The Agony of War


Photo by then PFC Paul Epley  "The Agony of War" mistakenly called Death Watch by many.    In August 1966 PFC Caryl R. Coremen, Company A, 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) was killed by mortar fire during operation "Aurora Two". He was the 4th Battalion's first KIA as a result of direct enemy actions. His squad leader Sgt. Spencer (Bend, Oregon) was latter killed in action with the 1st Special Forces in 1968, stares down at his fallen comrade. SP4 Ruediger Richter (Columbus, Georgia), the LZ control, watches the sky for the medical evacuation helicopter, his battle weary eyes to the heavens, as to ask why? Photo taken Long Khanah province, Vietnam. 

Story behind the photo

I created this photograph while serving as a paratrooper with the 173d Airborne Brigade in South Vietnam. I was trained in jungle warfare, but because of my college experience with photography, I was assigned to the brigade Information Office. It was my job to move with various elements of the command and generate stories and pictures for publication.

This image was created while I was with the 4th Battalion of the 503rd Infantry (a part of the 173rd). Two companies of the American paratroopers were separated by about 100 yards of thick jungle. I moved across this unprotected area without permission in order to reach the area where the medevac chopper was coming in to pick up the body you see in the photograph. The trooper looking up into the smoke is Ruediger Richter, the radio operator for colonel Mike Heally. The soldier looking down at his dead comrade is from New York. Richter has been with the French Foreign Legion prior to joining the American Army.

The smoke is from the smoke grenade you see in the left front of the image. I had heard the radio call for the chopper and new it would be a good opportunity for photographs. When I arrived at the new unit, the company commander was angry I had crossed the unsecured area. Then, as the smoke broke, I could see I was on the wrong side to get the light. I put a yellow filter on my Leica M-2 and dashed across to some rocks on the other side other the small clearing.  I knew the image was coming together, the eerie smell of battle hung in the air and I clicked off the film the decisive moment of greatest impact.

The AP had been helping me get pictures on the wire and with their help, this one became my first internationally published image. It was published in almost every major magazine and newspaper in the world. After that, I was able to get published on a very regular basis. The thrill of communicating to millions of people has never changed. I love what I do. The Agony of War by Paul Epley


July 24, 2001 (32).jpg (374687 bytes)

high quality copy


Information credited to Ken Gaudet

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