Photos by Dave Staniszewski, 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company, the 'Black Cats'. Photo restoration by John Sisson.
I met Dave Staniszewski when I bought his camera, an Olympus Pen FT, in an online auction. I was curious about the camera's history and we started a correspondence.
"In 1969, I was attending Buffalo State College and ended up drafted into the US Army. I trained as a Chinook Mechanic and went to the Republic of South Vietnam and served for 54 weeks, honorable discharge & back home. While in Nam, I resided at Phu Loi base camp. A friend in my unit said "I have a great little camera to sell". I bought the camera and took some photos from the helicopters and on the ground." – Dave Staniszewski
Dave said he'd try to find some of his Vietnam photos for me, adding a disclaimer: "They were taken by a 22 year old kid so don't expect a lot!"
Dave's photos and the hand written captions on the back are a thoughtful and unique document of his individual experience in Vietnam. His deceptively peaceful landscapes from the air show mountains, rivers, and paddy fields, along with bombed bridges, defoliated jungles, and bomb craters.
"Phu Loi Army Airfield was located west of Bien Hoa and about 25 miles north of Saigon. The Air Force during Operation Ranch Hand sprayed 79,000 gallons of Agent Orange over the Phu Loi area. Another herbicide used over Phu Loi was Agent White. 84,430 gallons of this herbicide was sprayed by the Air Force. These figures do NOT include the US Army helicopter or ground applications, or any form of the insecticide programs by GVN or the US Military. Many soldiers at Phu Loi sprayed Agent Orange onto our perimeter from trucks and now suffer the effects of this exposure." —www.avelvietnam.com
Dave's images on the ground show daily life in Vietnam in the late 60s — scenes that have become familiar in movies and popular culture. However, these are the real thing, with real characters: 'mama-sans' and 'shit burners', 'grunts' in the field, curious and wary civilians, soldiers at a Bob Hope show.
With thanks to Dave and Ellen Staniszweski.
©1969, 1970 Dave Staniszewski, ©2013 John W. Sisson, Jr.