Vietnam: Evidence of War now on display at the LBJ Presidential Library
U.S. First Cavalry Division soldiers race through Viet Cong sniper fire to reach a helicopter in Haoi Chau, 1966. Eddie Adams Photographic Archive
Austin, Texas — The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin proudly presents the exhibit Vietnam: Evidence of War, on display at the LBJ Presidential Library from April 1, 2016 until July 31, 2016.
“The exhibit promises to be an illuminating experience for those interested in exploring one of the most tragic, destructive and divisive wars in U.S. and South Asian history,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Evidence of War presents just that: evidence. It is not the role of this exhibit to pass judgment or provide interpretation. Instead, it shows the breadth of the center’s archival resources for exploring key issues around the Vietnam War.”
Evidence of War presents a mosaic of materials that speak to how the Vietnam War and its legacy were experienced. The exhibit showcases an impressive array of unique sources that explore the viewpoints of soldiers and veterans, politicians and constituents, reporters and photojournalists, advocates and protesters. Evidence of War also hints at how the war was reflected in art, music and popular culture.
Drawn from the Briscoe Center’s archival collections, the exhibit includes original photographs, artifacts, letters, publications, posters and oral history interviews, many of which have never been publicly displayed.
“In particular, Evidence of War showcases the extensive news media resources of the Briscoe Center,” said Carleton. “TV news reports and photographic images were the main ways that the war was experienced by the American public. The archives of reporters and photojournalists provide vital information for scholars and students who wish to understand why we think of the Vietnam War in the ways we do.”
Highlights from Evidence of War include Pulitzer Prize–winning images including Eddie Adams’s “Saigon Execution” (1969); Nick Ut’s “Terror of War” (1973); and a photograph of a lone GI from David Hume Kennerly’s Vietnam portfolio (1972). The exhibit also includes archival material from the papers of renowned journalists Morley Safer and Walter Cronkite, whose reporting from the front lines in Cam Ne and Hue, respectively, brought the war into the living rooms of the American public.
The war’s political aspects are laid out through now-uncensored government correspondence and dossiers that depict the trajectory of the conflict and its affect on public opinion. The exhibit draws on the papers of congressional leaders from Texas such as Ralph Yarborough, Lloyd Bentsen, Henry B. Gonzalez and Jake Pickle, as well as Texas legislator Frances “Sissy” Farenthold and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s speechwriter Harry McPherson.
In order to depict the soldier’s experience, both during and after the conflict, Evidence of War draws from the extensive Home to War/Vietnam Veterans Archive (which features material related to prominent antiwar veterans including John Kerry and Ron Kovic) as well as oral history projects, photographic essays, and documents related to public memorials.
Finally, the exhibit includes the display of a Medal of Honor that belonged to Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez. In May 1968, he saved the lives of at least eight men during a rescue in the jungle near Loc Ninh, Vietnam. Critically wounded, he promptly received the Distinguished Service Cross, but President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Medal of Honor in 1981 when the full story of his actions emerged. Benavidez died in 1998 in San Antonio. In 2007 his family donated his papers to the Briscoe Center.