National Vietnam War Veterans Day was observed this past Sunday, March 29th. Jim Cryan and Dave Tela left college to serve in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in the late 1960’s.
Cryan and Tela were studying art and photography at their respective colleges when they entered the military. Both were able to acquire a camera and when time would allow, snap images, documenting what they were experiencing during the war.
Recently, those images were on display at the Valley Photo Center in Springfield—some for the very first time. Producer Dave Fraser sat down with both photographers to learn how that time in their life still affects them today.
This story originally aired on March 30, 2020.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Jim Cryan and Dave Tela left college to serve in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in the 1960s. The two were both studying art and photography at their respective colleges when they entered the military.
Both were able to acquire a camera, and when time would allow snap images documenting what they were experiencing during the war.
Producer Dave Fraser sat down with both photographers to learn how that time in their life still affects them today.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Dave Tela was a Cobra gunship pilot, serving in Vietnam from 1969 to ’71. Before enlisting in the army, the Turners Falls native spent three years studying photographic illustration at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Dave Tela, Vietnam Veteran: So when I got to Vietnam, my skill focus was on flying, not photography. It wouldn’t be until about two to three months into my stay in Vietnam that I would decide to get a Kodak Instamatic camera,and start taking some photographs.
Dave Fraser: Tela took pictures for several months before realizing that what he was doing as a pilot was in sharp contrast to what he wanted to do as a photographer.
Dave Tela: There was an odd twist to being in combat, shooting and then feeling like I could turn around, be this other person with a camera, be off shooting photographs.
And that was just never to be. I mean, just one day I just put it all away. Just ignored it.
Dave Fraser: Ignored it until his friend and former college roommate John McCarthy from the Valley Photo Center in Springfield contacted him and asked if he would like to display his images, along with another Vietnam vet in an upcoming show called “Vietnam: Then and Now.
Dave Tela: This is the very first time these photographs have been in public. Very first time.
These photographs represent what I was doing exactly 50 years ago today. Because I was in Vietnam 50 years ago today, and I had already shot a few of the photographs, and it’d be another couple of months and I’d shoot the rest of them, and that would be it.
But it was a very time period I was over there.
Jim Cryan, Vietnam Veteran: I wasn’t your typical soldier. I was already four or five years older than most of the other draftees.
Dave Fraser: Jim Cryan also served in the U.S. Army. His time in Vietnam was spent as an interpreter of aerial infrared images.
Jim Cryan: This is before I went south to North Carolina, to Fort Jackson, for basic training. I was filling up pads of paper. I’m going to be the Norman Mailer of this war.
Dave Fraser: Along with a typewriter, crying purchased a 35 millimeter Yoshioka camera and began documenting all that he was seeing.
Jim Cryan: The people fascinated me. I was near. I was at Marble Mountain on the base and Dung Lai was a little town. And the buses would come through, with people sitting on the hood, on the roof, hanging off the sides.
You know, fantastic things, but troubling, too, across the street from our barracks in Marble Mountain was the NSA hospital.
And Asha Valley was going on at the time — and we couldn’t sleep nights, because the choppers were coming in all night long, unloading wounded and dying and probably gone, too.
Dave Fraser: Both Tela and Cryan didn’t know each other when they were in Vietnam, but would become roommates when they attended grad school at UMass, along with John McCarthy.
They both admit it was a struggle to reintegrate back into society once they came home, but found the visual medium of film and photography to be of some help.
Dave Tela: I got into motion pictures instead of still photography, because motion picture work was a team effort.
And, that got me through a point where I was using film — instead of still photography — as a way to get myself married back into society.
I was using it as a vehicle to understand what “normal” is.
Dave Fraser: Both men would go on to have successful careers, but appreciate the opportunity to share their images and that part of their lives with an outside audience.
Dave Tela: It’s an emotional challenge, an unexpected emotional challenge, but at the same time, it gets me past being still in the closet.
And that’s one of the strange releases about these photographs being up.