Sunday, February 4, 2018

50 years ago: The execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém becomes a powerful photograph

A few minutes left to live. 
Eddie Adams, who took the original photo, apologized in person to General Loan and his family for the damage it did to his reputation. When Loan died of cancer in Virginia, Adams praised him: 

"The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him."


The unforgettable image of the moment of death shapes opinion about the Vietnam War.

On the second day of the Tet Offensive... ('68 B.T.) Around 4:30 A.M., Lém led a sabotage unit to attack the Armor Camp in Gò Vấp. After communist troops took control of the base, Lém arrested Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan with his family and forced him to show them how to drive tanks. When Lieutenant Colonel Tuan refused to cooperate, Lém killed Tuan, his wife and six children and his 80-year-old mother by cutting their throats. 
There was only one survivor, a seriously injured 10-year-old boy. Lém was captured near a mass grave with 34 civilian bodies. Lém admitted that he was proud to carry out his unit leader's order to kill these people. When Lém was captured and brought to him, General Loan summarily executed him using his sidearm, a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Bodyguard revolver, in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC News television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.


  1. Images are powerful. Images without context or explanation can be misleading and dangerous. In addition to photographs such as this, consider that the Vietnam War was the first televised war. I submit that if there was footage of Marines being slaughtered on Tarawa, Iwo Jima and other places that the US would have ended WW2 without victory.