William San Hamel, Captain, DASPO (Department of the Army Special Photographic Office)
A native of Chicago, Captain William or Bill San Hamel was a member of the illustrious Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO), serving as an Officer with the Pacific Unit from 1967-1969 where he acted as a producer and director, approving the photographs and film that were being taken by the unit in Vietnam.
Prior to joining the Army, Captain San Hamel worked at the Wilding Studios and S & A Studios in Chicago, producing and directing commercials for various Midwest companies, including Amoco, Firestone Tires, and Goodyear Tires. Captain San Hamel completed a degree at Loyola University Chicago, and was commissioned as an Officer in the United States Army through the ROTC program.
From 1965 to 1967, Captain San Hamel was assigned to the Army Photographic Agency at the Pentagon. Here he was tasked with organizing and taking pictures of 40,000 Pentagon employees in collaboration with Polaroid Film. This project would lead to Polaroid producing similar photographs for many years to come. After his transfer to DASPO in 1967, he was assigned to various areas in Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. He was the approving officer for many of the detachments videos and photographs that would be produced during the war and spent the majority of the war traveling from place to place, acting as producer and director for the motion pictures that were created. In his oral history interview, Mr. San Hamel discusses the responsiblity of watching over his men, of sending them out into sometimes dangerous situations, as well as how his travels often alternated between monotonous projects to extremely harried situations.
He left the military in 1970 and started his career working as a promoter for the USO, bringing talent to Vietnam for the troops. When the war ended, he left the promotion business and began to work with an advertising company based out of Michigan—eventually working on several political campaigns in Chicago and throughout Illinois. He would go on to start the DASPO Combat Photographer Association in Niles, IL , and would be one of the head chairs for the annual reunion.
San Hamel and a few other photographers are featured in the Citizen Soldier program: Capturing the Faces of War: DASPO Photographers in Vietnam.
Glimpses of his work can be found in the web exhibit: Faces of War: Documenting the Vietnam War from the Front Lines.