written by Todd DePastino

Three elephants in Vietnam swamp

We continue to receive phone calls and emails from readers in response to John Barber’s story about elephants in Vietnam. In that post, I asked readers if they had ever seen elephants being used by the Viet Cong, the NVA, or ARVN during the Vietnam War. George Kniss, who served as an Air Force photographer in Vietnam in 1963-1964, sent me the wonderful reconnaissance photo he developed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in early 1964, with the following explanation.

I did not witness elephants being used in the war, but have reconnaissance photograph(s) taken by our RF-101C Voodoo low altitude reconnaissance aircraftat a very low altitude while on a mission in the Delta,  I believe. I remember developing the roll film and then printing the recon run and seeing the elephants. They were running in a paddy and some in the high grass. It was a small herd. I had never before seen any elephants in Vietnam at this time in early 1964.

I supported the 13 Reconnaissance Technical Squadron at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, VN. I was a photographer and dark room technician and develop film of aerial photos. I came accross this photo and saved it. It was actually on the tail end of a recon mission and the aircraft was on an incoming landing patern, so the pilot was just using up the end of the roll film in the camera magazine.
The photo was taken at the very edge of the Delta coming into Tan Son Nhut.
I remember being surprised and moved by this image.  I had seen so many images of death and destruction, targets hit and to be hit.  To see wildlife existing in the midst of the ongoing war was somehow life affirming, especially since a couple of the elephants appeared to be juveniles.
I offer this photograph for publication, compliments of the USAF and yours truly!
George Kniss, Air Force photographer in Vietnam in 1963-1964

(George Kniss)

Air Force photo by George Kniss of an RF-101 over Vietnam

RF-101 (George Kniss)