They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but local Vietnam Veteran Archie Lintz has held onto a photo he took on Independence Day 1970 at Quang Tri Combat Base that has been dubbed a ‘snapshot of the U.S.A.’
It was July 4, 1970 when Lintz asked three men in the bunker next to his to pose for a photograph. It was one of twelve he took after he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1968.
He wasn’t a professional photographer by any means – in fact, the photo he’s come to cherish from his time in the service was taken on an old polaroid camera, one that “whirs out like that” Lintz says using his best impression of instant camera film developing.
Despite his admitted lack of photography skills, he says the he’s always felt a bit partial to the photo and has tried to preserve it all these years. Unlike some of the other polaroids he took, the colors of the photograph haven’t faded much.
“I didn’t know them personally or by name, I don’t even know what unit they were in – they were in the bunker next to mine,” Lintz recalled. “We got to talking – during the daytime we ran the country, you could stand on top of a bunker. But at nighttime – it was a different story. They ran the country at night.”
Quang Tri Combat Base was protected by a perimeter of Concertina wire and a series of bunkers. Flares were used to search the free-fire zone outside base perimeter at night. Each sector had a different color flare, and the night of July 4th, Lintz and fellow soldiers set off a great fireworks display. Although this was not appreciated by the brass.
The man on the viewer’s left is holding an M-16 rifle, the one in the middle an M-69 grenade launcher, and the man on the right mans an M-60 machine gun. The bunker is covered with sandbags and was likely an old French concrete bunker that the soldiers had reinforced, just like the neighboring bunker Lintz himself resided in.
The photograph of the two Black soldiers and one white soldier almost didn’t make it home. According to Lintz, 50 years ago they searched soldiers for pictures of war.
“They didn’t want pictures of war coming out of the country, and I think I sent that one home in a letter to my wife now,” Lintz said.
As the 50th anniversary of the photo came near, Lintz asked his friends what they thought of the photo.
One wrote: “The photo strikes me as a very American image and one of the time. You have three soldiers standing together, one large midwesterner and two guys who are probably from the city, one of whom is channeling Malcom X and the other Billy D. Williams. It very much strikes me as a snapshot of the U.S.A. at the time.”
Another added: “They strike me as being very young men. They look like they belonged in high school – too young to be in a war.”
Archie, a self-proclaimed history buff, hopes the nation will remember the 58,221 Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country in Vietnam along with the other American soldiers who have died in battle as the country celebrates Independence Day.
According to the Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File, records show 58,220 military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. Lintz says he added the one to his count to remember the first and last soldier killed in Vietnam.
“The number of our soldiers killed – it seems like this is the last war that they really don’t have an exact number. There’s a number associated with the war dead at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial,” Lintz said. “I added the one to it because I wanted the one to represent the first and the last soldier killed in Vietnam. I just don’t like to see that number rounded off because it’s people.”
Although he only had twelve photographs from his polaroid, Lintz has countless other snapshots stored the form of memories that he’s carried with him for over 50 years.
“People who know me say I tell tall tales,” Archie wrote in a one-page personal memoir accompanying the photo. “Those of you have drank draft beer with me can best judge, but I will say in my defense that I am not responsible for what I say when sober.”
The “tall tales” Lintz talks about are those stories he recalls that some may find hard to believe – the stories that are too fantastic to be true. While Lintz is working on writing down his own memoirs (a task he finds boring because he’s already “been there, done that”) he shared a few of those memories with me.
Lintz was attending Ball State University on borrowed money, which was barely enough to live on. When he left college, he decided to volunteer for the draft instead of waiting around for a job since it was hard to get hired by anybody at that time because males were subject to the draft.
“I had to get on with my life,” Lintz said. “So I volunteered for the draft and they drafted me out of Huntington County to fill the quota in 1968.”
Lintz recalls boarding a rickety old bus very early morning, “an hour in the morning where you don’t think about life really going on,” at the Erie Railroad train depot where Pizza Junction in Huntington now resides.
The bus embarked for Indianapolis picked up a number of other men along the way. When they arrived, the receptionist station was overcrowded and bustling with soon-to-be soldiers during the height of inducting.
“When I got to the point where I was supposed to take a urine sample, I was so dehydrated I couldn’t,” Lintz said. “And the guy who was at the table there just poured somebody else’s urine into my cup and took off with it – that’s how fast they were going.”
The “no-win war” as Lintz calls it dragged on so long that some of its veterans had served in World War Two while others are now baby boomers.
Race relations in the Army were bad at the time, Lintz recalled, but not where combat was imminent.
“When the film “Planet of the Apes” was played one day in camp, all cheered for the humans,” Lintz said. “That is the way it always should be.”
The Vietnam War was fought without a Declaration of War as required by the Constitution, then ran by politicians until lost, Lintz remembers.
“Our troops were not defeated. They did their part,” Lintz said. “This country’s leaders did not have the wisdom to know when to send its young people to war, nor the determination to win a war once in and make good their sacrifices. Anyhow, those who gave their all deserve to be remembered on days like July 4 and we need to be the kind of people who do that. May God bless the U.S.A. and may her war dead rest in peace.”
When Lintz returned home to the United States, it wasn’t easy returning to a country that looked somehow different than the one he left behind years earlier in 1968. When he was dropped off in Ft. Wayne, he hitched a series of rides back to his home.
“When I got home I hitch-hiked from Ft. Wayne to my folks’ home in Union Township,” Lintz said. “The first ride I got was a World War II Veteran, the second a Korean War Veteran, and the last another Vietnam War Veteran.”
Nowadays, Lintz is writing his memoirs so his family can learn about his experience. Even though he’s “lived it,” “done that,” “talked about it” and has grown tired of hearing his own stories, he’s putting the pen to paper at his son’s request.
“My son wanted it and so I would use photographs that I had and letters – the ones that were saved home,” Lintz said of the photos he’s held onto all these years that still bring back so many memories and stories. Those snapshots of the U.S.A. “They helped me to remember and to put something together.”