The original Interactive Vietnam Portfolio Web site was first published in 1995 and lasted until 2004. Eighty photographs taken during my tour of duty in Vietnam 1969-1970, were posted at the Web site/blog. Visitors were asked to leave comments about the war and about their family members who served in the war on both sides. Some 5000 posts were left at the Web site. In this updated blog I have taken the best of these reminiscences and added them to the same photographic pages used at the original site. Pages with comments from the original site can be found at Military, Children and Protest. In addition, an updated Photographic portfolio can be found at https://kennethhoffman.smugmug.com/Vietnam-War
The cultural significance was summed up in 1995 by a Vietnamese scholar interested in preserving this period in Vietnam’s cultural history who said, “The atmosphere, the settings, and the life of the time, (we) are losing fast, and we’d like to put them on CD-ROM for preservation purposes. Whatever portrait of humanity we may be able to capture, however incomplete, may be a great education to the children that follow.”
I will also be posting my own comments about the circumstances surrounding the pictures –the back story about where and why the pictures were taken.
When I went to Vietnam in June of 1969, I was assigned to the 221st Signal Company (Southeast Asia Pictorial Agency) as a First Lieutenant. Initially, I was stationed at the sprawling military base in Long Binh. I was later stationed in Pleiku and Saigon.
In addition to pictures taken for the government, I took many more of the Vietnamese civilians, particularly children–probably over 1500 images. Recently, I’ve been reviewing the bulk of this portfolio in an attempt to determine their relevance to the culture and history of the period.
My hope is to preserve these photos as a documentary, recording this era in Vietnam’s history in the form of a book containing photographs and commentaries left by visitors to my original blog from 1995-2004, and as a self-guided multimedia presentation. The theme underlying the portfolio is the effect of the war upon the people who fought the war and the Vietnamese people who were effected by it.
As a photo detachment supervisor in Pleiku (Central Highlands), I was in charge of combat photographers, lab technicians, audio/visual and support personnel. Later in my tour of duty, I was made officer-in-charge of a motion picture news team working for the U.S. Military Command Public Information Headquarters in Saigon and would cover news features for the Department of Defense. Both positions gave me the opportunity to travel throughout Vietnam. Leaving behind the confines of the military bases at Pleiku and Long Binh, I was able to observe and record much of the civilian culture–living conditions, markets, farms, homes, shrines, and people. I frequently visited isolated areas where American advisors were working with Montagnard tribesmen who still practiced ancient farming and crafts.
The open markets of Saigon, Pleiku, and Da Nang were a fertile source of subject matter and provided the opportunity to explore the character of everyday existence in war-torn Vietnam. Returning to my photo detachment laboratory in Pleiku I would work into the night printing and processing the days photographs. Much of my work in Vietnam–those photos which documented the war itself–were forwarded to Washington for archival retention in the National Archives as historical record. My personal collection of photographs, however, which focused on the Vietnamese people and their culture was never archived or officially preserved. It is this part of my work that I believe may have cultural and historical significance for the Vietnamese people. I wish to amplify, explore and preserve these photos and collect the spoken commentary of persons living through this period to complement and elucidate the photographs. Such commentary will provide additional insights into the impact of the war and its historical significance.