"Operation Prairie Hill, 484 Marines, 1966" (c) Larry
It is one of the most moving
photos of the war because of its simple truth, its quiet,
somber finality. When I think of it, the working title in my
mind is "A Stillness in the Highlands.'' The war has come, and
then it has gone away; it will favor some other place
tomorrow, designation still to be determined, a collision
created by maps in two separate but adversarial headquarters,
so that men who know nothing about each other will stumble
lethally into each other's paths.
But it is over now right here. The explosion of noise, the
violent chaos that comes when some tiny sliver of land
momentarily becomes the most contested and the most dangerous
piece of real estate in the world - all that is finished.
All the young men have already gone or are going. All those
who can leave, that is. For some it is the final destination.
What we are left with is a helmet and a rifle and the
formidable backdrop of the Highlands. Isn't the blue of the
sky beautiful? How can you get blue on a day so harsh and
For sure, Larry - Larry Burrows - saw and understood how
powerful the blue of the sky was at this moment, how important
it was to complement the grim image in front of us. He saw it
and understood it because he was as much artist as
What we are left with seems like the ultimate memorial to war;
a huge military cemetery with row on row of crosses could not
tell the story more eloquently.
Larry knew from the start what the war was, and he knew what
he was looking for every time he went out in the field. Then,
when the image in front of him was right, he caught it, and in
the process gave the transitory a certain permanence. The
moment thus could and would endure.
The humanity of the photo is transcending, and yet there is no
human being in this photo, no wounded soldier, no dead body
sprawled in front of us. The humanity - it is really quite
stunning - is in what is not there. The war has come and now
the war is going away. No one will be here tomorrow. We are
left with a helmet and a rifle and a grave marker. It will be
silent here tomorrow. The war will have gone somewhere else.
It will be someone else's turn.
Larry Burrows, a three-time winner of the Overseas Press
Club's Robert Capa Gold Medal, covered the Vietnam War for
Life magazine for nine years. He was widely regarded as the
war's most accomplished photojournalist. He was killed on
February 10, 1971, when the helicopter in which he was riding
was hit by NVA anti-aircraft fire over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
David Halberstam, one of the nation's top social and
political commentators, covered the Vietnam War for The
New York Times. The Best and the Brightest (1973),
the first of his 14 books, is regarded as a classic work
describing how America became involved in the Vietnam War.
Museum-quality prints of this photo and others in a series
entitled, "Under Fire: Images From Vietnam,'' are available
for purchase from
www.pieceuniquegallery.com This image is the seventh in
a series initiated by photojournalist Catherine Leroy.