In 1970, Cuong, was invited to join the American news
wire service United Press International as a freelance
photographer. He jumped at the chance:
Weary Vietnamese, over
100,000 strong, flee south towards Saigon.
Covering the war:
I traveled to almost every battlefield
in the country. I wanted to use my camera to speak
out, to tell the world that my country had suffered
Cuong covered the Convoy of Tears, the
stampede of refugees and South Vietnamese army deserters
down Highway One, driven from their homes in the final
weeks of the war. His heartbreaking photos of wars
impact on ordinary Vietnamese were published all over
On April 30, 1975 brought Cuong the scoop of a lifetime.
His boss at UPI told him to head to the city limits
to cover the advancing Northern troops and their impending
Cuong rode on one of
the first NVA tanks entering the city.
First photographer into the city:
When I saw the first tanks of the
Liberation Army rolling towards the city center, I
left my car, grabbed my camera and got on the first
tank. The soldiers were very happy , and they welcomed
me as a journalist. They asked me to show them the
way to Independence Palace because they didnt
know the way.
Cuong rode with the victorious North Vietnamese Army
soldiers all the way to the palace where he took
historic pictures of the surrender of South Vietnam.
In the chaotic final days of the way, Cuong had to make
the biggest decision of his life: to stay in Vietnam
or to flee to America.
Over 350,000 Vietnamese
would be sent to re-educaion camps.
photo by: Marc Riboud
On April 30, 1975 leaving Vietnam
would have been very easy for me. A helicopter landed
on the roof of my house. My family left. My friends
left. I decided to stay because this is my fatherland,
and these are my people. I thought peace would now
last forever in my country. We would stand shoulder
to shoulder to rebuild the country and a permanent
His optimism would prove tragically naïve. In
May, the new communist government began calling in all
"collaborators" who had worked for the Americans
of the South Vietnamese regime. Cuong had seen his work
for UPI as a way to document the suffering and strength
of his people, not as a form of collusion with the enemy.
The new government didn't agree. Afraid of being locked
away in a re-education camp - or worse - Cuong became
a fugitive from the new government.
generals sit quietly - like schoolchildren - in
a political indoctrination class.
by: Marc Riboud
Cuong pays for his decision:
I was on the run for nine years.
I ran away to the Mekong Delta, where I bought a small
boat and became a fisherman. But nine years is too
long for a young man like me to live in sorrow. I
decided to come back to Saigon, where I got married
in 1983. Seven months after my marriage I was put
in jail. I spent seven years in a re-education camp.
My son was born not knowing his fathers face.
When I returned home he was seven years old.
Cuong spent his years in the camp writing out tedious
self-criticisms, listening to lectures on
Marxist dogma and toiling away at manual labor. He was
one of the last prisoners to be released.
Today, Cuong runs an
antique store in HCMC.
Cuong's hope for
I have seen too
much war now. I am tired. But after all that has happened,
I still love my country. Vietnamese who live overseas
have the same feelings. I think if the government
really opened the doors, they would give up everything
and come back to their country. And we would go to
the airport and welcome them. I hope that someday
husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and friends
can all reside under the same roof again, happily
Today Cuong lives with his wife and two sons, 18 and
13, in a small home in downtown Saigon. Since his release
from re-education camp in 1992, he has tried to embrace
the capitalist spirit that drives modern Ho Chi Minh
City. Cuong invested in two popular and profitable restaurants,
and started collecting antique Vietnamese and Chinese
ceramics and bronze. In 2001,he turned his collection,
which numbers more than 1000 pieces, into a private
museum which is opened to the public. Upstairs in the
family's private living quarters, photographs from the
war cover every inch of wall space.
You can visit Cuong's museum at 64 Dong Du Street,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.