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Story behind the pic: “War is Hell”


FGM Lieutenant General
Oct 11, 2010
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Castelar, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.

AP photojournalist Horst Faas took this iconic photo on June 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion on defense duty at Phouc Vinh airstrip in South Vietnam. The headband message “War is Hell” typified an acerbic attitude of many young American soldiers who were likely drafted and sent to the remote southeastern Asia jungles to engage in deadly and terrifying combat. A lot of the soldiers wrote graffiti on their helmets with inscriptions of their attitudes about where they were and why they were there.

The identity of the soldier was unknown for many decades, but he was identified as Larry Wayne Chaffin from St. Louis.

He served with that brigade in Vietnam for exactly one year beginning in May 1965 and when the photo was taken he was 19. Chaffin had many problems adjusting to civilian life when he returned from Vietnam. He died on 1985, at the age of 39 from complications that arose from diabetes, an ailment he might have contracted from exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.

In 2012, Chaffin's wife, Mrs. Fran Chaffin Morrison, said the photograph taken in 1965 of the young soldier with a handwritten “War is Hell” message on the band around his helmet is her late husband, Larry Wayne Chaffin, who served with that brigade in Vietnam for exactly one year beginning in May 1965.

Morrison said she remembered greeting her late husband when he stepped off the plane upon his discharge from the Army. He had a copy of the Stars and Stripes publication tucked under his arm. Upon showing her the picture he said he was the unidentified soldier. Morrison said her husband jokingly and proudly told her, “That picture is going to make me rich sometime.”


A family photo shows Fran Morrison and Larry Wayne Chaffin reunited shortly after Chaffin returned from serving in the war.

The same picture was printed a few weeks later with Chaffin’s name in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a special ongoing section about servicemen returning home from duty, she said.

“Without a doubt, we can prove this photograph is Larry Chaffin,” Morrison said.

The “War is Hell” quote originates from William Tecumseh Sherman’ address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (19 June 1879); but slightly varying accounts of this speech have been published. Sherman was a Union Army general during the American Civil War. He succeeded General U.S. Grant as commander of the Western Theater of that war in the spring of 1864. The full quote:

“I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, War is Hell!“.

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