THEODORE T. (Ted) ACHESON
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Theodore Acheson was born in
Flint, Michigan, in 1945.
He grew up there, graduated from Bentley High School
in the Class of 1964 and, in the fall of that year enrolled at Marquette University
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After completing two and
one-half years at Marquette,
Ted enlisted in the Army and entered active duty on January 2, 1967.
After Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he was sent to the Army
School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey
for Advanced Individual Training as a Motion Picture Photographer. After
graduation, Ted was shipped to
in July 1967.
Private Acheson arrived at Fort
Shafter, Oahu, and
reported in to the Department of Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO),
DASPO was organized with five-man photographic teams that served
90-day temporary duty (TDY) assignments, in rotation, filming at various
locations wherever United States troops were serving throughout the
Pacific; but naturally, most of the action was in Vietnam at that time.
His first rotation was to Thailand where he filmed Thai troops training for
deployment to Vietnam.
He also filmed munitions being unloaded from ships and various military
operations going on at the time at Korat and U-Tapao.
When that initial 90 day TDY was completed, the team returned to
SP4 Acheson arrived in Saigon February
11, 1968 on his second TDY, ideal timing for a new Combat Photographer
looking for combat to photograph.
TET-68 had begun only days earlier as desperate fighting erupted
simultaneously practically everywhere in South Vietnam.
arrived and rented a house in the city for the photographers to operate from
as they travelled around the country for the coming 90 days.
(DASPO photographers carried a Press Pass and functioned in the
same way as civilian press news reporting teams; free to pursue their work,
with a directive signed by General Westmoreland that granted them assistance
and travel priority as they moved about to film at unit locations.)
successively at Khe Sanh and in the Aschau Valley,
as TET-68 fighting continued in those places. Later, he was near Hue with only a week remaining before his team was to
redeploy from Saigon when a “Mini TET”
(5-12 May 1968) broke out in both those places. Ted was wounded on May 6th,
and here are some details of his Purple Heart experience.
Acheson was photographing the action of an Infantry squad of B Troop, 2nd
Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, as they were clearing the
area in and around Cha Lau, a previously bombed out and deserted village
about five kilometers Northwest of Hue.
A North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion had strong defenses in and
around the village and clearing them out was difficult, slow work.
(Meanwhile, just outside the town, SP4 Robert Patterson later received the
Medal of Honor for his actions during B Troop’s fighting that day, so
interested readers can find much published material describing the
environment Ted was in at the time.)
Photographer Acheson had been sticking really close to his squad
all day, he wouldn’t have been doing his job otherwise. A good motion
picture shot requires the combat photographer to stand fully exposed to the
action being recorded while holding the camera perfectly still for at least
ten seconds no matter what is happening.
Ted was filming
near a Temple building when a Rocket Propelled
Grenade (RPG) detonated close by.
He says, “I was blown about 20 feet by
the blast but luckily had no visible wounds and I stayed with the men in the
squad as they continued on for another two hours, clearing buildings and
bunkers and starting forward, only to begin receiving fire from previously
cleared locations, so progress was slow.
Daylight was fading late in the afternoon when I was
One of the troops threw a grenade into a bunker, only to
have it immediately tossed back out into the middle of us. Six or seven of
us were hit.
I had grenade fragments in a leg and my buttocks.
Several of the other wounded were in far worse condition
than I was, but, we all remained together during the night because we were
still in close contact with the NVA.
Early in the morning, about 2:00 am, the enemy disengaged
and withdrew. We walked out the next morning (May 7th).
The other wounded went on their way to the Aid Station, but
I caught a helicopter going to Phu Bai and my wounds were dressed at the
there as soon as I arrived.
My good luck continued, and that same day I was able to get
on an Air America flight into Saigon.
Fighting (Mini-TET) was still going on in the city
streets of Saigon
when I arrived back at our team’s house.
We could film combat action without having to travel around the
country to find it, we went out in the mornings, filmed until noon, went
home for lunch, then went back out and filmed again in the afternoon.
In those days before satellite communication, our film was all
flown to the U.S.
and processed by the Army
in New York.
So, at best, the news would be several days old before it could be
seen by the public.”
After a brief stay back in
Ted did his third TDY doing some fairly routine work, filming ammunition
renovation and fuel storage facilities on
Okinawa, Taiwan, and in Japan.
But, it was in his next rotation, a TDY in late 1968
Korea, that history making
events happened and Ted was there to film it.
He had barely gotten settled in Seoul
when a large force, 135 North Korean Commandos, infiltrated into the South,
but were promptly discovered and wiped out by ROK forces.
After it was over Ted was escorted by the South
Korean troops to film the remains. Then shortly before the end of that TDY
rotation, the crew of the U.S.S. PUEBLO which had been held captive for
eleven months was suddenly released without advance warning on December 23,
was the only cameraman in the Press Pool allowed to meet them and film the
event (Ted’s film, for the first time ever, was processed in Japan and
beamed back to the United States by satellite).
Then it was back to Hawaii.
He would do two more rotations, both in Vietnam
and, now that he was more experienced and more senior, he would be doing
In February 1969, SP5 Acheson returned to Vietnam. His first task was
documentary filming of the M551 Sheridan Tank, an entirely new tank that was
fielded even though it had acknowledged problems.
Ted filmed the
M551’s of the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The regimental
commander was Colonel George S. Patton, son of the famous WWII general of
the same name, and that made for an interesting experience.
Ted’s next project was to produce film for a documentary on “how
to set up a fire base,” and he must have done that really well because he
later received three letters of commendation from general officers for his
Later, he documented Special Forces conducting airborne training for
Cambodians, and then spent time with the Americal Division filming various
spraying methods that were used to apply the defoliant Agent Orange.
He then returned to DASPO at Fort
for a few days, and proceeded on to the Army
in Oakland, California where he was discharged on
December 29, 1969.
As his Army career came to an end and he was returning to his
parents’ home to Flint, Michigan,
he could look back with pride in having had much of his work, film clips
from his recordings, televised nationwide on the nightly news broadcasts
during his time in service.
He promptly resumed his college career, enrolling at the
University of Wisconsin
Milwaukee. He earned an undergraduate
degree in communication and a master’s degree in speech communication. Two
events of great significance in his life happened during that time.
He met his wife Cynthia and they were married in
Milwaukee in 1973.
Also, for his work as a combat photographer, Ted was announced as
the recipient of the “Cinematographer of the Year” award for 1969 from the
National Press Photographers Association and the Department of Defense, and
he says, “That award really opened doors for me.”
Ted began his career in Detroit.
He worked in the advertising production business, working
primarily for automobile advertising agencies in Detroit and Los
Angeles, and working directly for the car companies
In 1981 he went into business for himself, forming Adam Productions, mainly
working for Honda and Acura.
He traveled to Asia, producing
and directing advertisements for these companies.
His single most enjoyable work was doing a training film on how to
sell cars that featured baseball legend Mickey Mantle.
They worked closely together and Ted grew to greatly admire the
company was highly successful and like many leaders in industry, he was also
an active leader in community service.
Ted was selected to the board of
Hospital, Heart and Vascular Institute in
1994 and chaired it for three years, 1998-2001.
He was also active in Boy Scouts of America for ten years.
He served as President of DASPO* Combat Photographers Association,
and was also a member of the International Combat Cameramen Association.
After owning Adam Productions for 28 years, Ted Acheson retired in
2006 and moved from Detroit
to Central Texas.
Since his arrival he has served on the school board of St. Mary’s
Cathedral in Austin, and most recently, after discovering us he has become a
life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and appeared as
principal speaker for Chapter 1919’s 2011 George Washington’s Birthday
Dinner Party in the Austin Club.
This month PATRIOT
BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Ted Acheson.