Special Report

29 Horrifying Images of the Vietnam War

Patrick Christain / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The Vietnam War was the first major conflict seen live on televisions in American living rooms. On a nightly basis, we watched airplanes drop bombs, soldiers tramping through rice paddies and jungles, villages set on fire, and the suffering of the Vietnamese people. 

The war also was captured in unforgettable images from intrepid photographers – photojournalists from all over the world who recorded indelible images of the fighting and its aftermath. These included Pulitzer Prize winners Horst Faas of Germany and Sal Veder of the Associated Press; United Press International staff photographer David Hume Kennerly; Welsh war photographer Philip Jones Griffiths; and Henri Huet, a French war photographer covering the war for the Associated Press. 

Some of these photographers paid the ultimate price in pursuit of the visual truth. National Observer photographer Dickey Chapelle was killed by a landmine blast, becoming the first female American correspondent killed in action. Another casualty of war was Life photographer Larry Burrows, who died with Henri Huet when his helicopter was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos in 1971.

To assemble a collection of some of the most terrifying images of the Vietnam War by a variety of photographers – some of them unknown – 24/7 Tempo reviewed historical photo archives from sources including Getty Images, Picryl, Wikimedia, and the Library of Congress.

Click here to see 29 horrifying images of the Vietnam War

American combat involvement in Vietnam lasted from 1964 to 1973, and was one of the nation’s longest wars. By the time the United States pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, 58,000 American soldiers had been killed. (It was one of the wars in which the most Americans died.)

The war plunged the nation into division and self-doubt as a superpower. At home and in Southeast Asia, photojournalists captured the fear, chaos, anguish, and divisiveness of the conflict. (Here’s how every war in U.S. history ended.)

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The Viet Cong advances

A Viet Cong detachment advances through the forest in January 1967. A dead American soldier lies In the foreground.


Source: U.S. Air Force / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Bombing a coastal target

A U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command B-52 Stratofortress drops 750-pound bombs on the Vietnamese coast in October 1965.

Source: Public Domain / The U.S. National Archives / Wikimedia Commons

A blindfolded prisoner

Staff Sergeant R.E. Steffy binds and blindfolds a Viet Cong fighter who was taken prisoner in Van Tuong in August 1965.

Source: Public Domain / The U.S. National Archives / Wikimedia Commons

Waiting for the copter

U.S. soldiers Ruediger Richter (left) and Daniel E. Spencer await a helicopter to evacuate their fallen comrade after a battle in jungle-covered hills in Long Khanh Province in 1966.


Source: Public Domain / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons

Saving a comrade

U.S. soldiers carry a wounded comrade through a swamp in 1969.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

A frightened civilian

A Vietnamese civilian with a gun pointed at the side of her head.


Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

An American POW

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James L. Hughes, forced to eject from his F-105 over North Vietnam on May 5, 1967, is paraded barefoot and with a bandaged face through the street by two North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Source: Public Domain / The U.S. National Archives / Picryl

Training for action

Ten Marine Corps test jumpers in “stick” formation are towed by a helicopter during tests of the special patrol insertion/extraction system at the Naval Aerospace Recovery Facility in El Centro, Calif.

Source: Public Domain / Virtual Vietnam archive / Wikimedia Commons

North Vietnamese Army casualties

The bodies of three North Vietnamese soldiers lie in the street in Tan Son Nhut following a battle with U.S. and South Vietnamese troops.


Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

The Air Force attacks Hanoi

A plume of black smoke rises from a petroleum storage facility in Hanoi following a bombing run by U.S. planes on June 29, 1966.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Defoliating the jungle

A U.S. Air Force Fairchild C-123 Provider sprays defoliants in the dense jungle growth in 1966.


Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Landing in a swamp

U.S. Marines alight from helicopters and find themselves waist-high in swampy fields, as they move in position to clean out a Viet Cong position (the white smoke in the background is from a phosphorous rocket used as a landing marker)

Source: Terry Fincher / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Helicopters In action

American helicopters in action against the Viet Cong, a common scene during the Vietnam War.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Running for the copter

Marines scramble to avoid enemy gunfire as they board a helicopter at Khe Sanh on April 18, 1968.


Source: Public Domain / National Archives / Wikimedia Commons

Carrying a fallen comrade

Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion 7th Marines carry a dead comrade to a helicopter during Operation Arizona, in which four Marine battalions fought to clear the Viet Cong out of Quang Nam Province over eight days beginning June 14, 1967.

Source: Public Domain / U.S. Army Military History Institute / Wikimedia Commons

Dead North Vietnamese soldiers

In the foreground is a group of slain North Vietnamese soldiers as a Chinook helicopter rises above the area on Dec. 27, 1966.


Source: Public Domain / NARA / Wikimedia Commons

Surveying the dead

Members of the 9th Infantry Division (Mechanized) survey the dead Viet Cong soldiers and weapons after the assault on the II Field Forces complex at the Long Binh Post, the U.S. Army’s largest base in South Vietnam.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The dead in Saigon

Three military policemen in Saigon lie on stretchers after they were killed during the Tết Offensive in January 1968, with a dead Viet Cong fighter in the background.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Dead bodies in a ditch

Viet Cong fighters killed by gunships and South Vietnamese soldiers lie in a ditch in the French National Cemetery near the Tan Son Nhut Air Base just outside Saigon.


Source: US Army Photograph / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Life goes on in Saigon

A dead Viet Cong fighter lies on the ground in Saigon during the Tết Offensive in January 1968, as people carry on as usual around him.

Source: Authenticated News / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Firing a rocket

Specialist George R. Sanchez of the 101st Airborne Division fires an M72 rocket launcher at an enemy position.


Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Soldiers at rest

American soldiers sleeping in their foxholes between engagements on Aug. 26, 1966.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Shelter from the bombs

A resident of Hanoi takes refuge in an air-raid shelter on July 5,1967 during an American bombing raid.

Source: Central Press / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Destruction in Huế

The aftermath of the Battle of Huế, in which American and South Vietnamese forces recaptured the Central Vietnamese city from the Viet Cong on March 15, 1968.


Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Viet Cong crossbow

A large bamboo crossbow device used by the Viet Cong to fire eight-foot spears at low-flying or landing helicopters.

Source: Public Domain / The U.S. National Archives / Picryl

A tired soldier

An American soldier rests inside a M-113 armored personnel carrier that was part of a search and destroy mission against the Viet Cong at Filhol Plantation by the Saigon River, 10 miles northeast of the unit’s base camp at Củ Chi in 1967.


Source: Public Domain / The U.S. National Archives / Picryl

A minefield on fire

A minefield at Biên-Hòa Air Base near Saigon in 1966; somewhere in the area is a South Vietnamese soldier who was wounded after stepping on a landmine.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Bombers over North Vietnam

Flying under radar control with a B-66 Destroyer, Air Force F-105 Thunderchief pilots bomb a military target through low clouds over the southern panhandle of North Vietnam on June 14, 1966.

Source: U.S. Information Agency / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Soldiers in action

South Vietnamese troops advance against Viet Cong guerillas through the marshy terrain of South Vietnam’s delta region.

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