1973 Photo Contest, Spot News, 3rd prize

Stefan Tihov

Bulgarian Telegraph Agency

01 January, 1972

Captain Edwin Alexander Hawley of the 432nd Tactical Reconnaisance Wing (TRW) US Air Force, at a press conference with captured US pilots, in the Club for International Meetings in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hawley was taken prisoner of war after his plane was shot down by a Vietcong missile.

Background story

Captain Edwin A. Hawley Jr., a weapons and systems operator, had been based at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Northern Thailand, which served as a front-line base of the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. Udorn is only 40 minutes by air from Hanoi, Vietnam’s northern capital, and Hawley’s unit, 432ndTRW, accounted for more than 80 percent of all reconnaissance activity over North Vietnam. It also employed several F-4D fighter-bombers on strike missions over North Vietnam.

It was during one of those missions, Hawley’s plane was shot down. Together with pilot Major Robert H. Irwin, Captain Hawley Jr. was dispatched on a combat mission in their F-4D aircraft over North Vietnam on 17 February 1972. About 15 miles west of the city of Vinh in the Nghe An province, their plane was shot down. Hawley, seating at the rear, ejected from the aircraft first, as it was standard procedure for the pilot to eject second. Therefore, it was not uncommon for the crewmembers to be separated on the ground. Captain Hawley was captured by the North Vietnamese and spent the next year in prison camps in and around Hanoi.

On 7 April 1972, Life magazine published two color portraits of two captured US airmen: Captain Kenneth J. Fraser and Captain Edwin A. Hawley. According to the caption, Hawley suffered neck burns as well as a broken arm, but appeared otherwise to be treated well. On 14 February 1973, he was released, still showing signs of the injuries he received when he ejected from his aircraft. In his debriefing, Hawley stated that he believed his pilot had died. Major Irwin remained missing in action. In November 1989, it was announced that Irwin’s remains had been returned to US control by the Vietnamese, and these remains had been positively identified as being those of Major Robert H. Irwin.

Bulgarian photojournalist Stefan Tihov made the photo on assignment in Hanoi. Tihov had come to Vietnam, to cover the fighting. However, when he arrived in Hanoi, most hostilities had subsided, and he was commissioned to photograph factories, schools, and the beauty of the Vietnamese landscape. Disappointed, Tihov requested a transfer to the 17th parallel, the provisional military demarcation line between North and South Vietnam, to cover the bombardment of US aircraft by North Vietnamese artillery. His request was denied, but not much later he was assembled with other journalists in a room in Hanoi, where five captured pilots of the US Air Force were being presented to the press. Apparently, the pilots had been shot down by Soviet missiles. Tihov later remembered that he was very excited that day, watching men of his own age, dressed in prison suits, being shouted at by people who profoundly hated them.

About the photographer

Stefan Tihov

In 1972, Tihov was assigned as a special photoreporter to Vietnam, becoming the first Bulgarian photographer to cover the conflict. Tihov moved to Israel around 1990 where he liv...

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