If you have a story call our newsdesk on 01722 426511 or email us. To advertise call 01722 426500.
Reliving my time in war-torn Vietnam
“WATCH your step,” cautioned our guide, “and keep your head down.”
He meant the Vietnam mud and the low height of the SUV’s roof. But oddly it was the same phrase we used decades ago whenever a fellow war correspondent went up the road to get what we called bang-bang stories.
Conflicts meant violence and shooting, and that’s what newsdesks demanded. No bangs, no story.
But that familiar phrase was about the only thing that hadn’t changed in ‘Nam. I’d been invited to join a team from ABC Los Angeles for a reunion with a difference.
June marks the anniversary of the tragic friendly fire incident which resulted in Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s picture of nine-year-old Kim Phuc who’d been burned by napalm in Trang Bang.
Nick and I joined a group of Californian high school youngsters from Santa Barbara who were on a trip organised by World Friendship Tours.
We tried our best to explain to the kids what had happened. But how can you explain to youngsters with phones capable of recording high-definition movie that, in 1972, we’d been shooting on film which was not only un-reusable but needed processing a thousand miles away in Hong Kong?
How could I explain that no, at the time the thoughts uppermost in my mind weren’t of horror, but whether our pictures would be too awful for ITN to show (they were transmitted uncut).
Following Trang Bang, the group visited the Ho Chi Minh City War Remnants Museum. Nick (who’s still a working AP snapper) insisted on a souvenir shot in front of his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo.
Even now it has stopping power. It’s a remarkable picture by anyone’s standards, encapsulating the suffering of war’s innocent victims. But in reality the most shocking imagery on show was of the long-term effects of Agent Orange - the dioxin spray used by the US Air Force to exfoliate the jungle covering north Vietnamese i n f i l t r a t i o n - routes.
The photographs of the truly monstrous birth defects which are still so sadly being suffered were simply awful.
There were lots of questions from the kids. Did I think the Trang Bang pictures had made a difference?
At the time, yes.
Dow Chemicals stopped making napalm and there was an outcry in the American media and in Congress. But in the long term, no.
War still happens.
Would the same photograph be shown today, asked one of the teachers.
Personally, I doubt it.
Child-protection considerat i o n s would almost certainly prevail, and it would be spiked because of Kim’s nudity.
In 1972, we met numerous fellow hacks and lots of American GIs, but hardly any Vietnamese people.
This time, I found the people delightful, the scenery spectacular, and the country still largely unspoiled.
I’d never intended to return 40 years on, but I’m glad I did.
In this section
- Plus ca change...
- It’s not too much – it’s too little
- Whatever became of joined-up thinking?
- Thank heavens for our leaders
- I can't say I really knew Ted Heath
- You want to leave? So go.
- Unsustainable plans
- Keeping our fingers crossed
- Party politics shouldn't come into PCC election
- Getting the message