Battleship New Jersey
Gulf of Tonkin, North Vietnam, October 1968

I don't believe that war is beautiful, but sometimes pictures of it can be. This picture was shot from the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, which at the time was sitting only five miles off the coast of Vietnam, firing at Viet Cong positions on the Ho Chi Minh trail. I became fascinated by the fact that the shells being fired from the New Jersey were so big--six feet high--that you could actually see them with the naked eye as they left the big guns.There was a loud buzzer that would go off three seconds before any of the 16-inch guns fired, just in case anybody on the ship was in a place they weren't supposed to be, they would have a chance to cover their ears. When the buzzer sounded, I would count down a second and a half, then start my Hulcher sequence camera, which was taking 50 frames per second. Therefore, my camera was shooting even before the guns fired. Every sequence I shot had at least one or two frames that included the shells. This picture shows what your eye reacts to, the white flame. What you actually see is the orange fireball on the next spread, which must come just a fraction of a second later. The shells are so big that it's possible to follow them in flight for almost a mile.


The Best of Leifer
The Best of Leifer

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