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Sun January 27, 2013
An Iconic 'Life' Image You Must See
"Larry Burrows made a photograph that, for generations, has served as the most indelible, searing illustration of the horrors inherent in that long, divisive war — and, by implication, in all wars."
That's according to Ben Cosgrove, editor of LIFE.com. He is referring to the image above, made in 1966 and titled Reaching Out.
Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which effectively ended U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, and is why Cosgrove brought Burrows' work to our attention. Historic images often get buried with time and are usually unearthed by anniversaries or tributes. And while many have seen Burrows' famed image capturing the superlatives of humanity, there is value in revisiting the scene.
In the image, wounded Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Purdie reaches out toward a stricken comrade after a fierce firefight south of the Demilitarized Zone in October 1966. The gesture demands the utmost compassion, while the landscape illuminates the apocalyptic nature of the conflict. It's the paradox of war; finding evidence of compassion within a hellish circumstance.
While the image itself is extraordinary, so is its story. As Cosgrove writes in his post LIFE Behind the Picture: Larry Burrows' "Reaching Out," 1966, the magazine didn't publish the image in 1966 but five years later in February 1971: the occasion, an article devoted to Larry Burrows, who was killed earlier that month in Laos at the age of 44. The helicopter crash that killed him also took photographers Henri Huet of the Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek.
In the tribute to Burrows, Life's Far East Bureau Chief John Saar wrote: "The depth of his commitment and concentration was frightening. He could have been a surgeon or soldier or almost anything else, but he chose photography and was so dedicated that he saw the whole world in 35-mm exposures. Work was his life, eventually his death, and Burrows I think wouldn't have bitched."
To see a full gallery of Larry Burrows' work visit LIFE.com