Haddon Hufford, a native of New York, served as a combat photographer for the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1970, when he was 19 years old.
After he left the military, he developed a career in movies in New York, working as a set builder and a dolly and crane grip on about 75 feature movies, including "Crocodile Dundee," "Angel Heart," "Once Upon a Time in America" and "Jack Knife."
After tiring of the long hours of the movie industry, he developed a second career as a silversmith. While most of his art is shown and sold out of state, his handiwork was on display in the entrance of the Missoula Art Museum in 2012.
He has since retired and 10 years ago moved to Frenchtown and then the Rattlesnake Valley.
Q: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
A: I was going to be drafted. And at the time if you were drafted it was two years, and I was in the Army during the height of the war. There were over 500,000 soldiers there at that point, so everybody was going. There's a good chance if you got drafted you were going to wind up in the Army or the Marine Corps and you were going to wind up as a grunt, which wasn't something I was interested in. The war had been going on long enough that I understood what was going on over there.
If you enlisted in the Navy or the Air Force or the Marine Corps, it was a four-year enlistment, and with the Army if you enlisted it was a three-year enlistment. So I opted for the three years to go to school. I was trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
During World War II, my father was in the art department. He was a portrait painter and an illustrator. So I knew this kind of job existed in the service. I was going to the Parsons School of Design studying graphic design. I was taking a course called film communication. I was interested in movies, so I looked into (it). Maybe I could go to school and become a cameraman in the Army, so that was in fact what I did.
I figured I'd better get something out of this after I was done with my service. In fact, I would recommend any young person today, if they're finding themselves in the service, that they'd better take advantage of everything they can from the experience.
Q: What did you shoot on?
A: I was a motion picture cameraman. The camera I used in Vietnam was a Bell and Howell Filmo. It was 16 mm reversal film and the camera had a turret with three Angenieux lenses. It was a hand-cranked camera. It was a very strong camera. This is all handheld, wild action kind of shooting.
Q: What division did you serve with?
A: I was attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division, a helicopter, air-mobile division. I spent an awful lot of time on helicopters, what was called combat assaults. Basically, if you've ever seen "Apocalypse Now," remember the Robert Duvall character? "I love the smell of napalm in the morning? Smells like victory." That was the 1st Air Cavalry Division.
I did a lot of team photography with a guy named Mike Newsom. We were really good buddies during our time in Vietnam. He got there about a month before I did. We got really close. We had a lot of fun. We used to go into Saigon to get our film processed at the Air Force base. We edited our film there, and got our film put on AFEN, which was the military station. Remember the movie "Good Morning Vietnam"? That station.
After I arrived, J.D. Coleman (who grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and attended the University of Montana journalism school), he called us his "Mo-Pics." His motion-picture guys. Mike was "Mo" and I was "Pic." He said that he wanted for us to do about an hour-long movie about the operation of the 1st Cav. So we traveled all around the area that we were operating in – kind of like north and west of the Saigon area. Our unit saw a lot of action because it was the supply route from the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Q: What did you do after the war?
A: I stole all the original footage that I shot. When I came back, I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for a year. And I was there with the 4th Army Photo Lab, and they liked me there and they gave me keys at night and I put together a film of my own about my experience there. It was about a 10-minute film.
In hindsight, I was glad that I had some time to get readjusted to civilian life. I think a lot of guys that were drafted, after they did their Vietnam service ... they were in Vietnam one day and spit out in the streets of wherever in the States a day later. I think it was quite a psychological shock. I think the fact that I had a year to get readjusted to the real world, so to speak, helped.
Q: Have you ever gone back to Vietnam?
A: In 1995, when they first opened up relations with the government again and allowed people from the States to go back to Vietnam, (his wife) Taylor and myself went and spent eight days there.
I spent time in Tay Ninh and in Saigon, and we took day trips to My Tho, which is down in the Mekong Delta – so they were places in Vietnam that I knew.
Q: How did it feel being back?
A: I confess that I wept a little bit when the plane was landing because I saw Núi Bà Đen, the Mountain of the Black Virgin, through the plane window. That kind of welled up some emotions, because I'd done some operations on that mountain.
Q: Did you talk about the war when you got back?
A: When you come out of a war situation, there's two ways to go and some people will choose to not talk about it – that's their decision. Then other people, the way they deal with it is to talk about it openly, and that's the way I decided to go. When I came back, I said I was going to talk about war, what our government was ordering us to do. My opinion about wars, I think it's the absolute worst thing that human beings get engaged in.