Day Two of the Tet Offensive

February 1, 1968 – Saigon Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan tells reporters 

“These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me”

and walks up to a captive Vietcong prisoner and shoots him in the head at point-blank range.  This image, and the footage captured by an NBC News team, is published around the world.  America was stunned and the world gasped at the savage brutality.  As part of the Tet Offensive, over 1,000 Vietcong guerillas had infiltrated Saigon and waged a war of terror inside the city.  The photo would win a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969, and for many came to symbolize everything wrong with American involvement in Vietnam.  Is this what we are fighting for? 

Loan was never prosecuted.  He narrowly escaped South Vietnam in the closing days of the war in 1975, and eventually resettled in Virginia, outside Washington, where he opened a pizzeria. He lived there quietly until 1991 when he identity was discovered and he closed the pizzeria.  He died of cancer in 1998.  His memory remains controversal.  Few could condone his treatment of an unarmed prisoner, but many remember him as something of a hero.  Eddie Adams, the photographer who took this picture, regretted the effect it had on Loan and his family.  After Loan died, Adams would write

“…. What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?  … The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.” 

Nothing about Vietnam was ever easy.

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Filed under 1960s, Television, Vietnam

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