War Photographer Reflects on Vietnam

In 1971, a 24-year old photographer by the name of David Hume Kennerly was sent to cover the Vietnam War by his then employer, United Press International. Over the course of the next year, the images Kennerly would take in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia would earn him a Pulitzer Prize and mark the beginning of an illustrious career. Filmmaker Mike Fritz recently worked with Kennerly to produce a slideshow of some of his work in a short that is personally narrated by Kennerly:

Of his work in war photography, Kennerly says that the best images aren’t necessarily those taken of combat, but the ones that illustrate the loneliness and isolation the soldiers endured during war time. One of the more memorable photographs Kennerly remembers taking is one of a sole soldier burying his face in his palms with a cross dangling from his neck behind a massive machine gun on Easter day.

After receiving a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, Kennerly was assigned to photograph Gerald Ford for the cover of Time Magazine, when Ford was named as the replacement for resigning Vice President, Spirow Agnew. The friendship Kennerly formed with Ford that day would prove to be another pivotal point in Kennerly’s career. In 1974, Ford become President of the United States, when Richard Nixon resigned from his presidential post. Ford invited Kennerly to become the official White House Photographer, a job which Kennerly jumped at. He was granted top secret clearance, enabling him to be in any meeting at any time.

By 1975, the Vietnam war was seemingly never-ending. Kennerly recalls the war as, “a steady drumbeat of bad news coming into the White House.” In 1975, Kennerly photographed an emergency meeting called by President Ford in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Kennerly remembers President Ford sitting beneath a large photograph of Roosevelt, himself, as Ford called for a withdrawal of the last American troops from Vietnam, marking the end of American involvement in the war.

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