Mud, blood and terror: The brutality of the Vietnam War captured in harrowing images
LIFE magazine war photographer, Larry Burrows, covered the fighting on the front lines during the Vietnam War and is now being remembered for his extraordinary work as the 41 year anniversary of his death approaches.
Mr Burrows captured the compelling images of Operation Prairie, the U.S. offensive against the North Vietnamese near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), that lasted from August 3 to October 27, 1966.
His photographs of the bloody aftermath of the attack, juxtaposed against the lush and picturesque scenery of the Southeast Asian nation, are being revisited on LIFE.com as the London-born photojournalist is remembered.
Bloody: Marines carry an injured soldier back to the medics for treatment following an assault on Hill 484, Vietnam, October 1966 (left). An American soldier (right) with a bandaged head wound looking dazed after participating in Operation Prairie just south of the DMZ
An estimated 1,329 Americans were killed during the operation. More than 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the conflict in Indochina that ended in 1975.
One of the most famous images in the collection by Burrows is the shot ‘Reaching Out,’ the moment when wounded Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Purdie, photographed with a blood-stained bandage tied around his head, is drawn to his fellow soldier, who lays wounded on the ground.
Fallen: Four Marines recover the body of Marine fire team leader Leland Hammond as their company comes under fire (At right is the French-born photojournalist Catherine Leroy)
Burrows himself suffered a tragic end as he worked on the front lines, he was killed on February 10, 1971 over Laos when his helicopter was shot down. He was 44-years-old.
Fellow photographers Henri Huet, 43, of the Associated Press, Kent Potter, 23, of United Press International and Keisaburo Shimamoto, 34, of Newsweek were also killed in the crash.
Ralph Graves, then LIFE magazine’s managing editor, remembered the Englishman as ‘the single bravest and most dedicated war photographer I know of,’ in a moving tribute he wrote following Burrows’ death. ‘He spent nine years covering the Vietnam War under conditions of incredible danger, not just at odd times but over and over again.’ ‘The war was his story, and he would see it through. His dream was to stay until he could photograph a Vietnam at peace,’ Mr Graves added in the 1971 issue dedicated to the fallen correspondent.
Though the lost photographers were mourned, their remains were not discovered until 37 years later thanks to the tireless effort spearheaded by AP writer Richard Pyle. The remains of Mr Burrows, Mr Buet, Mr Potter and Mr Shimamoto now sit in a stainless-steel box beneath the floor of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., part of a memorial gallery honoring journalists killed in the line of duty. A total of 2,156 individuals, dating back as far as 1837, are included in the museum’s memorial.