According to the National Archives, it’s estimated that over 58,000 Americans were killed during the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
That count would undoubtedly have been higher if not for the action of medics, who rushed into the line of fire to save lives. A photo of Pittsfield native James Callahan famously depicted the struggles a Vietnam medic faced on the battlefield each day.
Connecting Point‘s Ross Lippman shares the story of how the photos in Time Magazine gave a new face to the war in Vietnam, and how the man featured in those photos is being honored today.
This story originally aired on May 27, 2019.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: According to the National Archives, it’s estimated that just over 58,000 Americans were killed during the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
That count would undoubtedly have been higher if not for the action of medics rushing into the line of fire to save lives. And it’s the picture of a Pittsfield native on the battlefields that would famously depict the struggles that medics face each day in Vietnam.
Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman has the stories of the photos in Time magazine that gave a new face to the war in Vietnam and how the man pictured in them is being honored years later.
John Harding, Vietnam Veteran (U.S. Marines): I say the toughest job in the world is corpsman, or a medic, because no matter how quiet the day is, if there’s a little firefight, they have to go to it.
Christian Appy, UMass Amherst: They themselves, many of them, were shot. Not just in the line of duty, which is kind of a vague phrase, but actually trying to save the life of somebody else.
Ross Lippman, Connecting Point: It was the unparalleled access to the images of war which catapulted Vietnam’s place in our nation’s memory.
At the forefront of many of the battles that would make the nightly news back home were medics.
Their job: erase the evidence of battle and ultimately save lives. One of them was Pittsfield’s James Callahan.
John Harding: I didn’t grow up with him, but he was in my town for years and years. I think I knew him before he went, and I was — unbelievable, when his picture came in Time magazine.
And he he was a true, true medic.
Ross Lippman: This image, one in a series of photos taken in June 1967 during a battle north of Saigon by Henry Huet and landing on the pages of Time magazine, personified the responsibility, pressure, and in many cases, the futility soldiers faced in Vietnam.
Christian Appy: It is certainly the case that medics were in the unenviable position of not only being vulnerable to ambush and wave attacks and in the middle of the night, but they were charged with the responsibility to go out and help wounded and dying soldiers, who were often under active gunfire, pinned down in these exposed positions. Probably the most dangerous job you could have if if you were in a combat unit in Vietnam.
Ross Lippman: In the years Callahan would live following Vietnam until his death from a motorcycle accident in 2008, he’d be celebrated locally as a hero.
Recognized as Veteran of the Year and with the Berkshire County Vietnam Veterans chapter, naming it in his honor.
The photos: becoming a symbol for the burden many just like him faced each day, remembering the war.
John Harding: It was something that I would say close, I would say close to hell.
I’ve seen families killed, I’ve seen — I see my friends and my first experiences, I’ve seen friends killed, and I… that’s kind of hard to talk about.
Ross Lippman: But with support from groups like the VVA, James E. Callahan Chapter #65, veterans have a place to come together.