One Ride With Photographer Larry Burrows

category: > Features, > History Now/Then, > Photography

written by: Jaap Proost

ON the 31th of March 1965 war photographer Larry Burrows took off with the crew of the Yankee Papa 13 helicopter to drop a battalion of South Vietnamese infantry to an isolated area about 20 miles out of Da Nang. During this mission Burrows made an photo essay that is considered to be the single greatest photographic achievement from the Vietnam War.


The essay was published in LIFE magazine under the title ‘One Ride With Yankee Papa 13’ and consisted of 22 photos. In the online archives of LIFE I found original prints, contact sheets and two color photos of that day, some with notes. Also pictures that did not make the magazine are hidden in the archive.


The Yankee Papa 13 was one of the 17 helicopters flying to the landing zone. The crew chief of the YP13 was Lance Cpl. James C. Farley. Burrows focused on Farley and used him to tell the story about the affairs of a helicopter team in wartime. In the days before the mission the photographer followed the crew chief on the base and during an off duty trip to a local market. In the chopper Farley operates the gun station. Burrows attached a special rig on the M-60 machine gun so he could take pictures of Farley outside of the helicopter while he operates the gun. One of the most famous picture of the series shows Farley shooting rounds while the chopper is landing.



Another iconic photo of the war in Vietnam is shot not long after moment. On the landing zone another helicopter, the Yankee Papa 3, is under fire and crewmembers of that chopper are wounded. They are hauled in the YP13. The co-pilot is badly wounded. Farley is unable to leave his gun position until the chopper is out of enemy range, but shouts something to another crewmember. At that moment Burrows presses the button of the camera. The photo makes the cover of the magazine.


The co-pilote does not survive the flight back. Farley and Burrows make it back in one piece. Six years later, during another helicopter flight, Larry Burrows is killed. The helicopter he was traveling with, is shot down over Laos.


See the complete series as they were published here. Also the story (Burrows’ own, transcribed from an audio recording) can be read on these pages.




Click on the double squares in the lower right corner to see popout pictures

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