Gordon Ward Gahan Collection

Gadsden Village

Gadsden Village

Among the publicity photographs, one of the few instances that still include documentation identifying places, dates, and people is the series taken of Gadsden Village in July 1967, soon after Gahan’s arrival in Vietnam. Gadsden was one of a number of civic action projects carried out by the army as part of the government’s pacification program in South Vietnam. Designed to aid homeless refugees in the Phu Loi area, Gadsden Village was established and run by the 23rd Artillery Group, which was sponsored by the town of Gadsden, Alabama, from which the village took its name.

Among Gahan’s first assignments, the Gadsden Village pictures capture smiling soldiers and children, and highlight the newly constructed school and other community buildings erected there. In accordance with the army’s aims for military photography, they provide an informative record of operations and personnel, while presenting an (ostensibly) congenial and mutually beneficial relationship between the American soldiers and the local population. However, not all of Gahan’s photographs are so complimentary. Alongside images of Gadsden and USO shows are pictures in which criticism of the war is by turns overt (the “Gypsy’s Birth Controller” sign stenciled on a piece of artillery) and subtle (the medical helicopter studded with pockmarks and bullet holes). Such poignancy and subtle commentary hark back to Gahan’s UPI work, and look ahead to the reputation he would forge with National Geographic in the decade following his military service.