The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

October/November 2003

A Stillness in the Highlands

  Larry Burrows  
  Larry Burrows, "Operation Prairie Hill, 484 Marines, 1966" (c) Larry Burrows  

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 cruel?

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 photographer.

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 This image is the seventh in a series initiated by photojournalist Catherine Leroy.


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