{ subscribe_url:'//blogs.loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/folklife.php' }

Shooting War – Framing History, Part III

The following is the third of a three-part blog post focusing on Military Photographers. You can read the original post HERE and the second post HERE.

During the tremendous upheaval of the 1960s and with the Vietnam War in full effect, the country was in desperate need of emotive displays of patriotism while still accurately recording the happenings of the war. Vital contributors, such as U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Ronald Marshall, served with the 600th and 601st Photo Squadrons, where they were deployed to the front lines to produce startling imagery that allowed those in the states to better understand the realities of the war overseas.  If the exposure and culture shock to the unfamiliar country wasn’t enough, Marshall said the weight of the equipment, regular life-threatening conditions, and survivor’s guilt would bring even the strongest individuals to their knees. Carrying a flak jacket, 38 pistol, M16, his cameras and a tripod around the jungles of Vietnam, Marshall recalls the evolution of military photography, including individuals who were assigned to assess and repair cameras so that Marshall and others could concentrate strictly on their version of ‘sharpshooting.’  He also elaborates on the technology surrounding gun site cameras and how he saw advancements in technology in even just a year’s time. Marshall continues as he discusses protecting his film from the scorching sun, experiencing several near death encounters surrounding booby traps, and he becomes emotional as he remembers his close crew and how devastated he was when members were lost in the field.

No stranger to challenges, Marshall vividly recalls photographing Operation Ranch Hand, both from inside aircraft and behind during their release of the extremely toxic defoliant – Agent Orange. The use of this herbicide left many Americans with related health issues, including Marshall who suffers with diabetes.

Proud of the work he and others of the 600 and 601st accomplished, Marshall says he is certain that the photos and video were put to good use in national publications–he even saw his shots highlighted on ABC newsreels.  The images put a relatable human face on the war for many Americans back home while demonstrating the youth of those in conflict and the sheer gravity of what they were experiencing. While recognizing all branches and even civilian journalists for their merits, Marshall derives particular pride in the unparalleled level of footage that the Air Force was able to produce to better evaluate strategies and deliver results. Marshall still serves as planner and organizer for the 600 and 601st reunions, where he is able to reminisce with kindred spirits about the risky journey they all took, and remind his esteemed colleagues that they don’t need to travel the road alone anymore.

Photograph of Marshall and other members of the 600th Photo Squadron taken at 2004 Reunion. Ronald Wayne Marshall Collection, Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, AFC2001/001/34472

The opening of the 21st century also brought the advent of the digital photograph age. Cameras were more portable, easier to use, and produced and unparalleled results. The efficiency of loading and then digitally sending one’s images made darkrooms obsolete. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there was once again an urgent need to document and distribute news relating to the U.S. military’s role in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a world of digital cameras and camera phones, capturing and delivering imagery quickly became a priority in military public affairs, as perceptions are often solidified by initial impressions.

Photograph of Staff Sgt. Shawn Miller during operations in Diyala Province, 2011. Shawn Miller Collection, Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, AFC2001/001/99678

Shawn Miller  who served with the 109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard from 2005-2012 can attest to the necessity to not only document what was going on in Iraq in relation to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but also to turn that content around as quickly as possible. When Miller was deployed with the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division to Iraq in 2010-2011 in support of Operation New Dawn, he noted the media saturation by embedded journalists and how that impacted his mission. Miller’s desire to become a photographer sprung from the iconic shots we all identify with as classic patriotic and painful war images from the likes of Joe Rosenthal and Robert Capa. With a desire to capture raw emotion, Miller acknowledged the shift in what the U.S. Army would need as the U.S. shrunk and closed bases across Iraq. Aside from dodging a few mortars or rockets on base, Miller was relatively out of the front lines, but not far from the stress of daily life in a combat zone.

Long Knife brigade bids farewell to fallen comrades, Contingency Operating Station Marez, Iraq, January 22, 2011. Photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Miller. Shawn Miller Collection, Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, AFC2001/001/99678

Capturing the aftermath of combat both from U.S. soldiers lost and the destruction of cities shaped his overall thoughts and experience. In his oral history interview, Miller highlighted a poignant shot from his portfolio of a forlorn little boy standing in a city torn apart by war. He acknowledged that this boy’s entire life revolved around his battle-scarred home. Miller still wonders what happened to that Mosulian boy living within a vacuum of an unsettled war.

Photo of a Mosul boy watching a patrol of U.S. and Iraqi forces on the edge of the city, January 2011. Shawn Miller Collection, Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, AFC2001/001/99678


Miller’s experiences led him to join several veteran related organizations and project. It even led to his current profession as the Library of Congress’ official photographer.  When asked recently his overall thoughts on military photographers his reply was:

I have the utmost respect for those who risk their lives, and those who gave their lives, to document conflict and show the victories, defeats and horrors of war, whether in uniform or the civilian journalists who embedded with us, who carry the weight of the images we shoot to save them for history.

All of these warriors captured and produced scores of images and videos for which the social value far exceeds the artistic value. They benefited strategy and intelligence, mapmaking, and public affairs.  Whether taking photos from the air or ground, these photographers endured enemy action and harsh conditions to capture the perfect shot.  In an ever changing world, these men and women have the ability take a single moment and make it last forever.

Are you a veteran with photos to share? Go to loc.gov/vets and find out how your original snapshots can be preserved at the Library of Congress with the Veterans History Project.




What is a Veteran?

The following is a guest blog post by Kerry Ward, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). As this Veterans Day approaches, I find myself really pondering the word “veteran,” and all it encompasses. If you ask most people to describe what they visualize as “veteran” comes up, chances are many will envision a white-haired, Caucasian […]

Happy Birthday to our U.S. Navy!

The following is a guest blog post by Kerry Ward, a liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). Predating even the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Navy was commissioned in 1775 by the Continental Congress.  Starting with a small anti-piracy force with two ships [i], the U.S. Navy now is the largest navy in […]

Hispanic American Heritage Month

The following is a guest blog post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month through October 15, VHP continues to recognize the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos throughout the military history of our country. Hispanic and Latino Americans have fought in every […]

Honored and Blessed: My Summer Spent with Arkansas Veterans

The following is a guest post by Victoria Anderson, a summer intern in Sen. John Boozman’s (AR) Little Rock office. History may seem like a row of dusty old books sitting on a shelf, something people pass over because it looks boring, but I want to remind everyone that it is not. History is living […]

VHP: Missing The Stories

The following is a guest blog post by Hope O’Keeffe, an attorney in the Library’s Office of General Counsel, and an ardent supporter of the Veterans History Project (VHP). I come from a long line of heroes. They may be gone, but their stories linger and echo. My grandfather, John McLaughlin, never told us war […]

CSU-MB (and Fort Ord) Goes to Washington

Although we often don’t like to admit it, much in life comes down to chance, luck and serendipitous encounters. In April 2014, I attended a panel presentation at the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting in Monterey, California, on the area’s military history. One of the presenters was Enid Baxter Ryce, an artist, filmmaker […]

PTSD: A Lasting Impact of War

The following is a guest blog post by Rachel Telford, Archivist for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). A version of this article was previously published on the Library of Congress Blog, March 6, 2017. “…In January of ’06 for the very first time in my life, I went to the VA and […]

Veteran Spotlight: Stephen Collins, Jr.

Not unlike many of you, I sit in a cubicle facing a computer monitor for several hours each work day. But I’m not here to share my many thoughts on poor ergonomics or eye strain. (I could type pages on the subject, but that would probably make my wrists and eyes hurt.) Part of my […]

Day of the Deployed

The following is a guest post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). October 26th marks the National Day of the Deployed, which honors all those veterans and active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have spent time abroad in service to their country. As anyone who has been deployed […]