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07-07-2009, 12:44 PM - 14 Likes   #1
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Combat Photographer Tells All

I'm rather new to these forums, but in seeking advice on one of the other Pentax forums here, someone asked me to start a thread about my experience as a Combat Photographer......sooooo Here I am.
I was an Army Combat Photographer in Vietnam (1966-1967) and covered combat operations from one end of the country to the other.
First off, we were trained at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey and the still photography course was about 2 or 3 months in length. Our training covered all the basics as well as aerial, combat, portraits, micro photography, .... pretty much everything you can imagine relating to photography.
We generally worked in two or three man teams and one of the team members would sometimes be a motion picture guy.
Once deployed to a unit, we stayed with them until our mission was completed. Most of our assignments were generally a "photojournalism" type mission although we'd occassionally get "special" assignment requests from various agencies, departments, etc.
Most of our guys shot primarily 35mm when in the field and were issued "state of the art" Pentax Spotmatics with 3 lenses and flash. I got lucky and ended up with a Leica M3 w/3 kit lenses and flash. I did however shoot the Pentaxes, Nikons, Canon and everything else.
No auto exposure, auto focus, auto-anything. One of the common phrases used back then was "f-8 and be there"
I don't know what else to add at this point, but I'll be happy to get into more specifics later (if ya'll desire it).
Bob Hillerby
Combat Photographer
B 1/9th Cav, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
Republic of Vietnam 1966-1967

07-07-2009, 01:02 PM   #2
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Some stories of the events you covered and if you are allowed some shots you took. I can't really imagine how tough this would have been.
07-07-2009, 01:03 PM   #3
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I have a feeling this is going to become an epically awesome thread.

Why not post a few of your favorite pictures (if you still have them) and talk about the stories behind them?
07-07-2009, 01:09 PM   #4

Great, hillerby! Thanks for fulfilling my humble wish.

Did you process the films there on the field in a tent or were they sent somewhere else for that?

07-07-2009, 01:15 PM   #5
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Yeah... Let us see some pics. And thanks for your service during Vietnam.

Retired AF MSgt
07-07-2009, 02:14 PM   #6
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I'm very much interested in your stories and your pictures, hillerby. War is such an intriguing thing, especially to those who have not experienced it. Just reading your opening post here, and stuff like "F8 and be there", is just like whetting the appetite before a grand meal, to put it like that.
07-07-2009, 02:40 PM   #7

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Thanks for your service AND for sharing that. I would also like to hear more when you have the time.
07-07-2009, 03:33 PM   #8
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So many stories .... soooo little time!

Thanks All! I've never really thought anyone really cared much about all that stuff! At any rate, I'll try to post a little here and there and cover as much ground as possible.
IF I can locate all the slides, negs, and pictures I've got, I'll post some here at a later date. After moving a dozen or more times over the years, I've got all that stuff stashed away somewhere and can't remember where ...... "Old age is hell and don't get no better".
I guess the place to start is that we were VERY well trained in the basics of photography .... composition, lighting, exposure, mechanics, contrast .... all of it! And, for what it's worth, the US Marine Corps photographers were trained at the same facility and in the same classes with us Army guys. In fact, about 75% of my platoon at photo school were Marines.
The hardest part was trying to protect all the gear and film. With the damned incessant monsoon rains, high humidy year round and high temperatures, it was very difficult to keep things in good shape. If it wasn't the rain, then we'd be making a river or creek crossing in water chest deep. Days on end with little or no sleep, not enough water or food and that's just for starters.
We mostly shot 35mm in the field. When I arrived in Sept 66' they'd just started issuing brand new PENTAX Spotmatics with a full kit of lenses, flash, etc. Most of us carried at least two and sometimes 3 or 4 cameras. I got lucky and was issued a NEW Leica M3 with a full compliment of lenses and everything else. I've shot Pentax, Nikon, Canon and everything else; and for 35mm Leica has then all beat. Hell, even the Nikon/Canon shooters were impressed with the sharpness of those Summicron/Summilux lenses.
For the most part, we shot Tri-X film for B/W and Ektachrome for color workl
Everything we used was "old school".... no auto exposure, autofocus, no auto-anything. You were expected to know your job and perform it.
We mostly shot "photojournalism" type work. The vast majority of it was released to various news agencies for general publication. I got a lot of "special assignments" from Dept. of the Army, Pentagon, "unamed" ABC agencies to name a few. This was primarily because I was one of the few who had a security clearance high enough to do those missions.
During our "down time" we'd sit around sucking on beer cans, and talking about "THE SHOT".... the one we'd all get eventually! The other thing we'd do is practice focusing QUICKLY (remember no autofocus). It's amazing how quickly you can focus and frame a shot it you practice at it. The other thing is most of us shot with a 35mm or 28mm wide angle lens as this reduced the problem of out of focus shots. Our normal procedure would be to set the lens at the hyperfocal distance, then all we had to do was keep shooting. This was particularly important when we were under fire as you don't have a lot of time to "putz" around with the shot.
Back to our gear. As I said, it was really hard to keep everything dry and operational and clean. I remember one poor fool who went on a mission after just receiving his brand new Spotamatic. Two days into the mission and his telephoto lens rolled out the open door of a Huey and falls into a rice paddi. Two days later and the damned thing had HUGE globs of fungus growing between the lens elements. Needless to say, the 1st Shirt was not happy.
More later, but thanks to you all for your interest. To me, even 40 odd years later, it was a job.
Bob Hillerby
Combat Photographer
B 1/9th Cav, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
Republic of Vietnam 1966-1967

07-07-2009, 05:14 PM   #9
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I agree...this thread is going to be epic, pending Hillerby's time to be able to answer all of our questions.

I'm a fan of the author Arturo Perez-Reverte, a Spanish writer most notable for his Captain Alatriste series of books and "The Club Dumas" (adapted to the movie "The Ninth Gate"). Perez-Reverte was a war photographer as well, and his most recent non-Alatriste work is called "The Painter's Battles". I won't get in to the details of the book, but it's supposed to fictionally represent his work as a war photographer. It's a great read if any of you are fans of his.

Anyway...this little bit of info is my subtle way of saying that I'm very interested in hearing your stories. I love hearing little details about the terms you used, how you went about your work, what you felt your role as a photographer was (in a greater sense), what you tried to convey in your images, and anything else that you'd like to share - or feel up to sharing.


P.S. Thread bookmarked.
07-07-2009, 06:07 PM   #10
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I believe you probably have more to teach us about photography than what we can teach you... amazing stoies, also. Sad that it was during a war, though.
07-08-2009, 02:44 AM   #11
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Hillerby, if you find your old photos you might want to consider this site;
Military photos . net
I'm sure there would be plenty of people in the photos section that would be interested.
07-08-2009, 06:43 AM   #12
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Thank you for your service. My future son-in-law is currently stationed in Afghanistan...Helmand River Province. I am always looking for current photos of his battalion. Hearing about the wars is one thing but until you actually 'see' the war it doesn't put thing into perspective. You provided a tremendous service to your country. Thank you.
07-08-2009, 07:02 AM   #13

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I thank you for your service, and 'welcome home'. my grandfather served in 1968-69 (Military Police) and my Father served in 70-71 (Helicopter Crew Chief)

I cant tell you how excited I am about hearing any stories you might share and of course any photos! I have been interested in this sort of thing for a long time, and to get the chance and converse with someone who was there is beyond belief. I have always been a fan of Eddie Adams, but am always interested in seeing the photos and hearing the stories of any combat photographer. I look forward to absolutely everything you are willing to share. I wish I still lived in Texas, id love to get the chance to talk to you face to face.

07-08-2009, 07:23 AM   #14
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Tell your "future son-in-law" THANKS from me! I applaud and respect HIS service. Also, if you'd be so kind as to send me his mail address, I'll see to it that he gets a "care package", courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter here in Sherman, TX.
Send me that info via regular e-mail to:
Thanks for your kind comments
07-08-2009, 07:32 AM - 1 Like   #15
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OK ya'll, this old Texas soldier found a few of the photographs! Now, if I can figure out how to post them, I'll put up a few.
Bob Hillerby
Combat Photographer
B 1/9th Cav, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
Republic of Vietnam 1966-1967
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