Nearly 50 years ago, a young Charlie Haughey received a piece of paper in the mail. It was a draft notice from the United States Army, informing him Uncle Sam needed his services as a rifleman in war torn Vietnam. Charlie was one among many thousands of other young men, some barely out of boyhood, summoned by their country to bear arms in a war being fought in far away Asia.
A few months into his tour of duty, Rifleman Charlie was ordered by his commanding officer to shoot even more vigorously, not with his weapon, but with a camera instead. The pictures were to be used for Army and US newspapers. He remembers the marching orders vividly: “You are not a combat photographer. This is a morale operation … ”
His work was an impressive documentation of the events that occurred in Vietnam, numbering nearly 2000 negatives. Charlie’s photos were from the period of March 1968 to May 1969, as the decade was drawing to a close. The pictures, however, never saw print.
Fast forward to 2012, and Charlie is unexpectedly reunited with the negatives, well preserved in their boxes. He then embarks to migrate the films to digital, painstakingly scanning each one. The intention is to share the archive on Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr. Charlie also mounted a 28-photo exhibit entitled A Weather Walked In for the ADX in Portland.
As the scanning of the archive exceeded over 1,500 negatives, Charlie decides to put the digitized material through a slide show, and views them in one, excruciating sitting. Sure enough, the pain of the war is brought hauntingly back, as Charlie views image after image. Nearly 50 years later, time does not do much to dull the anguish and trauma of being in combat. Charlie goes without sleep for three days. As the scanning process churns on, and more photos are shared online, Charlie learns to cope with the awful memories, one day at a time. The ADX show opened just a couple of days ago, allowing the public to view A Weather Walked In.
We should all be grateful to Charlie Haughey and the scores of others like him, for their service, sacrifice and generosity.