15 haunting photos of the Vietnam War taken by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer

Eddie Adams first became famous for his portraits of celebrities and politicians, yet it was this photo – of a Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong suspect in Saigon – that would have the biggest impact on his life. The photo earned him a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969.

“You can see the gun, you can see the expression on the man’s face as the bullet enters his head, and you see the soldier on the left who is wincing at the thing that has happened,” Hal Buell, who led the Associated Press photo service for 23 years, told NPR. “With the still picture, you have time to consider all these factors.”

Former AP and CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who was with Adams in Vietnam, called the picture a “brilliant piece of photography. He had the courage to stand a foot or two away from a murderous officer who had his pistol out and shot the man in front of him.”

During his lifetime, Adams won a total of 500 awards for his renowned photography, which covered 13 wars. The late photographer died in 2004, but his legacy still lives on. An intense four-day workshop for photographers, known as the Eddie Adams Workshop, is held each year in New York City.

Below, see a selection of Adams’ Vietnam War photos, which completely changed the game for combat photography.

Editor’s note: Many of the images in this slideshow depict graphic violence and injury, and many are upsetting. All captions are by AP.


Bombs explode in the Cholon section of Saigon, during Mini-Tet offensive, May 1968.


Vietnamese soldiers capture a communist Viet Cong guerrilla hiding in high swamp grass during an operation 15 miles south of Da Nang in Quang Nam province in Vietnam on March 28, 1965. Five Viet Cong guerrillas were reported killed and 30 taken prisoner in the action.


South Vietnamese forces escort suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. Moments later, Lem was executed by Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police.


US Marine Sgt. Lyle Lewis of Tacoma, Wash., carries a wounded fellow Marine on his back to reach stretcher bearers at the base of a hill, April 28, 1965. They were part of a large patrol several miles from Da Nang air base that moved deep into Viet Cong territory.


City of Hue, Vietnam on Feb. 26-28, 1968.


A South Vietnamese soldier walking along a path in Plei Me, Vietnam, in October 1965.


A woman clutches the arm of her husband in panic as the family rushes to leave a threatened section of Cholon, the Chinese quarter of Saigon, on June 1, 1968. Viet Cong units moved into the area, bypassing Vietnamese Marines fighting to the west, and fired on government troops. Reacting instinctively, residents picked up their personal belongings, abandoning their homes, and fled.


South Vietnamese forces escort suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. Moments later, Lem was executed by Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police.


Young Vietnamese on motorbikes stop to look at a Viet Cong killed in the western section of Saigon, Cholon, during day-long fighting on May 5, 1968. A group of Viet Cong moved into the area following a mortar barrage on different parts of the city. The fighting, which took place in Cholon, was near a heavily-hit area during the Tet Offensive.


US Marines carry their weapons even to take a bath, which is where they are headed near their camp in Chu Lai, Vietnam, on Jan. 16, 1966.


Captain Charles S. Robb, US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s son-in-law, serving during the Vietnam War in Danang, Vietnam, on May 22, 1968.


Wounded South Vietnamese forces after fierce fighting with Viet Cong at Cheo Reo, Vietnam on July 7, 1965.


Faces contorted, clothing ripped, US 1st Cavalry Division troops dash through the battlefield under Viet Cong fire to reach the evacuation helicopter, Jan. 31, 1966, as helicopters left the site near Hoai Chau graveyard. Heavy mistaken friendly forces pinned those that stayed in a deadly crossfire.


Young children smoking during the Vietnam War in Saigon in an undated photo.


A U.S. Marine keeps a close watch on a young Vietnamese boy suspected of being a Viet Cong agent, June 5, 1965. The boy was trussed and kept under close watch. He was rounded up as 500 Marines took part in a large sweep-and-destroy operation along the Yen River, six miles from Da Nang. Three Viet Cong and 30 suspected communist guerrillas were captured.