PORTLAND -- We all have boxes of photographs in our homes. But few can rival the power of the pictures kept in a shoe box of a Portland man.
Charlie Haughey spent nearly two years as a rifleman in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
When the battalion’s photographer was seriously injured, Charlie’s colonel assigned him to take pictures of soldiers for papers back home.
“These are prints I actually made over there,” he said, holding up a black-and-white picture. He took thousands of them.
But when Haughey arrived back in the states in 1969, much of America was torn over the Vietnam War.
“It was just, easier at that time, if you were gonna have a life, fold up your uniform and tuck it away,” he said.
The photographer put his negatives in airmail envelopes and tucked them in a shoebox where they sat for 43 years.
“I didn’t know anybody that would have been anything but unimpressed or derogatory about the pictures and about Vietnam itself. We just weren’t very popular people,” Haughey said.
Charlie raised a family and worked in cabinet-related businesses for several decades.
Now retired, he moved to Portland four years ago to be near his grandchildren.
He rented space at a shop for wood working and metal crafts. There he met Kris Regentin, who was building a custom motorcycle. The two shared a love of photography.
Eventually, Charlie agreed to show some of his negatives to Kris, who had a special computer scanner.
“It was just immediately so clear that they were going to be powerful and very important, and especially in that he hadn’t seen them and nobody had seen them in 45 years," said Kris.
He gave the digital files to Charlie
“I went home and put them in the computer and I watched them, about a two-second delay, and literally didn’t sleep for three days. It just, lots of things and a lot of places and there's a lot of pictures between the pictures," Charlie said.
Unlike many pictures from the war, Charlie's 2,000 pictures covered everyday life for the soldiers and the people they met.
“These all are so human, you know. It’s just people and you can tell that his subjects were so comfortable in front of the lens because they knew him you know, they were his friends," Kris said.
Local photographers joined with Kris and Charlie to create a gallery display which attracted hundreds of people, including some Vietnam veterans who were overcome with emotion.
“Couple of them walked into the show and looked around the walls and said, 'You don’t have to say a thing,” Charlie said, emotion choking his voice.
His pictures have come out of the shoebox.
“I'm the better for it. Vietnam gave me a lot more than it took from me. It, took a lot from a lot of guys though,” said Charlie.
The memories of Vietnam may never be easy but Charlie hopes the pictures will help.