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Mark Jury was sent to Vietnam in July 1969. This was not one of the military’s wisest personnel moves.

Drafted into the Army, Jury was eager not to fight in the war but to document it. For the next 12 months, armed with a trio of battered Nikon cameras and supplied with 36-exposure rolls of Tri-X film by his Aunt Nink in Pennsylvania, Spec 5 Jury roamed South Vietnam more or less at will, unrestrained by rank, empowered by his military press card.

His assignment as a photographer was nebulous, and he took full advantage of his situation. Shooting film instead of ordnance, he captured the “quiet war” beyond the body count, the ambience of fire bases and hospitals and rear-area offices. Mostly he caught the symbols and scrawls of peace and rebellion of a new generation of soldier less enamored of winning the war than with simply surviving his tour.

When Jury arrived in country—he was assigned to USARV-IO, one of the largest and possibly most irrelevant information offices in the Army—the character and tenor of the war were changing. The pursuit of victory, so elusive and ultimately unachievable despite the reams of glowing statistics promulgated by the Pentagon, was taking on new, politically expedient guises: “pacification,” the herding of peasants from villes in the unsecured countryside into “safe,” controllable hamlets; and “Vietnamization,” the shifting of the burden of combat from GIs back to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

With the inquiring eye of the photographer and the sensibilities of the journalist, Jury explored the consequences of combat, the contradictions, and the absurdities of the war. His photographs and anecdotes tell more about what the war was about, perhaps, than most of the photo spreads in the newsweeklies and the three-minute stories on the nightly news.

When he left Vietnam in July 1970, Jury had shot several hundred rolls of black-and-white film. He went home to Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, to his wife and a baby daughter, and set to work on what would become The Vietnam Photo Book. It would be, in a sense, a yearbook of his tour of duty.

There are no poignant depictions of battle, no scenes of carnage, no bloody corpses in grotesquely harmonious array. There are, rather, a remarkable assemblage of affecting images that illuminate the human costs and unsettling truths of the war, and the incongruities of life and death in the combat zone.

This article was adapted from Bernard Edelman’s preface to the second edition of Mark Jury’s The Vietnam Photo Book, first published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers, reprinted by Vintage, a division of Random House.



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