It was 50 years ago this month, and yet, almost every night, I lie in my bed remembering Hue. More than any other experience I had in more than five decades of covering war, it haunts me.I had come to Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968 to capture what threatened to be an ugly fight: At the center of Hue was an old imperial fortress called the Citadel; the city was filled with thousands of civilians. U.S. Marines had been surprised by the North’s attack, and they were unprepared for house-to-house guerrilla warfare. Sunday newspaper subscribers needed to see pictures of the ensuing battle, I thought.At 32, I’d already covered wars in Congo, Cyprus and Israel. I’d witnessed combat up close. I reviled violence, always, but journalism had also inculcated me with a certain dutiful attraction to conflict. I thought that in Hue, like elsewhere, I’d be able to walk right up to the fight and photograph it. I thought I had the stomach for the Tet Offensive.
But during 11 days inside the Citadel, I beheld all the ways that men live and die in war. I shot wars after Hue, but nothing so intense and dangerous. I witnessed the most incredible courage, too. But for what?
One day, a couple of yards away, I saw a soldier sitting and gazing into space. I asked the sergeant near him what had happened. “I don’t know,” he said absently. I dropped down on my knees and took five frames of that man. My “staring soldier picture” captured what men seemed to feel about what they’d endured.