15 poignant photos that show what life was like during the Vietnam War

  • April 2019 marks the 44th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

  • More than 3 million people died in the two decades the US fought there, including some 58,000 US troops.

In 1954, the US entered a messy war to support South Vietnam against the communist regime in North Vietnam and its allies in southern Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong.

The two-decade long war claimed the lives of more than 3 million people, with the majority of the casualties being Vietnamese civilians.

In honor of the 44th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, here are some of the most gripping and recognizable photos from the conflict.

Editors note: Some of the following images are graphic in nature and may be disturbing to viewers.

In what might be the most enduring image from the war, a South Vietnamese general executes a suspected Viet Cong fighter in Saigon. The image won a Pulitzer Prize, but the photographer, Eddie Adams, dealt with an enduring sense of guilt over the photo.

Source: TIME, CNN

In another of the war’s most iconic photos, a 9-year-old girl is seen running naked from a napalm attack. This photo, by photographer Nick Ut, also won a Pulitzer Prize.

Source: Associated Press

In this photo, US paratroopers launch themselves into the largest ground-air assault in the war.

Ammunition on the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail, a Viet Cong smuggling route that ran the length of Vietnam and allowed the North to transport weapons to communist guerrillas.

South Vietnamese volunteers carry ammunition along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1972.
Getty Images

Source: The Guardian

Much of the war was fought in the jungle. Here, a US Army sergeant watches for Viet Cong snipers at an outpost near Saigon.

Troops had to trek through thick foliage and water when they were on the move.

U.S. Marine Corps Photo

In this photo, a soldier helps guide a medevac helicopter through jungle foliage to pick up casualties suffered during a five-day patrol near Hue, in April 1968.

The body of an US paratrooper killed near the Cambodian border is raised to an evacuation helicopter, May 14, 1966. The US lost 58,220 soldiers during the Vietnam War.

This child soldier, photographed by war photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, reportedly killed two Viet Cong women. He was nicknamed “The Little Tiger.”

A child soldier nicknamed “Little Tiger.”
Philip Jones Griffiths/Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Source: Magnum Photos

Children suffered greatly in Vietnam. In this photo by well-known German photojournalist Horst Faas, South Vietnamese troops stare down at a father carrying the body of his child, who was killed in a fight against guerrillas in a village near the Cambodian border.

Source: Vanity Fair

Children also witnessed horrific violence in Vietnam. In this photo, children on their way home from school pass the bodies of dead Viet Cong soldiers.

In another photo by Faas, this Vietnamese litter bearer, helping deal with a mass-casualty situation, wears a face mask to keep the smell of dead bodies from overwhelming him. These US and Vietnamese soldiers were killed fighting the Viet Cong near Saigon.

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese army bombarded the US Marine garrison at Khe Sanh in South Vietnam. The siege lasted 77 days and was one of the longest and most gruesome battles in the war.

Source: The History Channel

US Army helicopters fire into the trees to cover for South Vietnamese troops on the ground as they attack a Viet Cong camp near the Cambodian border.

Source: Vanity Fair

A US prisoner of war greets his family after his release. The war in Vietnam officially ended on April 30, 1975.

You’ve seen photos of the Vietnam War …

Khánh Hmoong via Flickr

… now see what Vietnam looks like today.