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Bazooka in an Art Museum!?

Brian Keith

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I have been blessed to have a job/career that is both interesting and feeds some of my life passions. I am the technical director at the Ft. Wayne Museum of Art in Ft. Wayne, IN.

As such, I have curated a photographic show, featuring the Vietnam War work of LIFE magazine photographer, Larry Burrows. Burrows was killed when the helicopter he was riding in was shot down in Laos in 1971.

The key components of this show are the original Life magazines, featuring Burrows’s work, along with some modern enlargements, displayed framed on the walls, books and magazines on the tables for you to explore. Augmenting the photographs are original artifacts of the era, some with local connections, allowing your eyes to explore in three dimensions, similar items featured in the two-dimensional photographs. The Life magazines are time capsules of news and popular culture of the era. It would be hard to understate the importance and influence of Life magazine at that time.

I’ll attach a few photos of the show, mostly ones with the artifacts. It runs through Feb. 28, 2021. It is not your average art museum show.  If you are in the area, I would encourage you to see the show. If you visit during a weekday, ask the front desk to see if I am available to tour you through the show.






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Marine Private First Class Phillip Wilson fords a stream near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This photo was taken around October 8, 1966 and on the 20th Wilson would lose his life in an attack. He had turned 21 five days earlier.

In this recreation of the Burrows’ Life magazine photograph, there is the Model 20A1B1 3.5-inch Rocket Launcher* on his right shoulder supported by his right hand. In his left hand is a 3.5-inch rocket**. The “bazooka”, as it was commonly called, was developed during WWII to use against tanks and armored vehicles. In Vietnam, it was typically used against enemy bunkers and built up areas.

Barely visible in the photograph, Wilson carries an M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW) slung across his back. The LAW would soon totally replace the bazooka in the bunker buster role.

Wilson is wearing a Marine issue t-shirt and a much-worn flak vest. In typical military fashion, the vest is officially called: ARMOR, BODY, FRAGMENTATION, PROTECTIVE, UPPER TORSO (w/COLLAR, M-1955). Attached to the vest are two, one-quart canteens in their pouches and a first-aid pouch. These are not visible in the original Burrows photograph of Wilson but were commonly worn like this by the Operation Prairie Marines.

Wilson is also wearing an M-1 steel combat helmet with a camouflage cover. He has added the moniker “WILSON ROCKETS” to identify his helmet from others. These helmet covers often became a canvas for soldiers and Marines to express opinions and art.

Note: These artifacts are original to the Vietnam War era but are not the actual artifacts in the photographs. The helmet art was added. Artifacts on loan from the Museum of the Soldier

*This launcher has been de-militarized (de-milled) by a circular cut in the tube and a rod welded through the chamber, rendering it unable to fire a rocket and, thus, legal to own without being registered as a Destructive Device.

**This rocket is an inert training example, indicated by the blue color. The rocket motor is also inert.


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Artifacts of Sergeant Rowland “Butch” Gibson,

5th Special Forces Group, Vietnam

Artifacts on loan from the Museum of the Soldier, Artifacts

donated by John Gibson

Gibson, from Pennville, Indiana, enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly

after his 1962 graduation from Pennville High School. He attended and

excelled in many specialized schools including Airborne, Jumpmaster,

Recondo, and Ranger courses. First assigned to the 101st Airborne Division,

he volunteered for the special forces and earned the Green Beret. He also

graduated from the nearly yearlong Special Forces Medical course.


While he was attending these schools and becoming a highly trained,

professional soldier, the unrest in Vietnam was becoming the focus of

attention of the Pentagon.


Sergeant Gibson deployed to Vietnam on April 1st, 1966. As a medical and

weapons specialist, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group. He

was awarded the Combat Medic Badge on June 20th, 1966.


On January 22nd, 1967, Gibson was leading a

team of men on a search and destroy mission when they encountered a

group of Vietcong and began to exchange fire. While leading his men to

the cover of a nearby tree line, another group of Vietcong opened fire,

pinning down the small Special Forces team. According to army records,

Sergeant Gibson was “determined to prevent his men from being

surrounded and overrun, crawled 40 meters towards the bunkers with

bullets and shrapnel striking the ground all around him. During this selfless

action he was fatally wounded.” For his actions that day, he was

posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.


I did a thread in Groupings several years ago on Gibson's artifacts.




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Recreation of Corporal James C. Farley, United States

Marine Corps, Photographed as Part of Burrows’ One

Ride with Yankee Papa 13

Artifacts on loan from Kammo-man


In this recreation from Burrows’ Life magazine photography essay, “One Ride with Yankee Papa 13”, Farley sports a “tiger stripe” camouflage flight suit, protected by his Flak vest, an SPH-1 flight helmet, and leather boots.


Farley is also wearing an SPH-1 Flight Helmet, painted green for camouflage. It has electronics to allow communication among the flight crew over the noise of the helicopter, which are not included in this recreation. The lightweight fiberglass flight helmet only protects the head from bumping in the aircraft and offers no real protection from high velocity projectiles as a steel combat helmet does.


Flight suits developed over the years to allow air crew to have secure but quick access to needed items, hence the many zippered pockets. This tiger stripe flight suit was not an item of formal issue but was authorized by the commander. This example was custom made at the Daiso Department Store in Tokyo, Japan and was paid for personally by the Marine. In Burrows’ photography essay, we see that it is quite popular, as many of the enlisted men are wearing this style flight suit.

Note: These rare artifacts are original to the Vietnam War era as noted but are not the actual artifacts in the photographs. This flight suit, helmet, and boots are actual Vietnam War artifacts of Colonel “Whispering Frank” Frank Heins who had an incredible career as a Marine Helicopter pilot. He was later accepted to be a pilot in Marine Helicopter Squadron One, HMX-1, the Presidential Squadron during part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidency (1963-1969).






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For some reason, the full Farley photo flipped upside down every time I attached it. I even used a different photo. Sorry, some type of computer thing.


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M-1 Combat Helmet with Camouflage Cover and Band

On loan from the Museum of the Soldier


The M-1 helmet was developed early in WWII, and with minor improvements, was re-issued during the Vietnam War. Consisting of a steel “pot” and plastic resin liner, they typically had the “Mitchel” pattern camouflage cover and helmet band. The cover had slots cut in it like buttonholes to allow the soldier to insert twigs and leaves for additional camouflage; the band was issued for a similar purpose.

In the adjacent Burrows photo of a Cavalry trooper dismounting the Huey, we see an Ace of Spades playing card in the helmet band. This re-creation also has a pack of C-Ration cigarettes, a book of matches, and a bottle of weapons oil. Not only were the covers used as a canvas to express opinions and art, but the band also became a handy place to keep small items.



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Artifacts of Private First Class Lawrence Kay Tuttle,
4th Infantry Division, Vietnam
Artifacts on loan from the Museum of the Soldier, Artifacts 
donated by James Cox
Tuttle, a Fort Wayne native, served in Vietnam with C Company, 3rd battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He arrived in Vietnam on January 9, 1968, and on January 31 his unit was attacked by mortar and small arms fire. He was seriously wounded by a mortar round and succumbed to those wounds on February 8. He was only 20 years old and left behind a young wife. Along with the Purple Heart, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V (for Valor) device. 
Among Tuttle’s documents, awards, and decorations is a small photo of Tuttle’s coffin arriving in Fort Wayne via train. His funeral was held at the D. O. McComb & Sons Funeral Home on March 2, 1968, and he is interred at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Fort Wayne.


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That is a superbly done display. The artifacts help the viewer to get a better understanding or feeling for the men in the photos.  That’s really a great display.  

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Wonderful display Brian - a great homage to this man.  


While not enlisted per se, everybody in a combat zone is infantry, and he sacrificed his life telling the story of the men he was embedded with.


RIP Mr. Burrows.





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Thanks for all the positive comments. Special Thanks to kammo-man who loaned the "Farley" artifacts!

I had to keep a balance of art to artifacts, we are an art museum. Our director does like history, and we have, over the years done similar exhibits.

If interested, do take a moment to look up Larry Burrows, he did wonderful photographic work, in and out of Vietnam. As Blacksmith mentioned, he did take every risk the infantry did, for YEARS! His luck (as some would call it) finally ran out. In the photo story of YP-13, he jumped out of the helicopter and followed Farley to downed YP-3 to try to get the pilot out. The co-pilot had literally been shot (fatally) while climbing aboard YP-13 seconds before. It was a very “Hot” LZ!


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Remarkable and poignant exhibits...


It validates that museums have no boundaries when it comes to exhibits and displays.. It also shows the ingenuity of museum staff to think outside the box...


Thank you for sharing...


Best regards and Blessings,, Stay Safe





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