The History Behind Iconic Vietnam War Photo “Help From Above”

Help From Above

The Vietnam war was a bloody, brutal conflict. It’s violent memory was captured in many ways, such as by the iconic photograph “Help From Above.” The picture was widely published on book covers and was printed on the front of numerous newspapers.

The shot was well-known and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but no one talked about the story behind the photograph, even after it was used as inspiration for the film “Platoon.” Finally, in 2017, they were able to tell the story, and Sgt. Tim Wintenburg was ready.

“I’ve waited a long time to talk about this. Watson Baldwin was the finest platoon sergeant I ever served with… It’s him who’s the subject of the photo, other people who have claimed it; look at it and you can see he’s African American. Not white.”  

Sgt. Tim Wintenburg

Finding Answers

Freelance photographer Art Greenspon took the picture. The main focus of the photo was Sgt. Maj. Watson Baldwin. Baldwin was standing with his arms in the air, signaling a medivac helicopter.

The injured man on the ground was Spc. 4 Dallas Brown, who had a back injury. On the far side of the picture is Sgt. Tim Wintenburg was helping another injured soldier.

Even though the iconic photograph was everywhere, no one knew who Baldwin was. Unfortunately, he died before the world could get to know him. Daniel Johnson was working with Vietnam Veterans in 2017, and while they were visiting the ceremony site for a memorial rededication, he was looking at the photo on his phone.

One of the veterans told him he knew how to get ahold of the men in it. The first man he found was Dallas Brown. Brown was happy to talk to Johnson and gave him Wintenburg’s contact information.

The Full Story

In April 1968, soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division were in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam by the Laotian border. With them was AP photographer Art Greenspon.

While they paused to rest, Brown saw a “tree moving,” and the men were ambushed. Many men were injured, and Lt. Sewell’s platoon made a landing zone for medical evacuation.

Baldwin stood in the middle of the zone, arms raised to guide the incoming helicopter. The photograph was sold to the AP, and the men found out about it when family members sent them clippings. Baldwin died in 2005 without a chance to tell his story.

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