James Speed Hensinger, a Vietnam War veteran, has released a set of incredible night-time photographs he took of American troops opening fire on a lone Viet Cong sniper who had been firing down on the US soldiers in their huts with an automatic AK47 rifle. For more than four decades, Mr Hensinger kept these photographs to himself until now, choosing to release them to the public in celebration of this year's Memorial Day in the US.
Hensinger was a 22-year-old paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, nine months into duty fighting for the US in Vietnam, in April 1970. Around that time, the US army camp had been receiving sporadic night-time gunfire from what appears to be a lone Viet Cong gunman. The guerilla fighter would spend his nights climbing up to a concealed cliff where he could shoot through the thin roofs of the soldier's bunks instead of the sandbag walls.
“We were pissed off at taking Viet Cong sniper fire from the mountain above us several nights in a row,” Hensinger, now 66 and living outside Denver, Colorado, recalls.
“The guy would stand up from behind a rock and blow off a clip from his AK47 on full-auto. The sniper was shooting at such a high angle that most of his rounds came through the sheet metal roofs of our hooches. We decided to use a "heavy" response the next time the sniper hit us.”
The next night, James set himself up in a guard tower near the perimeter of the camp. Using a 35mm Nikon FTN camera, a camera release and some sand bags for a tripod, he waited.
Sure enough, when darkness fell the lone sniper opened fire. And the US army responded with a fury. From the left and right, two 7.62mm M60 machine guns showered the hills with rounds, shooting one red tracer for every four normal bullets. Down in front of James an M42 Duster open turret tank fired its twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns, with its huge white tracers followed by large explosions. Another M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun shot high explosive shells creating white bursts without tracers.
Hensinger captured the action using long exposures between 15 seconds and one minute. He had no idea what they would look like when he mailed them home to be developed, and was amazed when he returned from his 12-month tour to find what he captured was nothing short of spectacular.
Hensinger never considered himself a professional photographer, but has always loved shooting pictures.
As for the Viet Cong sniper, he was never found. "We sent out patrols during the day," James says, "and found a blood trail one morning. Otherwise, we never found him.”
"The rocks on the slope were as big as Volkswagens. It took a very stupid officer to put a pin in the map and say, "Build it [the camp] here."
James Speed Hensinger – self portrait
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