Over the years I’ve seen the below picture pop up on social media many times. If it had a caption the caption usually read “an unidentified soldier in Vietnam” or something to that effect.
In one case it was labeled as a soldier from a South American country; something it clearly is not.
It popped up again so being the researcher that I occasionally am I ran a search for “war is hell photo.”
As it turns out the soldier has now been identified as Larry Wayne Chaffin from St. Louis. According to the blog The Few Good Men Mr. Chaffin was in the 173rd AB Brigade and was guarding an airbase when the picture was taken by AP photojournalist Horst Faas. Larry was 19 at the time of the photograph.
The photograph was identified as Larry in 2012 by his wife Fran Chaffin Morrison. Larry passed away in 1989 from complications of diabetes possibly brought on by Agent Orange.
The 173rd AB served in Vietnam from 1965-71 suffering 1,800 over the course of those years.
The unit would have been an elite fighting force and is still today seeing action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The picture is iconic especially for men my age. I was 18 in 1971. By then the universal draft was no longer in effect but the draft lottery was. My lottery number was low and I would have been drafted so I enlisted thinking I’d get a better deal. I should have joined the Navy-one of life’s regrets I think.
The army took me despite many health problems and eventually I got out with an honorable medical discharge. The major who made it happen wondered how I got accepted in the first place. I’ve always had mixed feelings on getting out.
I did serve for about five months and I can tell you that no one I ever had contact with wanted to be the last one killed in Vietnam. By early 1972 it was clear we were pulling out and everyone I served with hoped they would get stationed anywhere but Vietnam.
I was in basic training in the fall of 1971. Morale was rock bottom and frankly, you could get high on the MJ fumes in the barracks during basic training! Chaffin’s “war is hell” message certainly resonated and apparent in the training units I was in.
I make it a habit of thanking every veteran I meet for their service but I’m especially grateful for those that served in Vietnam and wear their Vietnam caps. They served in an unpopular war that wasn’t even classified as a war. Many were spit upon when they returned home. It so bad that many would not even wear their uniforms when they arrived back in the States.
I think many would have agreed with Chaffin that war is indeed hell but probably would have added so was coming home.
Thank you Vietnam War veterans.