in harm’s way.
Boy sitting in London rubble following a bombing
This young boy holding his stuffed animal in the middle of the ruins of his former home. His family’s house was destroyed following a German bombing in 1945, unfortunately this wasn’t a standalone issue, and many families were left displaced after attacks by the Nazi military. While most of the bombings of London took place between 1940 and 1941 during the Blitz, they counted throughout the war, mostly occurring in daylight. This kind of daytime destruction had to be terrifying to experience, but by the end of the war it was an unfortunately normal experience.
"The Intrepid," an observation balloon filled with hydrogen
Thaddeus Lowe, an aeronaut who worked alongside the Union Army, had a great idea. As a shameless self promoter he wanted to show off how well they could be used during the Civil War so he decided to fly a balloon onto the White House lawn. He took his balloon into the air and after catching the wrong breeze he was blown into Confederate country were he was immediately arrested upon landing. Lowe had to escape a lynching and make his way back to the North, and once he made it back he decided to show off his invention on an observation platform. The plan wasn’t a total disaster, balloons like the Intrepid were used to see all the way to Richmond and gather information.
A Soviet doctor helps survivors of Auschwitz
There were unspeakable horrors that occurred at the Auschwitz concentration camp, but the Germans tried to keep the brutal things that they were doing to the Jewish people on the low down. It’s unclear whether or not the Soviet army was aware of what was happening in the holocaust, but even if they were they couldn’t have been prepared for what the grotesque things they would find on January 27, 1945, when they entered Auschwitz and found approximately 7,6000 Jewish detainees. This photo shows a doctor from the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army helping survivors leave the prison.
"The Dictator," a Civil War beast
During wartime bigger is always better. This 17.000 pound gun, nicknamed “The Dictator” was so big that it had to be transported on a specialized flatbed rail car, and it fired a 13 inch shell that weighed 218 pounds at distances up to and including 2.5 miles. This bad boy was known for blowing holes in buildings and demolishing small troupes of soldiers who weren’t trained in the art of “getting out of the way.” The flat car that held the cannon got as much work in as the gun itself. Supposedly every time it was fired between 1863 and 1865 the car recoiled 10 to 12 feet.
A Soviet POW stares down Heinrich Himmler
When Heinrich Himmler visited the Shirokaya Street Concentration Camp in Minsk, Belarus in August 1941, he was greeted by this Soviet POW who wasn't afraid to stand up to him, regardless of the fact that they were stuck behind razor wire and guarded by MPs. Shirokaya was a labor camp that with a capacity for 2,000 prisoners that held Soviet soldiers and Jewish people who were about to be shipped to Sobibor or Auschwitz.The same day as Himmler’s visit to the camp he ordered his soldiers to massacre 98 Jewish men and two women as a way to remind the prisoners of his power.
A stark shot of an explosion at Pearl Harbor
One of the worst days in American history was December 7, 1941, when the Pearl Harbor naval base was the site of a surprise attack by Japanese forces. Throughout the day Japanese fighter planes torpedoed close to 20 American naval vessels and more than 300 airplanes in an attempt to cripple the American military. Over 2,400 Americans, both civilians and soldiers, lost their lives during the attack. The attack had the opposite effect that the Japanese military thought it would have, one day later Congress approved a declaration of war against Japan, and days later they approved a second declaration of war against the European powers, embroiling America in a world war.
Confederate prisoners posing in a POW camp
These Confederate prisoners at the Battle of Gettysburg may have turfed it during combat, but they’re looking good following an embarrassing battle. Gettysburg was an incredibly bloody battle in the midst of one of the most chaotic and destructive wars in American history. These guys definitely lost a lot of friends and loved ones in the fight, but they’ve managed to live another day. 50 years after Gettysburg, a reunion of the surviving fighters took place on the battlefield, and the surviving veterans met on the battlefield once again where they recreated Picket’s Charge. At the end of the charge the Union soldiers surrendered to their Confederate comrades out of respect and left the fields as friends.
Women took up factory jobs during World War II
As the United States entered into combat with the European powers and Japan, women picked up the slack in factories and at jobs that had to be vacated by men who joined the military. Even though some men expressed fear about women entering the workplace the government’s needs outweighed the worry of some stuffy older men. In December 1941, the government conscripted single women aged 20-30 as auxiliaries to the Armed Forces, Civil Defense, or war industries. Women took over civilian and military jobs on assembly lines and in factories. By 1943 7.25 million women were in the workplace, which means that 90 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 40 were in the workplace.
A U.S soldier offers to save a woman hiding in a cave, 1944
The battle of Saipan was a massive undertaking that took the lives of 30,000 Japanese troops and even worse, 22,000 Japanese civilians, many of whom took their own lives. There were far less casualties on the US side, with only a few thousand deaths Japanese civilians were convinced by the military’s propaganda that the US military was going to do away with them if they were caught. The propaganda was so insane that it stated that in order to become a US Marine soldiers had to kill their parents. US soldiers did everything they could to save the civilians of Saipan. They offered food and safe passage away from the battle, but many of them refused to take the soldiers up on their offers.
Female prisoners of war waiting for transport
The unfortunate truth of the Vietnam war is that POWs of all kinds were taken, including women who had little to nothing to do with the battle. This photo from 1973 shows a group of women waiting waiting to transported to a release point in 1973, and while that may seem like a positive, they were likely kept under lock and key with brutal terms. While some female POWs had little to do with the fighting, others were a necessary part of the Viet Cong’s battle strategy. They gathered information and inspired other women to take up the cause. Getting caught could land them in amor hot water.
Two soldiers wish Hitler an explosive easter
This may be one of the coolest photos from World War II. These African American soldiers were conflicted with fighting for the country that that was prejudiced against them, Throughout the war they fought on the ground and for equal rights at home, for an end to discrimination. Even though they were incredibly conflicted, more than 2 million African American soldiers joined the war effort and served in every branch of the military. They stepped up to the challenge to defend their country and those who couldn’t defend themselves across Europe. Soldiers like those pictured were an integral part to the Allie victory and they won't be forgotten.
Soldiers wading through the water during Operation Dynamo
Following a German attack on Belgium and Northern France in May of 1940, thousands of allied troops were stranded behind enemy line with no way to communicate or make it back home. Operation Dynamo was launched by the Royal Navy as a multi-pronged rescue mission that went by a series of tunnels and by sea.The issue with getting the 330,000 soldiers into escape boats was that the small area around Dunkirk was under constant shelling by Germany. Soldiers had to wade into water while under attack and board whatever was available, be it a military or civilian ship. Despite the brutal attack by the Germans hundreds of thousands of soldiers were saved.
Raising a Flag over the Reichstag
It’s not often that we see the Soviet army in this kind of pose, but this photo from May 2, 1945 taken by Yevgeny Khaldei shows Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailo raising the Soviet flag over Reichstag following the climax of the battle of Berlin. Nearly a month before this photo was taken the Red Army breached the German front and began one of the most gruesome battles of WorldWar II. Khaldei said that when the combat came to an end he snagged the two soldiers and asked for their help with grabbing this eye catching shot. While it makes it somewhat less impressive that the photo isn’t completely off the cuff, it’s still pretty fascinating to see.
"Sherman’s Neckties" were used to destroy railroads
Known as “Sherman’s Neckties,” as in Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, these were actually blockades built by members of the southern army in order to destroy Union railroad lines. In order to wreck the railroads, members of the Confederate Army lit a fire beneath the ties, and once the metal was hot enough they would twist the ties until they were impossible to use. This method became known as “Sherman’s Neckties” because the Union General loved the idea so much that he started using it on the Confederates. During the war the Confederate Army destroyed twenty-five miles of the railroad in an attempt to destroy the Union’s key supply route.
General John Sedgwick takes a break during the Civil War
General John Sedgwick was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the Union Army, he was wounded three times during the Battle of Antietam, and his wounds in his wrist, leg, and shoulder kept him out of circulation until the Battle of Fredericksburg. He met his end during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, on May 9, 1864 after several of his troops ducked down to avoid Confederate rifle fire. Supposedly he said, “Stand up. They couldn’t shoot an elephant from this distance” before he was shot in the face. General Ulysses S. Grant would say losing him was, “greater than the loss of a whole division of troops.”
This stirring image is titled "Homecoming Prisoner, Vienna" by Ernst Haas
It’s hard to imagine the melancholy feeling of returning home after years in combat to find that your loved ones or family are gone. Whether they’ve moved on to someone else or they’ve lose their lives, it must be painful to find yourself alone in your hometown. Ernst Haas spent 40 years working as a photojournalist and photographer and one of his earliest collections of work, “Homecoming Series” captured the sadness of Europe following World War II. Haas took the photos while scouting a fashion shoot in Austria. He saw groups of former prisoners of war returning home, the sensation of loss struck him as sadly beautiful and he followed the feeling.
Solders in the haze of a search and destroy mission, 1965
Search and destroy missions were never the straight forward assignments that they looked to be. Rather than wiping out the Viet Cong and their supplies, soldiers torching the countryside essentially upset their enemy even more than they already were, complicating a messy situation beyond its origins. Search and destroy missions were at their height from 1965 to 1968, and they were ineffective to say the least.
These missions also brought bad press to the American military during the era, something that only made Americans at home less enthused about the combat overseas. Soldiers carrying out these missions often found themselves mired in traps, and the military quickly moved away from these tactics.
A US serviceman carries out a search and destroy mission
During the Vietnam War General William Westmoreland ordered the US military to carry out search and destroy missions in order to get rid of the homes of suspected members of the Viet Cong. The plan was to burn everything in sight in order to bleed the VC of their resources, thus making it easier for the US military to triumph. US soldiers used whatever they had to carry out these destructive missions, but the flamethrower was the most popular weapon available. In spite of the American firepower on display these missions cost thousands of American lives without making much of a difference.
The Royal Winnepeg Rifles in Normandy in July 1944
We don’t often think of Canadians as fighting in World War II, but America’s neighbor to the North was as knee deep in battle as anyone else. During D-Day the Royal Winnipeg Rifles of the 7th Infantry Brigade along with the Canadian Scottish in reserve. "Nan" sector charged into the fray while the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps tended to the wounded across the beach. Close to 15,000 members of Canadian military performed admirably on D-Day, and as the weeks and months went on the beach essentially became a small Canadian province as the Armored and Infantry Divisions maintained the area once the main section of the battle was over.
The crew of the USS Monitor
Known as the “cheese box on a raft,” the USS Monitor is one of the most important ships of the Civil War. The ship required 40 new patents in order to be constructed, with one of its most important design features being that of a revolving turret, something that changed naval warfare completely. Not only could this ship outfight boats that had way more guns, but it could out maneuver them as well. On March 8, 1862, the Monitor placed itself between the Virginia, a Confederate ship, and the US Navy Fleet. The ships dueled for four hours until the Virginia had to steam away before her crew forced her into a shallow part of the James.
A soldier burns a hut in Vietnam
During Vietnam the US military did whatever they could to put a stop to the Viet Cong’s ability to store food and weapons. Whenever soldiers found storage spaces they burned down the entire village. Morely Safer was present for the burning of Cam Ne, he described the horror as something that was carried out indiscriminately and with whatever the soldiers had on hand:
Every Vietnamese house had a shelter of some kind. Often it was an underground dugout to store rice. There was a family down there, probably six people, including a practically newborn baby. They were frightened stiff. I coaxed; they didn't want to come out. Ha Thuc Can spoke softly to them, and he coaxed them out. The house was torched, as every house along the way was torched, either by flame throwers, matches, or cigarette lighters — Zippos.
Solders climbing into a Chinook helicopter, 1967
This photo shows soldiers climbing a ladder into a Chinook helicopter during Operation Cedar Falls in January 1967. This mission was meant to be a search and destroy operation but it turned into one of the largest US operations during Vietnam. Operation Cedar Falls turned into. Massive sweep of the “Iron Triangle,” a 120 square miles area in the Bình Dương Province of Vietnam that was a Viet Minh stronghold. By the end of the operation, more than four square miles of jungle had been cleared and 578 weapons and 3,700 tons of rice were captured from the Viet Cong.
Hans Georg Henke, a 16 year old German soldier photographed crying
Even though the German army liked to put up a tough front about being an unstoppable army, in reality they were bleeding members and had to start dipping into the younger people in their population. One of those young soldiers was 16 year old Hans Georg Henke who joined the German military after his parents passed away and he had to support himself. Henke claimed that he was forced to serve as an anti aircraft soldier in Stettin with a battery of 88mm guns, however American photographer John Florea says that Henke was actually stationed at in the village of Hüttenberg-Rechtenbach and that he served on his own volition. It’s believed that Henke changed his story because he moved to East Germany and anyone there who was a former Nazi was mud in their eyes.
African colony soldiers fighting in France, 1944
These soldiers from the French African Colonies are serving near the Besancon, France during the winter of 1944 in what must have been an incredibly cold and harrowing winter in the middle of Europe. These soldiers may have been from the African colonies but they were able to use Allied equipment from American and Britain. For instance, they used English weaponry, and American helmets and outfits that were decorated with the emblems and signifiers of the French Colonial forces. It’s clear that everyone across the world wanted to work together keep the planet safe. It's just a shame that these fellows had to work in the snow.
Bernard Herzog shortly after being released from a POW camp
Following the end of war, soldiers across the Europe and Germany were released from POW camps and the true horror of their lives became clear. Bernard Herzog, a US soldier spent much of the combat time in an internment camp in the Philippines where he lost 78 pounds. During his time in the camp Herzog developed a vitamin deficiency and beriberi, a disease that causes limb pain, swelling of the legs, and general weakness. As sick as Herzog was, it looks like he’s getting taken care of fairly well by his fellow soldiers. He may not have been in combat with them, but he’s definitely been through hell.
A military officer filming in Vietnam
As the first televised war, Vietnam was more than just a series of battles, it was something that introduced the American public at large to the atrocities that occurred in combat. This photo shows a member of the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office filming the action on a 16 mm camera. Members of the SPO were able to get a look at a side of the war that civilian photographers and cameramen weren’t able to find. They shot everything they could in Vietnam, from combat footage to slice of life moments with the soldiers.
Combat footage was especially important for the military because it was used for combat training. One former member of the SPO told CBS:
I'm out there with my camera gear. And I'm thinkin', 'What the hell am I doin' here? There's no way I could put a camera up on my shoulder... standin' there tryin' not to shake. Because if you shake, it's no good.
Soldiers fire a mortar at the Viet Cong in Long Khank Province, May 1967
One of the most used weapons of the Vietnam war was the M19 mortar, a short range explosive weapon that allowed soldiers to aim at a specific target in order to carry out “direct fire.” There were more accurate and lighter mortar devices, but soldiers weren’t able to use them on the fly in the same way that they could with the M19. The M19 was actually turned down by the US Army, but the Marines loved using it because of the fact that it offered them the chance to fire at something directly and take it out.
Custer, long before his last stand
Everyone knows about Custer’s last stand, but long before he met defeat at Little Big Horn, he was one of most decorated and well-known soldiers in the country. The dapper fellow on the right in this photograph is hanging out with a Confederate officer named John “Gimlet” W. Lea, who was a classmate of Custer’s at West Point. While fighting for the Union at the Battle of Williamsburg, Custer noticed Lea lying wounded on the ground and brought him to a field hospital. After Lea was dressed and taken care of Custer insisted on getting a photo with his former classmate and current POW.
Soldiers taking cover while helicopters pass overhead
Fighting on the grassy plains, regardless of what country a soldier is in can’t be easy. Not only is there nowhere to run but there’s nowhere to hide. This photo shows soldiers in Vietnam getting down behind a line of shrubbery as helicopters move overhead. It’s not clear if they’re waiting on the helicopters to pick them up or if they’re just watching the choppers fly by. Hopefully these soldiers were able to get tot heir destination safe and sound, maybe even a few of them were able to catch a ride in a helicopter on their way home.
Soldiers load into a Chinook helicopter, 1966
Flying a helicopter during Vietnam wasn’t an easy task. Not only was there the every day problems that come with flying a giant piece of metal around a combat zone, but one day could see a pilot dropping off soldiers for some R&R, and another could have them flying directly into a battle. The CH-47 Chinook was mostly used for moving cargo, and with a capacity to haul more than 7,000 pounds of product. One of the most fascinating things that these helicopters did was move smaller vehicles so they could be repaired, and during Operation Crazy Horse the Chinooks helped move 30,000 troops out of combat.
Soldiers getting some R&R during Operation Yellowstone
From December 1967 to February 1968, the Us military carried out Operation Yellowstone in the northeast Tây Ninh Province. The operation was meant to sweep the area in order to make room for the construction of two new Special Forces camps. There were multiple firefights with the PAVN (People’s Army of Vietnam) and by the end of the operation the PAVN lost 1,254 soldiers and the US had lost 23. It wasn’t all firefights and sweeping the jungle during the operation, they also had time to hang out and get in some much needed rest and relaxation. This soldier playing the guitar provided some important music for guy in the middle of a tense situation.
General Sheridan takes a breather in between battles
One of the most controversial figures of the Civil War, General Philip Sheridan was an aggressive Union General who was happy to take t the battlefield and served directly under General Ulysses S. Grant as his cavalry commander. His most polarizing work occurred from September to October 1864 when he brought a troupe of soldiers to the Shenandoah Valley where he devastated the area’s farmland. Under Sheridan, his 40,000 troops destroyed crops, burned barns and captured livestock in an effort to turn the area into a wasteland. This was only a foreshadowing of Sherman’s March that occurred weeks later.
A Confederate soldier guarding the 200 pounder
This soldier is standing next to the “200 pounder,” also known as a Parrott rifle. This weapon was a type of muzzle-loading rifled artillery weapon that was used by both sides during the Civil War. The 200 pounder on display in the photo was at Fort Wagner, the site of a battle featuring the 54th Massachusetts regiment, otherwise known as the first African-American unit in the US Army.
One assault on Fort Wagner saw the Union Army fought back in hand to hand combat (a parrot rifle doesn’t work well in close quarters), and even though the gun in question stayed in place until July 1863 the fort was eventually taken by Union soldiers.
A South Korean houseboy rests on the front of a wagon between 1951 and 1952
The Korean War, known as the “forgotten war,” ended in a ceasefire in 1953 in spite of the fact that its still ongoing in various ways. Photographers who were stationed in Korea at the time captured photos of displaced children, many of whom were brought back to the United States following the ceasefire. Korean War photographer Allan Manuel explained:
Children were always favorites in photos by war photographers, in general, and not just with the Korean War. But during the Korean War, there was a historical layer added because a lot of [these children] were brought to the US as adoptees, and the trend of transnational adoption continued.
A trolley decorated with welcome messages for President-elect Dwight Eisenhower as it rolls through Seoul in November 1952
When President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Seoul in November 1952, he was greeted by the people of South Korea with a trolly bearing flowers and a celebratory welcome message. Eisenhower’s visit to Korea was done in an attempt to bring an end to the war, but despite his efforts he was unable to get anything done. Over the course of the “forgotten war” the United States suffered over 50,000 casualties and lost $70 billion in a frustrating war. This was one of the first times that the United States fell short in their war effort and it was an upsetting portent for the Vietnam War to come.
Young guerrillas ready to fight Viet Minh forces in the Red River Delta, 1954
In 1954 the United States had yet to officially enter the fighting in what was then considered Indochina, but they were offering military assistance to France who was stepping up their operations in Viet Minh. At the time much of the fighting was taking place between the Viet Minh and young guerrilla fighters who were barely old enough to attend high school. It’s horrific to think that these kids were outfitting themselves with grenades to fight the Viet Minh army, no child should have to undergo something like this and it’s likely that they didn’t it through the war.