The Story Behind: Medic James E. Callahan Resuscitating a Dying Soldier

By | May 30, 2017

Photographer Henri Huet captured a young medic trying to save the lives of his buddies in the midst of machine gun fire on June 17, 1967.

What's so stirring about this photo is the look on Callahan’s face that tells the entire heart-wrenching story - a story of desperation and helplessness, of sadness and loss. The quintessential story of Vietnam.

Medic James E. Callahan of Pittsfield, Mass., looks up while applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a seriously wounded buddy north of Saigon, June 17, 1967. Communist guerrillas had raked a U.S. battalion with machine gun fire in a jungle clearing. This photo is one of the most famous photos taken during the Vietnam War

In this photo, Callahan is giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying solider. This photo may have been taken directly before the famous one above.

During the 3-hour battle in war zone D, about 50 miles northeast of Saigon, photographer Huet again captured Callahan treating a different infantryman’s injuries. During the guerrilla ambush on the 1st Infantry Division on June 17, 1967, 31 men were killed and more than 100 wounded.

With sniper fire all around, Callahan treats a soldier who suffered a head wound when an enemy bullet pierced his helmet.

If, after seeing these photos, you wonder to yourself about the fate of Medic James E. Callahan. Did he make it out of Vietnam or did he succumb to the war?

James did indeed survive the war. The photo below of James posing in front of Huet’s photograph of him at a museum in Ho Chi Minh City, was taken by Martha Green in March of 2008, when James returned to Vietnam.

Born in 1947, he was about 20 years old when Huet immortalized him on film. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1965-69 and served as a combat medic during the Vietnam War. After the war, he was a life member and president of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Chapter 65, VFW.

Jim’s trip back to Vietnam was one of healing, and it served its purpose. There was the feeling that a tremendous burden was lifted from his shoulders after his return to Lai Kei to revisit the location of the battle where those iconic pictures were taken. His family noticed a sense of peace that came over him that he hadn’t had for so many years. I was very happy that I was part of that healing process.

Sadly though, James passed away on July 29, 2008 after a motorcycle accident. After his death, the Pittsfield chapter was renamed the James E. Callahan Chapter 65 in his honor.

Credit: AP Photo/Henri Huet