Executed: The Human Story Behind A Famous Vietnam War Photo.
Above Photo: War Widow Ngyuen Thi Lop. (VTV.vn)
The above photograph shows Nguyen Thi Lop, the widow of Nguyen Van Lem, who is better known to history as the man executed in a Saigon street during the Tet Offensive after being captured while attacking the Naval Headquarters in the city.
The Viet Cong attacker had reportedly just killed eight South Vietnamese during the assault, although that was an after-the-fact comment by people with a vested interest in somehow making a brutal street execution more palatable to the world.
Nguyen Thi Lop knew her husband, Van Lem, was a Viet Cong officer. But until she picked up a newspaper in February 1968, she didn’t know he had been arrested—or that he was dead, until she saw Eddie Adams’ photo of her 36-year-old husband being executed three days before by Saigon’s police chief, Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan.
Newly pregnant and fearful of the South Vietnamese authorities, Lop took her two daughters, then 13 and 3, from their house near Saigon’s airport and moved in with relatives nearby. She struggled, working a multitude of odd jobs, until the war ended. After the war she was given a monthly pension, a “gratitude house” and a scholarship for her son who was born eight months after his father’s death.
Lop is still angry that her husband’s body was never recovered but is grateful that Adams took his Pulitzer Prize-winning picture. Without it, she says, her husband would have simply disappeared without a trace.
In 1969, photographer Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for this image, but he later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family for what he felt was the irreparable damage it did to Loan’s honour while he was alive.
Whether General Nguyen ever apologised to Nguyen Thi Lop for executing her husband in the street is not known.
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© Peter Alan Lloyd
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