Vietnam through the lens of a veteran

29 July 2023
  • Veteran stories
  • History & commemoration

Army veteran and avid photographer Rex Targett shares his memories and photos of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War veteran Rex Targett is a self-labelled Tasmanian ‘country boy’, having worked on farms before following his family’s footsteps into enlistment. From 1969 to 1995, he held positions across the Engineering Corps, Catering Corps, the Army Reserves, the Army Fire Service, and the Medical Corps. 

Vietnam Veterans Day Rex Taggett

A snapshot in time 

Military service and photography are not typically thought of in the same camp, but both are in Rex Targett’s blood. Many of his relatives were soldiers in the Army, and his mother was an enthusiastic photographer who passed her passion down to him. 

If you ask Rex what it means to help preserve a piece of Australia’s military history via photography, his response is humble. 

Vietnam Veterans Day Rex Taggett

“When I went to Vietnam in 1969, it was such a new experience, so I felt urged to capture what was happening there,” Rex recalls. 

“While everyone seemed to have a camera for taking photos with their friends around base, I was interested in the country and loved the people, which is why I took a lot of photos.” 

Depth of field 

It felt natural to pack a camera while on deployment. 

“During that time, I was normally attached to the Armoured Corps, so we would often go out to the bush and bring as much as we needed with us. We used to go out and see the locals, and being a country boy, I felt I could relate to them.” 

Vietnam Veterans Day Rex Taggett

Rex’s experiences in these villages form the backdrop of many of his photos. The resulting collection is an authentic but sobering illustration of life in Vietnam during the war.  

“We’d mostly see kids and women because all the men had gone, and I could feel how disruptive and terrible it was for them,” he laments. “We were told when we were deployed to try and win people over, so I tried to do the right thing by showing them friendship.” 

Meeting the local people was an eye-opening part of Rex’s time in the Army, but the harsh reality of war was ever-present. 

“I feel most emotional about moving those people. We had to relocate them to a place where they could not support the enemy, but I felt sorry for them having to be moved away from their homes. 

“The kids were very smart; they knew we’d have extra rations, which I’d have to give them to let me take a photo. We had to poke holes in the tins so they would be eaten straight away and not end up in enemy hands.” 

A focus on friendship 

Despite capturing difficult moments through his lens, Rex also recorded instances of camaraderie and mateship on base. A picture with childhood friend, Bobby Laird, has since become a family favourite. 

“When I arrived at Nui Dat, I was shown the tent where I was going to live, and Bobby, my childhood next-door neighbour was there,” Rex recalls. “It was a big surprise, and I was so pleased.” 

Vietnam Veterans Day Rex Taggett

Decades later, many of these photos would be shared by his family with the Australian public. 

“On the last night before I left Vietnam, I was lucky enough to be at base. Of course, I took the camera and took photos as I said goodbye to my mates. Some of those photos have been displayed and I’m pleased about that, because otherwise they’d be sitting in a cupboard, and nobody would have seen them.” 

Reflecting on a significant chapter 

Today, Rex can be found pottering around his garden in Tasmania. He has just one picture from his time in Vietnam on display in his home. 

“The photo is of a little girl holding a younger brother or sister. They were kids we had to move. I put it up to remind me of how lucky we are in this country; we’ve got nothing to complain about.” 

Vietnam Veterans Day Rex Taggett

Point and Shoot exhibition 

Rex Targett’s photos were displayed as part of the 2022 Point and Shoot photography exhibition. This year, the exhibition will travel to Brisbane on 13-15 October and Townsville on 20-22 October 2023. Learn more.

Vietnam Veterans’ Day | Honour those who served  

On Vietnam Veterans’ Day (18 August), join us in honouring all Australians who served and sacrificed in the Vietnam War.  

Attend an event at your local RSL Sub Branch or tune into a commemorative service.  

Learn More