Battlefield reporters – the souls behind Vietnam War

1When Peter looked up, I asked:

“So what is your favorite picture?”

He stopped for a moment:

“Favorite? No not “favorite”, but I think the ones that impressed me is the ones showing the brutality of wars”

Upon saying that, Peter was referring to the collection of war crime pictures exhibited on 2nd floor of War Remnant Museum, Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. This 35-year-old Museum has been an excellent bridge connecting the gaps of history awareness (or lack thereof) from  both sides. Despite some criticism of being biased, I felt touched by various pictures shown here, taken by the brave men behind the cameras. Today I want to explore their stories, what led them to the battle fields, their impacts on public and the reverse impact on their own lives after fame.

Troublesome Risk-Takers

Tim PageBritish, the danger craving man

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War is hell

I should not have chosen “War is hell” photo to present here since my eyes are glued at this solder’s mesmerizing look and not the tiny sentence on his hat, but it is good attraction leading me to an interesting War Reporter called Tim Page.

 

As the person behind haunting photos of Requiem Exhibitionin War Remnant Museum, a collection of pictures from photographers who died in the Vietnam War, Tim Page is also the inspiration for the journalist played by Dennis Hopper in the famous film Apocalypse Now. However behind the glory he also suffered from PTSD and attempted suicide 2 times. At the later period of life he shifted his focus to portray war veterans and wrote about their stories, mainly as a self-therapeutic act.

Requiem collection portrayed not only brutality but also humanity in this War:

3
A communist being executed in Saigon Street

 

4
An identified U.S. Army personnel wears a hand lettered “War Is Hell” slogan on his helmet, June 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War. He was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion on defense duty at Phouc Vinh airstrip in South Vietnam. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
Vietnam The Real War
In the first of a series of fiery suicides by Buddhist monks, Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, June 11, 1963.The photograph aroused worldwide outrage and hastened the end of the Diem government. With the photo on his Oval Office desk, President Kennedy reportedly remarked to his ambassador, ÒWeÕre going to have to do something about that regime.Ó (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne) FOR ONE-TIME USE ONLY IN CONNECTION WITH THE BOOK AND/OR EXHIBIT “Vietnam: The Real War” (Abrams 2013)

 

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A picture that caught my attention in War Remnant Museum. Is that a man/ woman, why is that one smiling? The strange moment may unfold an interesting story, reserved for next part covering Vietnam War reporters😉
6
U.S Marines carry the injured during a firefight near the Southern edge of the DMZ, Vietnam, October 1966

To be fair, Tim Page is not a “Vietnam” war photographer, but rather an Indochina War & Middle East war reporter. His photography is self taught in the years he was in Laos working for AFP when he was only 17, which earned him a staff position in Saigon Bureau of the news agency in 1965. He was severely injured in war 4 times.

8
Tim Page under fire with Martin Stuart Fox in Vietnam, 1966

What brought  Tim Page to this career was not burning passion at first for either war or photography but rather a string of incidents, notably his near-death experience following a 1960 motorcycle accident:

“I had died. I lived. I had seen the tunnel. It was black. It was nothing. There was no light at the end. There was no afterlife. Nothing religious about any of it. And it did not seem scary. It was a long, flowing, no-color wave which just disappeared. The mystery was partly resolved, all the fearful church propaganda took on its true, shameful meaning. I was content. I was alive. I was not dead, and it seemed very clear, very free. This was the dawning, the overture to losing a responsible part of my psyche. A liberation happened at that intersection. Anything from here on would be free time, a gift from the gods”

That incident might not be the only factor, but definitely an important one which helped Page to swing himself into brutal, exhausting, emotionally turbulent scenes he faced.

In this interesting interview by Talk Vietnam, Page shared about his reason why he came to Asia in the beginning

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– At 17 years of age, you decided to leave UK to come to Asia. Why did u decide that?

  • – I think my whole life has been a series of falling over, accidents, and then becoming lucky. When I was 16 I died. I was in a motorcycle. And I lost 6 liters of blood from here, I thought I was dead. I think when you see the other side, death, whatever this is, ended now, when you come back, you are changed. So I run from England and it was mind-opening.

– So you would go on to shoot your very first war photos eventually in Laos, and you never thought of becoming, you know, a photo journalist, let alone a war reporter.

-In Laos, I lived with a man who became a correspondent for UPI, United Press. The war in Laos, in 1963-1964 escalated, so they sent my friend to Tokyo to learn big time correspondent, and I am UPI’s Bureau chief in Laos. I am 18, I am bureau chief in Laos, right, so the bureau chief in Saigon comes in

“Hey kid, how do you like your job? 3 days later I am in Saigon”

Tim Page’s totally unpredictable life turn brought him to Saigon and War reporting in general, which pushes him to hone his skills as the requirement of the job and exposure brought after that, just like the characters in the book of Carl Newport . It is not the idealist image I have in mind about passionate people who believed in justice and meaning and looking for something to change the world but much more complex, and because of that, much more interesting. The stories of people with extraordinary works but very vulnerable and normal at the same time.

I can’t help thinking the lady interviewing him already having certain story in mind though, a polished plot for television.

The next war reporters I want to explore are Henri Huet from France, Kyochi Sawada from Japan, Larry Burrow from Britain and Luong Nghia Dung from Vietnam. How are their stories different from Tim Page?

 

 

 

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