||Eddie Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this photograph in 1969.
Shortly after the North Vietnamese communists launched the Tet offensive on January 30, 1968, fighting broke out in the U.S. Embassy compound in Saigon. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams saw two South Vietnamese soldiers escorting a prisoner through the streets of Saigon.
“They walked him down to the street corner. We were taking pictures. He turned out to be a Viet Cong lieutenant. And out of nowhere came this guy who we didn’t know. I was about five feet away and he pulled out his pistol.”
With his camera, Adams captured the exact moment that South Vietnamese National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed the Vietcong officer on February 1, 1968.
General Loan “shot him in the head and walked away,” Adams said. “And walked by us and said, “They killed many of my men and many of our people.” For Loan, the shooting is an act of justice: The Viet Cong lieutenant had just murdered a South Vietnamese colonel, his wife and their six children.
The American anti-war movement adopted Adams’ photograph as a symbol of the excesses of the war. But for the rest of his life Adams was haunted by the photo and felt it was misunderstood. “If you’re this man, this general, and you just caught this guy after he killed some of your people…How do you know you wouldn’t have pulled that trigger yourself? You have to put yourself in that situation…It’s a war.”