David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages two Vietnam-era photojournalists. Horst Faas is the Pulitzer Prize-winning former AP chief photographer in Southeast Asia. He’s now AP’s senior editor in London. Tim Page covered Indochina for AP, UPI, and Perry Match. They are the co-editors of Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina.
DAVID GERGEN: Gentlemen, thank you for coming. Thank you for coming. Thank you for this remarkable book. Can you tell our audience what this book is all about?
HORST FAAS, Co-Editor, Requiem: Well, it’s, first of all, a book of remembrance. We tried to set a memorial to 135 photographers that died on all sides of the war in Indochina between 1945 and 1975. In this book we tried to remember their work, the work they left us to read and to see. And this book is brining back to us a time that was so extremely important to the United States and to the world.
DAVID GERGEN: Tim, what prompted the book?
TIM PAGE, Co-Editor, Requiem: The initial concept came from trying to do a more generalized memorial thought in terms of building a shrine or something to all the various friends we’d lost, as well as people we’d never met from the other side, and from other times which we hadn’t witnessed, back in the French times, in the 50's. In the process of doing this I was in Hanoi and got stymied on the memorial front. But they gave me a breakthrough into their archives, and I was able to come home from that rather disappointing trip with 128 images, which they’d donated to the cause.
DAVID GERGEN: You were able to go find the archives for a lot of the photographers who had died there.
TIM PAGE: It was like sort of having--putting an auspicious jigsaw puzzle together.
DAVID GERGEN: So these are then the best photographs as a memorial to the 135 photographers from all parts of the world who died then in Vietnam. Let’s look at a couple of photographs from Larry Burrows, if we might start there. This--tell us about what we’re seeing here, and this was a very important series that came out in 1965 in Life Magazine.
HORST FAAS: This, I think, comes from a most important photo layout that was published during the war. It’s all in black and white. Larry Burrows spent several months with a helicopter unit to wait for action. He accompanied a young machine gunner, Corporal Farley, and suddenly during this action several helicopters were shot down. Farley had to run across an open field under fire, along with Larry Burrows, to rescue a seriously wounded co-pilot. They dragged this co-pilot into his helicopter and under fire, they left the landing zone, and here is a scene where Farley suddenly discovers that the man at his feet is dying. There are several pictures in-between. The most important picture in journalistic terms and in human terms is the last picture of the series. It shows Farley at the end of this horrible day in his quarters sitting on one of lockers and breaking down in tears. Larry was a man who wouldn’t be satisfied in just getting a few bang-bang action photos. Larry followed up on people. He stayed with them before things happened, and he stayed with them after they happened. And that’s what made his reporting so meaningful. This series brought home for the first time what one American goes through in his service in Vietnam.
DAVID GERGEN: Sean Flynn, another photographer like Larry Burrows who died, he was a buddy of yours. You roomed together, I guess, for three years, and--
TIM PAGE: Both there and in Paris.
DAVID GERGEN: And this photograph.
TIM PAGE: The troops in the picture were a Chinese ethnic minority group--Hmongs--who were used--exclusively almost by the special forces as mercenaries, and they’d been put in to take back a South Vietnamese outpost, which had been overrun by North Vietnamese troops. And as they rolled up the hill to retake the outpost, they came under very intense fire, and all around there, all the Western officers were taken out, at which point Sean picked up the charge, arrowflex in one hand, an M-16 in the other and won the attack over the top of the hill, and in this picture Sean’s--one of Sean’s pictures, right at the end of the whole action, the South Vietnamese troop is cutting the webbing off of one of his fallen comrades.
DAVID GERGEN: Sean Flynn, well known as the son of Errol Flynn, the actor, he disappeared a few years later on a motorcycle.
TIM PAGE: On a motorcycle.
DAVID GERGEN: In Cambodia. There were a number of North Vietnamese pictures. As you’ve said, Tim, you found this archive, some remarkable pictures that came from the North Vietnamese photographers as well. I guess they were--and they actually served in combat, a number of them.
TIM PAGE: One has to remember that their principal occupation during the war wasn’t to provide photographs, images, text, to a system of newspapers and wire services that could publish the stuff. It was taken as a means of propaganda to prove to the people that they were winning. So the pictures weren’t so much for information as propaganda. And at the time they weren’t actually--didn’t see any light of day.
HORST FAAS: This picture was the most amazing discovery I made in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. It’s taken in 1963 in a little town called Thanh Doi, at this time just before the coup against Ngo Dinh Diem, town after town and outpost after outpost fell to the Vietcong. I looked up my papers after I saw this photo and I found out that I actually went in with South Vietnamese troops to re-conquer this outpost. I didn’t I carry a weapon. I carried a camera, and here a colleague on the other side photographed with flashlight--and that’s remarkable--photographed with a flashlight--how they’re dragging a rocket launcher, a rocket launcher to this outpost. Tran Binh Khuol had already been fighting and photographing with the Viet men during the French War and went up North to get retrained; he came right back South to continue fighting. It must be said that the photographer was awarded a medal for carrying a rocket launcher straight up to the objective. So he didn’t have only a camera; it was a--
DAVID GERGEN: Of course, this was a war that not only dragged in the soldiers but many, many civilians. This picture by Henri Huet captures it more than almost any one I’ve seen.
HORST FAAS: Yes. Henri was a very compassionate photographer. He joined the AP in ‘65, and he lived until 1971. Henri was a man who went to war like other people go to work, five days a week, and he would always stay out with the troops. He would sleep with them. He would eat with them. He would share their dangers. Henri had a wonderful eye for faces, for expressions, not only soldiers but civilians. And the civilians were at least 50 percent of pictorial output during the war.
DAVID GERGEN: Henri went down in a chopper with Larry Burrows.
HORST FAAS: Henry, along with Larry Burrows, tried in 1971 to get into a major South Vietnamese offensive operation in Laos, climbed aboard a helicopter, altogether, five journalists; the helicopter lost its way, and was shot down over Laos. And his remains are still there, where they crashed.
DAVID GERGEN: This next photograph won the Pulitzer Prize.
TIM PAGE: In ‘66.
DAVID GERGEN: It’s of a Vietnamese mother with her children.
TIM PAGE: The family is escaping incoming fire, trying to get to the friendly side of the river they’re in, or the water they’re in.
DAVID GERGEN: It’s a haunting photograph. This was by a Japanese fire.
TIM PAGE: Kyoichi Sawada, who was--we’re listing in the book four Japanese who were--Sawada disappeared in Cambodia in 1970. He was captured and executed where he was ambushed--at the place. His work--his body of work was mostly for UPI. And he was my second bureau chief when I was there, and he was a very quiet, very considerate man, who’d never--I mean, he was a very unruffled person, and he was almost perfectly Zen in his attitudes to the whole thing--an absolute perfectionist.
DAVID GERGEN: Dickey Chapelle--tell us about Dickey Chapelle.
HORST FAAS: Dickey Chapelle was an old-timer in Vietnam. She had reported from several wars. She was the first woman into Iwo Jima and first woman into Okinawa, and in Vietnam, she was first. This picture was taken in 1962 before most of us arrived. It’s a horrible scene of a very simple execution. I remember the face of the officer. I ran into him in late ‘62 and ‘63, when I covered the war, mostly Vietnamese troops. Dickey--like so many journalists--stepped on a mine and died instantly.
DAVID GERGEN: Was she the only woman in the group?
HORST FAAS: There was a woman on the Vietnamese side.
DAVID GERGEN: This must have been a walk down a line that is filled with so many memories for both of you. The kind of memorial service that we see here was very unusual, wasn’t it?
TIM PAGE: The Americans took up this weird habit, this weird way of running a memorial service with the boots of the slain man, plus their--one of their weapons stuck in the ground--and the helmet’s always on the rifle butts. And it was--it was almost--became de rigueur after every battle to do this kind of ceremony.
DAVID GERGEN: Well, as you say at one point in your book these are men and women from all over the world who came with their cameras and the language they spoke--the only common language they spoke was that of photography. Remarkable photography it is.
HORST FAAS: Camera and the pen. Many of them were also good writers.
DAVID GERGEN: Horst Faas and Tim Page, thank you both very much.