CARMEL, Ind. – Tim Whitenburg served during the most deadly time to fight in Vietnam, right after the Tet Offensive and near the height of U.S. involvement in the war.
"Combat is horrifying. It's fast and it’s furious and it's horrifying," said Whitenburg from his Carmel home.
It was a time immortalized in one iconic image that came to symbolize Vietnam, an image that just turned 50 years old. It’s a picture that provides a place in history for this Indiana veteran.
"The mission was, as always, looking for pockets of NVA and there was a whole division element out there somewhere."
Whitenburg was only 20 years old when he went out on that mission with the 101st Airborne Division in the A Shau Valley. On April 1, 1968, they were ambushed by North Vietnamese regulars.
"The firing just started, that's what I remember. I don't know if anyone saw the NVA."
Whitenburg and his unit quickly fought off the attack, but men were wounded and needed evacuation by helicopter out of the dense jungle.
A young Associated Press photographer named Art Greenspon was on that patrol and by chance, caught the rescue perfectly in frame. Tim had lost his helmet in the chaos and turned just as the photographer snapped the image.
"You ever be walking anywhere and you get the feeling someone is watching you from behind?” said Tim. "I just happened to glance back and I saw Art there kneeling, Art Greenspon taking the picture."
The photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and dubbed “Help From Above.” Some called it the best picture taken of the Vietnam War.
"I'm just proud of the fact that we got to be part of history."
Tim’s other Vietnam memories were spread out across his dining room table in the form of his many ribbons, medals and aging personal photos. He admits it feels every bit like 50 years ago that his service was captured forever in time. But time hasn’t faded his feelings about that day in Vietnam and he says it never will.
"I'm proud to have served my country, proud to have been trained and served with the 101st Airborne and proud to have served with my brothers."