Photographs of LZ Margo
by First Lieutenant Thomas H. Roadley
Alfa Command Group, BLT 2/26
First Lieutenant Tom Roadley on LZ Margo. Photo courtesy of Thomas Roadley.
Tom Roadley, call sign John Brown 24, was the Battalion's Fire Support Officer on LZ Margo. His job was to choreograph all available supporting arms to surround us with a protective ring of big-gun explosions on demand.
Photography, though, was a new interest of his, sparked by a stint escorting famed combat photographer and former Marine David Douglas Duncan, on assignment for Life Magazine during the Siege of Khe Sanh.
But the shipment of special film from Hong Kong that arrived just before we lifted off for LZ Margo had contained only a single roll of 36 exposures, not the expected many rolls.
Fortunately his time with Duncan had given him valuable insights about how to take quick, decisive photos under horrible conditions. One roll would have to do.
The experience of working with a professional combat photographer helped him assemble the right tools too. On Duncan's recommendation Tom's first-ever camera was a Minolta SRT-101 with a very expensive optional lens, shooting 35mm Kodachrome II/25 slide film housed in waterproof containers, all of which he received through the mail in Vietnam from Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Tom enjoyed a rather unique perspective, having been cross-trained in both of the major combat-arms Marine officer specialties, infantry and artillery.
At rare breaks from his field responsibilities Tom could grab his camera, always secure inside his flak vest with only the lens protruding through a hole he had whittled in two adjacent flak panels.
He kept the film continuously advanced, ready to shoot immediately. Sometimes he would have less than a second to decide, frame and shoot. He always had to bear in mind the number of exposures he had left available.
Of his 36 Margo photographs (and 300 Vietnam photos that he took in 1967 and 1968) he has chosen the 30 displayed on the next page. They are unretouched and they are incredible.
He displayed them publicly for the first time in a slide show he narrated on the battle's fiftieth anniversary, clicking through them one by one before the assembled survivors of a day that had changed their lives forever.
Tom's primary purpose in taking these pictures was to document for his "late, wonderful parents" what was taking place on his tour of duty while he was still in Vietnam.
He re-dedicates them here to his fellow Marines of BLT 2/26 and beyond.
You will find them on the next page.