While the Vietnam War raged — roughly two decades’ worth of bloody and world-changing years — compelling images made their way out of the combat zones. On television screens and magazine pages around the world, photographs told a story of a fight that only got more confusing, more devastating, as it went on. As Jon Meacham describes in this week’s issue of TIME, the pictures from that period can help illuminate the “demons” of Vietnam.
And, in the decades since, the most striking of those images have retained their power. Think of the War in Vietnam and the image in your mind is likely one that was first captured on film, and then in the public imagination. How those photographs made history is underscored throughout the new documentary series The Vietnam War, from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The series features a wide range of war images, both famous and forgotten.
But few people have a better grasp on the role of photography in Vietnam than the photographers themselves, and those who lived and worked alongside them. With the war once again making headlines, TIME asked a number of those individuals to select an image from the period that they found particularly significant, and to explain why that photograph moved them the most.
Here, lightly edited, are their responses.
My picture of the U.S. corpsman carrying an injured child away from the battle in Hué is a rare occasion to show the true value of human kindness and the dignity of man. The child was found wandering the previous night between the North Vietnamese and the American firing lines. His parents had probably been killed.
They took the child into a bunker, cleaned him up and dressed his wounds under candlelight. These hard Marines suddenly became the most gentle, loving persons. It was almost a religious experience for me to record this extraordinary event.
The following morning, this corpsman took the child to the rear of the battle zone where he could be handed over for more medical attention. He carried the child as if it were his own, wrapped into a poncho, because it was quite cold. A naked limb is hanging from the poncho. Looking back today on this picture I took so long ago I can see that there is an echo here of the famous Robert Capa image of the woman whose head had been shaved at the end of WWII because she was considered to be a Nazi collaborator and had a child — whom she hugs to her chest — with a German soldier. I didn’t think of Capa when I pressed the shutter,…