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But his encounter with the Marines on the tank was most likely glancing. The battle was so intense that he has no recollection of the individual men, or even of taking the picture. Through reader replies, People found everyone in the frame except the unconscious Marine. Four weeks later, on April 29, it ran a follow-up story with interviews and new portraits of the men. The unconscious man on the door remained unknown, though not for long. After People published the second article, one of their reporters managed to track down Octaive Glass, who identified the wounded Marine as James Blaine.

As the Navy corpsman attached to the unit, Glass had treated Blaine immediately after Blaine was shot. Olson knew of the first People article in He had actually been commissioned to photograph Ommert. Three decades later, the approach of the 50th anniversary of the Tet offensive had a powerful effect on the photographer.

Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men

He started revisiting his old work. In the course of his research, he read a interview with a soldier in Stars and Stripes. The interview recounted graphic details of Tet. Olson says he was shocked to discover that the soldier in that interview was him. Olson tracked down nine Marines he had photographed in Hue, including at least three of those identified in by People as being on the tank. In one instance, a disagreement over whether the tank was in the Citadel or not when Olson snapped the photo furthered his skepticism.

Olson came to feel that Grantham was different. One, Richard Hill, said he was the man at the far right of the photo. The other was Grantham. Olson spoke to Grantham and, after two exact retellings, he was convinced Grantham had been the unconscious Marine. Around the same time, Bowden was talking with veterans from Hue, and with journalists who covered the battle, as research for his book. He interviewed Olson, who sent him several photos and also told him about Grantham.

That, combined with a photo of Grantham and other Marine Corps records, made him confident of his narrative.

Ray L. Smith

But this version of events soon faced a challenge. That effort proved futile. Whereas Olson had photographed the unconscious Marine almost in passing, McCullin had been present with Third Platoon when the Marine was shot, and had photographed his initial treatment by Glass and other members of his platoon. McCullin had witnessed and documented almost the entire sequence of events, and still retains vivid memories of it.

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In 30 images on two rolls of film, he followed the unconscious Marine and members of Third Platoon from the moments just after he was shot until he was lifted onto the tank. This sequence, including images that show the wounded man from different angles, combined with other information he gathered, convinced Loyd that the wounded Marine was Blaine.

The presence of Schlagel in several of the frames was also a decisive clue. When Loyd presented his findings to Bowden, Bowden pushed back. He had established that Grantham was shot on Feb. It was, as Bowden presented it, a matter of record. Loyd conceded that he must have been mistaken.

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There was no reason to doubt that Grantham believed he was the stricken Marine. Grantham described a scene that was different, a treatment that was different and an injury pattern that was different from what was suffered by the man in the photos. That story was spreading. Olson approached the Newseum about a Tet offensive anniversary exhibition based on his photographs.

Again, Blaine was left out. When the Newseum went through its own fact-checking process, she says, she had not been made aware of any alternate explanation of the identity of the wounded Marine, was not familiar with Loyd and had never heard of Blaine. In January , the Newseum opened its exhibit and hosted a panel discussion including Bowden, Olson and Grantham. The Unpublished Photos A set of previously unpublished images, made by Don McCullin, a British photographer who covered the fighting at Hue, follows Blaine and his unit from the moment after he was wounded until he was lifted onto the tank.

Viewed in sequence, they reveal the scene where the Marine was hit, the location of his wounds and steps in his medical care, including the use of a white wooden door as a stretcher. Below is a selection of those photos, with analysis informed by interviews with Alejandro Villalva, a forensic expert with the Department of Defense, and Octaive Glass, the platoon trauma medic who attended to Blaine. In terms of written records, the evidence contains contradictions: There are, in fact, some documents that can be taken together to support the notion that Grantham was the wounded man on the tank that Olson photographed.

Grantham was wounded on Feb. Military records for Richard Schlagel, the Marine most clearly identifiable in the Olson photo, indicate that he was lightly wounded on Feb. For Bowden, Olson and the Newseum, this date has been the central pillar of their continued assertion that the Marine shown lying on the tank in the photo is Grantham, not Blaine.

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  • The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo Was Nearly Erased — Until Now.

But two of those Feb. Olson and Bowden point to the reports indicating that Schlagel was wounded on Feb. Schlagel believes that the records are in error — but more to the point, they are simply irrelevant. Furthermore, another firmly dated set of photographs by McCullin show that the photographer was in a different location on Feb. Finally, there is good reason to question the Feb.

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But the logistics of physically moving the film out of a war zone with technology makes it highly unlikely that it could have been taken on the 17th, moved through the shattered city, transported miles to Saigon, developed, taken to the wire station and transmitted to New York within 24 hours. In fact, Grantham did not recognize anyone from the tank or anybody who attended to him after he was shot. In stark contrast, there are several former Marines and a corpsman who witnessed the shooting of Blaine and remember lifting him aboard the tank. Markowski and Blaine fought side by side for weeks in the same rifle squad.

Erskine, the sergeant who led the platoon after their lieutenant was wounded, was close with Blaine too. He says he could tell the difference between Blaine and Grantham in a photo because he was familiar with both men. Glass knew Blaine and treated him after he was shot. All these men claim to have witnessed, or actually participated, as Blaine was placed on a door, carried away from where he had been hit and set atop the tank.


They all confirm that Blaine and Schlagel rode that tank out of the combat zone together. Erskine adds that it made sense to send Schlagel with Blaine because he was showing serious signs of combat fatigue. The most definitive body of evidence is the series of 30 photographs taken by McCullin. Not everyone agrees. Olson says he would consider the findings of the Marine Corps or The Associated Press if they opened their own inquiries. Yet he did not address the problems with the records that seem to point to Feb.

I also contacted Grantham and presented him with the evidence and the conclusion that Loyd and I both reached. Grantham is a legitimate wounded veteran of this battle, and it would be wrong to denigrate in any way his service, sacrifice and his own memories. He also said that he was not interested in convincing anyone that he is the wounded Marine in the photo.