Early Life Influences

I hold the freedom to just put photos in the post that are not directly related to the story, or are they?

There are things and people in my life that I remember so well. It’s not that I remember, it’s that I can never forget.

I grew up in Logan in Philadelphia. I was a teen and there was a girl around the corner. Her name was Harriet. She was older and from a wealthy family. I wasn’t. She had pitch-black hair and pearly white skin. I had never seen anyone that beautiful in my entire life. She was graceful and floated in the air like angels do. I would see her and just be mesmerized. I would have given my life just to share one breath with her.

When I was in High School, my friend and I were hanging out with some kids in another neighborhood. One day, we were all sitting on the porch, playing guitars and stuff. A tall girl with brown hair walked up on the porch. Her name was Karen. She started playing guitar and singing and I just kept falling under her spell that she wasn’t even aware of. Time passed and I just breathed Karen. She liked me also but in a different way.

Then, shortly after, I got my draft notice. I had 10 daze before I was to leave. Karen wrote and sang a song that to this day, I remember every word and nuance of her voice. So, I went to Ft Bragg and Ft McClellan to be a grunt. To cut to the chase, I was sent to VietNam as a grunt. My first firefight was my death and my re-birth. I lost my religion but my spirituality blossomed with a passion. When we were kinda safe and re-grouping, I had a serious thought and feeling. I felt I abandoned GOD and broke the most serious Commandment. That in itself, altered my existence but … the thought of Karen learning about my experiences in Nam and what I did as a soldier, haunted me to a point that I couldn’t live with myself. Even now, decades later, inside my heart and soul, I am not worthy to even breathe her. She is on Facebook and occasionally I post a comment on her stuff.


There was a girl named Helena. She was lovely and stunning. We dated for a week and then I told her I had to go to Nam. She kissed me and said …: “Good luck, stay safe and I never want to hear from you again or what happened to you “.

I had my Black M-4 and a 35mm Cron with me but didn’t use it for over a month when I got in country.  I felt that making photos was a thing for me and might detract from my duty and loyalty to my fellow grunts. Then one day, I just started making photos. I wanted to document my life there. I was doing color because I was using color. Then the guy in the lab told me, “Do B&W because color gets screened and censored if there is blood in the photo. B&W is ok cause you can’t see red.

I was shooting pics like crazy. Even on our missions, I made many photos. One day, we were out and the shit hit the fan. It was a nightmare and I did my job but also made many photos of the scene. After an hour or so, we regrouped again and got the guys loaded on a chopper for the medivac. Even bodies, I made photos of. A tall husky man with 3 cameras on his neck and shoulder came to me and asked, Are you Larry Burrows? Then he smiled. He said, I watched you and you must have great shots. I knew he was a pro and I was impressed. He went with us on many missions. One day, we were looking at my photos and smoking dinky dau and he said… Don, what are you gonna do with your photos? I smiled and said, I’m gonna make a book and it will be a real true look at being a grunt. He said, you have it all in your shots, a great job but… may I mention … how will the mothers, etc feel about seeing their sons mangled, blown up, bodies dismemberd feel? how will Dad feel seeing his beloved son lying there dead? Your photos will affect people for the rest of your life, but not this way. Jock was right. I never thought about the aftermath of my work. I never considered the effect my photos would have on the survivors of my experiences. Jock told me that he could get me a spot in the Library of Congress to house my photos. I agreed knowing that my photography would be safe sleeping and only a distant memory for me when I got home, if I even did. I was 20 years old then and Jock was 48. He was a pro from Australia. He taught me Humanity and Humility and how to do Tequila with Lime.

Jock gave me a Nikon F with a 200m 4.0. He told me to use it so I keep my distance but I never used the camera. My duty and job was to be close, then closer. When I got orders to go home to the world, I gave the camera back to Jock with the same unused roll of Tri-X in it. Jock and I wrote back and forth a few times a year for a while. I found out that Jockngained 60lbs after getting home. He died in 1991 from a Heart Attack,

I’m going to keep this series going because I need to.

Portrait of me by Richard Chaitt,1973

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