History

How Vietnam-era gun cameras showed another side of the war

For most people, the Vietnam War is best represented by the grunts on the ground. Movies like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, or Full Metal Jacket dominate the public perception of the war and the films focus primarily on infantry. But the Vietnam War saw a lot of air power as well.


Animal Mother's Vietnam War wasn't the only Vietnam War. (Screenshot from Warner Brothers)

Although helicopters like UH-1 became an icon of the war, fixed-wing planes also saw a lot of action. Some, like the A-1 Skyraider, were legendary for providing close-air support. Others, like the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, went "downtown" to bomb Hanoi or kill MiGs. Then, there're the B-52s that famously supported Operation Arc Light over Hanoi.

Republic F-105D in flight with full bomb load. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

Uniquely, all of this was caught on film. It gets saved as historical record, but the cameras weren't just recording for us to watch years later. Their purpose was to help intelligence personnel assess just how badly the strikes launched damaged a target, or if a MiG was destroyed in combat or just merely damaged. It helped to back up the observations of pilots, who were busy trying to get home.

A MiG-17 is shot down by an F-105D on Jun. 3, 1967 over Vietnam. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

So, what was it like seeing the war through pilots' eyes? Well, we can see exactly what it was like, thanks to what they call Combat Camera. The Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines all have combat cameramen. It's not exactly a risk-free job. Stars and Stripes reported that three combat cameramen were killed during the War on Terror, and two others died in a 2015 crash during post-earthquake relief operations in Nepal.

Spc. Michael D. Carter, a combat cameraman, received the Silver Star for saving several special forces Soldiers during an operation in Afghanistan's Shok Valley on April 6, 2008. (Photo from U.S. Army Special Operations Command)

Whether it was a strike on an enemy supply convoy or a dogfight with a MiG, much of it was caught on camera. In the video below, you can see what pilots saw during the Vietnam War. Of particular interest are the gun-camera shots showing enemy forces in what is their last few moments before the Air Force brought the firepower on top of them.

 

(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
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