Fifty Years of Wartime Memories Kept in a Box

A Portland, Oregon, man and Vietnam veteran has found a form of release for his wartime experiences, and it has become a matter of art for a local Portland art gallery. After five decades, we are all now the beneficiaries of his wartime duties.

Charley Haughey is a man of art. He is a sculptor, bringing beauty out of ordinary materials. But fifty years ago, as a young man, he was called up to serve during the Vietnam war. He went to Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division as a grunt. He served for three months in the field with his unit on search and destroy missions, either walking point or on the perimeters, often the most dangerous positions in an infantry operation.

Photo: YouTube/The Oregonian

But after three months, his commanding officer took him out of the field and made him the unit photographer. In that role he took thousands of pictures of the men and the environments they were operating in at the time. He was not so much focused on the horrors of war, combat, and all that goes with it; he was more interested in documenting the men, their faces, what they were like as people.

Photo: YouTube/The Oregonian

In Vietnam, he turned a steel shipping container into his dark room, where he developed the photos. He remembers it being like an oven in there during the hot and humid day and even the night. But he had a mission, a mission to record small moments in history, a particular history, to be a means of remembering who was there with the 25th Infantry Division and what they did. He took it seriously, and I think we can all agree that having a photographic record like his is valuable in more ways than one.

Photo: YouTube/The Oregonian

Haughey kept notes about his pictures, the operations, and the men involved. He kept 3,000 of those photos when he came home. He put them in a box, where they have remained for the last fifty years. But he had destroyed those notes while he was still in Vietnam in order to keep that information out of the hands of the NVA, in case anything happened to him in the field. As a result, a lot the names of the men in the pictures are unknown, forgotten to him. One of his hopes in having these pictures put up for public view in the Portland gallery is that names may be finally attached again to those faces staring out at us from those picture frames.

Photo: YouTube/The Oregonian

The showing of Haughey’s photographs will take place in Portland. It is accompanied by a companion book, titled “A Weather Walked In.”

We thank Charley Haughey for his service to the nation during the Vietnam War. We are grateful for the photographic record that he preserved in that box for these past five decades and that they were seen by a local artist as something worthy to be presented in a gallery to help tell the unique story of a particular unit that served and sacrificed in Vietnam, the 25th Infantry Division. Hooah!

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