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Exhibit showcases images from Vietnam War

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RALEIGH — To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive (launched in January of 1968), the North Carolina Museum of History will host a new exhibit called “Picturing Nam: U.S. Military Photography of the Vietnam War.” The exhibit will be on view through March 18. 

On loan from the National Archives, this traveling exhibit features selections from the hundreds of thousands of photographs taken by military photographers stationed in Vietnam to document American Armed Forces activities.

“I am excited because this exhibit will afford younger generations of North Carolinians insight about the conflict in Vietnam and the lasting impact on the United States and the world,” said North Carolina Military and Veterans Affairs Secretary Larry Hall. “This incredible collection brings history to life for our up-and-coming generations and provides important illustrations about the world around us today — I am proud of the N.C. Museum of History and its partners for making ‘Picturing Nam’ possible.”

Photographs are a powerful part of our collective memory of the Vietnam War. Many iconic images were taken by photojournalists working for newspapers, magazines or wire services. But there were also military photographers in Vietnam serving in our armed forces. Their assignments sent them everywhere: the jungles and swamps, forward bases, hospital ships, rivers and air bases.

Unsanitized and uncensored, the exhibit’s indelible images give an intimate and ground-up view of the war and those who fought it. The exhibit focuses on three photographic themes:

• Landscapes: Most Americans knew almost nothing about Vietnam before the war. Many soldiers, sailors and airmen seeing Vietnam’s dense jungles, rugged mountains, murky swamps, endless rice paddies and brown rivers for the first time must have felt very far from home.

• Objects: Wars are often summed up and remembered through artifacts. The Vietnam War created its own set of memorable objects, many of which appear in military photographs, including helicopters, M-16 rifles, graffiti-covered helmets, Phantom jets, peace symbol necklaces and body bags.

• Faces: War puts individuals into extraordinary and dangerous situations. Such circumstances fostered determination, anxiety, exhaustion, boredom, compassion, exaltation and dread — feelings that are seen in the faces of those who were there.

“Many North Carolinians were called up to serve during the Vietnam War and participated in the Tet Offensive,” said Ken Howard, director of the museum. “Picturing Nam honors these brave soldiers, from North Carolina and across the country, with a gritty and realistic view of life on the front lines.”

“Picturing Nam” contains 41 framed and matted black-and-white and color digital prints, 11 large-format murals, text, seven graphic panels and 52 identification labels.

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The exhibit is organized by the National Archives and Records Administration and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service. It is presented, in part, by the Lawrence F. O’Brien family, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, AARP and the National Archives Foundation. Its local presentation is made possible by the N.C. Museum of History Foundation and MOHA, the Museum of History Associates.

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