Vietnam's Untold Stories: A New Perspective Through Rare Photographs

April 19, 2024

Their Helmets Told Us How They Felt

Think you've seen the Vietnam War? While there are certain iconic images from this most controversial conflict, there are many others you haven't seen. Whether they're old to you or new, these Vietnam War photos look fresh thanks to colorization technology. These moments of tenderness, celebration, solemnity and ingenuity are must-sees for history fans. The joy of a USO show to the passion of protest, they run the gamut of emotions. Did you know that the youngest soldier to die was just 15? Or that Pat Sajak served? What about the snakes -- have you seen the giant snakes that were all over the jungles of Vietnam? Young Americans found themselves in an eerie, surprising place, fighting an elusive foe in an unprecedented kind of combat -- and it happened in our lifetime.

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If you’ve seen a helmet from the Vietnam war then you’ve likely noticed that it’s covered with personalized art. Much of the art is made up of hand lettered slogans and ironic visuals. Each helmet is unique to the soldier, but many of them featured anti-war rhetoric covering the very heavy “steel pot” style hats.

People will always find a way to express themselves, and soldiers are no different. It’s likely that you can find helmets from every era that are emblazoned with a similar personal aesthetic. Helmet art was made most famous in the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket where the character Private Joker’s helmet reads “born to kill,” and also features a peace sign. Joker explains that the seeming contradiction is his expression of "the duality of man ... the Jungian thing."

Army Nurse Kate O'Hare Palmer

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While we mostly think of men serving in the military during Vietnam, there were plenty of women who put their lives on the line as well. Kate O’Hare-Palmer served in Vietnam as a nurse for the U.S. Army. She not only dodged enemy fire, but dealt with some of the worst parts of war -- trying to save troops who were far beyond saving.

During the war O’Hare-Palmer worked in two field hospitals where she saw the worst of the worst, but managed to make it back home intact. Today she’s chair of the Women Veterans Committee of the Vietnam Veterans of America.