Gordon Ward Gahan Collection

Legacy

In the spring of 1968, shortly before Gahan left Vietnam, Army Digest editor Lieutenant Colonel William V. Schmitt offered praise for Gahan’s contributions to three articles, published in the May and July 1968 issues of the magazine. Schmitt simply noted the “superb” caliber of Gahan’s work, and it is a reasonable assumption, given his position, that his interest lay in its documentary capabilities. Looking at the entire body of Gahan’s photographs, however, suggests that perhaps there is a greater value here—that even if the battles were meaningless, the pictures, as photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths once asserted, were not [1]. The images from the hill battles, for example, clearly convey the energy, tension, and chaos of waging war in inhospitable, unfamiliar terrain against a persistent and often unseen enemy. Through them we become privy to the difficulties that the soldiers faced and the peril of their situation. The camera turned to the soldier is indeed one of the consistent elements in Gahan’s photographs, but it is never just a lens pointed at a figure. It is a photographer tuned in to the soldier in front of him, the kid next to him, and the guy behind him. As the commendations of various editors and commanding officers confirm, the images have a power and immediacy that capture something beyond the purely informational. Gahan’s skill and sensitivity left a lasting impression—on his fellow soldiers, his superiors, and on later generations. Almost fifteen years after he left Vietnam, fellow Vietnam veteran Michael Kukler recalled of Gahan, “More than anything else … Gordon loved to take pictures.” No matter what the assignment, he “always brought back [something] special” [2].

 


1. Peter Howe, Shooting under Fire: The World of the War Photographer (New York: Artisan, 2002), 60.

2. Michael A. Kukler, “Mike Garfield and Gordon W. Gahan,” National Vietnam Veterans Review, June 1982.