NewsHonoring Our Veterans: Veterans Day 2021


Cinematographer recalls capturing horrors, humanity of Vietnam War

Posted at 9:41 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 23:28:49-05

Theodore "Ted" Acheson has always been fascinated by motion pictures and storytelling.

As a veteran with the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office, he played a vital role in capturing the horrors and humanity of the Vietnam War. This elite team was armed with their cameras, sound equipment, and little to no weaponry, under direct orders from the Army Chief of Staff.

Acheson said, "I ended up in a very special unity, called the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office."

Ted was thrust into the center of the Vietnam War as a cinematographer, with top-secret clearance, he found himself in the line of fire.

“The combat footage was the hardest thing to shoot because someone shooting back at you. The still guys that we had in our unit they could pop up take a picture and come back down you know in five seconds it took them instead of us up there for 12 towards whatever length of time to shoot that footage," said Acheson. "And then do it again and again and again, until you had probably a good 6 to 12 minutes of footage."

Acheson put his life on the line to capture history in the making.

“You have sweat dripping down on you sweat dripping on everything and you can’t have that on film so it was it was a challenge," he said.

Throughout all of the battles, he filmed during his time with DASPO, one battle always comes into focus. The battle of Thon la Cheu, in Vietnam.

"Did I ever fear for my life? Yeah, It was very scary to be in the middle of a firefight. You were right there and you smell the battle," he said.

Thon La Cheu happened on May 6, 1968. Acheson filmed it all, carrying his 35-pound camera, with no helmet and no weapon to protect himself.

He said, “The device that you use to hold the camera, it took up all of my body and I couldn’t. We really couldn’t carry a weapon.”

It was that battle where he was wounded and received a Purple Heart.

"It was an incredible incredible firefight that night I’ve been in the other ones but nothing as bad as that one," said Ted.

His 16 mm film and decades-old lenses have snapped the most iconic images and videos from the Vietnam War.

"You know I was proud to be a part of contributing to the history of our country," he said.

Today his camera collection is dwindling. He hopes to inspire the next generation of storytellers.

"As a collector, we are just babysitters for equipment. We're just holding it for a while before passing it on to someone else," Acheson said.

Acheson won the Cinematographer of the Year for the Department of Defense in 1969. These days he works with veterans in Killeen and Georgetown, through the local Purple Heart Chapter.