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

May/June 2004

Landscape with Figures


Photo: Dick Swanson

Dick Swanson, "1st Air Cavalry Choppers, 1966" Dick Swanson

A giant passed this way, its footsteps leaving craters where children will swim during the rainy season and lovers bathe in secret when the jungle grows back.

There is Vietnam the war and Viet Nam the country. One word and two. Different things. This image contains both. What was done to this land in the name of abstractions was felt by its people as pain.

When people are told they are to be saved, they shiver, their skin crawls, they bury their possessions and fear for their children, wondering where to hide them until the giant passes, and weep anxiously in their beds. They know days are coming when some will only weep at graves. They have religions, and some have always prepared for death, but none wants it, no one voluntarily wants that silence.

We will save you from yourselves, the giants say. So the people prepare to die. They may all rise up to defend themselves from being saved, but still they prepare to die.

A dirt road threads from the upper right out of dense brush, weaving through a burst of trees across the landscape in a scar above the ruins. Just before it curves upward and disappears into jungle, a T is formed by a trail dropping to a tree shadow or log or trench, and at the top of it, to the right, a lone figure stands looking down at the shadow or log or trench, then out at the jungle flesh peeled and blown and burned from the skull of earth, then up at the metal hummingbirds, territorial like their avian models.

He is holding a weapon smaller than noise, smaller than his dreams, and his hand is frozen on the trigger. He is frozen in time, in a moment that won't come again but will not stop being, however much he wants to be transported to another time, a time when he walked that thread with joss sticks to visit ancestors, a boy who believed in everything.

Footsteps fade. Helicopters pass. In war, the people and the earth always lose.

The award-winning photographer Dick Swanson went to Vietnam in 1966, where he worked on contract for Life magazine. After five years in Vietnam, Life moved him to its Washington, D.C., bureau where he was White House photographer.

Swanson has photographed for People, Money, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.

The poet and writer George Evans spent two years as a U.S. Air Force medic in Vietnam. The author of four books of poetry, he is the founder and editor of Streetfare Journal, which displays modern poetry and art on 14,000 buses in 16 American cities.

Under Fire: Images from Vietnam is a multimedia project that sells museum-quality prints of exclusive images of the Vietnam War by top war photographers at


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