49 Years Ago, Eddie Adams Captured a Pulitzer Winning Photo of the Vietnam War

On February 1st 1968 (49 years ago), Photographer Eddie Adams photographed a moment that would go down as one of the most iconic Pulitzer Winning photos made in history. During the Vietnam War, Mr. Adams photographed a number of horrific moments but the one particularly in question is of the Saigon Execution by General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. Unfortunately, the image would haunt Mr. Adams to the point where he wishes he hadn’t shot it.

“As soon as he raised his pistol I took the picture.” said Mr. Adams in an interview. “I thought absolutely nothing of it. Went back to the AP office and I dropped it off.” He continues to state that he thought he got a photo of some guy shooting someone; then he went to lunch. Of course, this is usual with film. Sometimes you’ll get the image, and sometimes you won’t. You, as the photographer, just need to have the reflexes to adapt.

You see, the photo destroyed General Loan’s career because it became so famous. It’s horrific and on a glance you can see what’s essentially just an execution happening. The look on the other man’s face is one of fear. But the story behind the image is much more than that.

“That picture destroyed his life. And that’s what bothers me more than anything else.”

The second part of this story is even more chilling but a part of what comes with war. A South Vietnamese commander of a training camp was decapitated by the Viet Cong. Additionally, so too did his wife and six children become casualties of war. The children tried to hide behind sandbags.

Considering that this happened, all of the usual things happen in war: soldiers become angry because one of their own and innocent people were killed. I mean, just take a look at what’s going on in the Middle East right now. They wanted revenge and one of the ways that the soldiers found that they could deliver it was with eliminating members of the Viet Cong.

Mr. Adams made peace with General Loan later on; but the image still bothered him. Sure, it may have helped to end the way by showing the public some of the most devastating parts of the reality, but Mr. Adams said that he never wanted to hurt anyone or destroy General Loan’s life.

Today, the image remains a milestone in Photography History.

Lead image by manhhai. Second image also by manhhai. Used with Creative Commons permission.