Lamb spent the early days of the war covering
the anti-war movement in San Francisco. But as
a young and eager journalist he knew that the
real story of his generation was happening in
Vietnam, and in 1968 asked to be sent "in
country" to cover the conflict.
Lamb spent 1968-1970,
reporting from Vietnam's battlefronts.
A young reporter goes to
"One day I got a call from
UPI's foreign editor in New York, and I still
distinctly remember the message. It was 'Tell
Lamb his number is up for Vietnam. He should
be there in two weeks.' He said 'Oh, and by
the way, they also want a 200 word biography
on you. Well, I knew perfectly well what they
were asking me to do: They were asking me to
write my own obituary."
Lamb would spend the next two years following
American combat units into battle. It was a dangerous
assignment - the reporter he had been sent to
Vietnam to replace had been killed in action and
his own replacement would also die on the job.
But Lamb managed to make it. His reporting focused
almost exclusively on the day-to-day lives of
the young American soldiers fighting the war.
not Vietnamese, were Lamb's focus.
American casualties, American conflict:
"I knew very little about
Vietnam, very little about the culture, the
nowhere near as much as I should
have to have been reporting on a foreign country
to an American. audience. I was writing about
American casualties and American conflict. And
the truth of the matter is that was what an
American audience cared about. If it had just
been the South Vietnamese fighting the North
Vietnamese, chances are nobody would have been
there covering it."
In 1970, after nearly two years, Lamb returned
to the United States and joined the Los Angeles
Times reporting from various cities in the U.S.
and Australia. When in 1975 it became apparent
that Saigon would soon fall to the Communists,
the paper sent him back to report on the war's
final days. As the panic escalated, Lamb covered
the fall of Saigon as it unfolded, witnessing
first-hand the terror that filled the streets
in the final days of the war.
The U.S. embassy
was besieged by Vietnamese trying to get out.
Lamb on covering the fall
"I think what was on peoples'
minds and was on their lips was the word 'bloodbath.'
There were reports coming out of the Pentagon
that up to 200,000 people might die if the Communists
took over the South
I remember meeting
a young lieutenant, Lt. Anh, whom I had known
five years earlier. He embraced me and said
'Can you get me out? Can you get me out?' I
had now answer for him."
The week before Saigon fell, Lamb followed thousands
of Vietnamese refugees being evacuated by the
U.S. military to Guam. Five weeks after Saigon's
fall Lamb moved to Washington, DC and met Sandy
Northrop, the producer and director of Vietnam
Passage: Journeys from War to Peace; two
years later they married. Lamb would spend the
next two decades as a foreign correspondent for
the Los Angeles Times, covering stories from Nairobi
to Beirut. He put aside the horrors he witnessed
The war ends, Lamb moves on:
"When I left Vietnam, the
war ended for me. I wanted to get on with my
life, and I think a lot of Americans felt the
same way. While they may have remained obsessed
with the war, Vietnam the country they forgot
about. Vietnam the country was frozen in time."
1n 1997, Lamb was given the opportunity to see
for himself just how Vietnam had changed since
the war's end. The Los Angeles Times asked him
to return to Vietnam, this time to Hanoi, once
the enemy capital, as the paper's Southeast Asian
correspondent. With nearly two-thirds of the population
made up of citizenry born after the last American
soldier left, the Vietnam Lamb returned to was
much different then the panic-stricken war zone
he had covered 22 years earlier. This time around,
he focused on the Vietnamese perspective. The
Communist party still governed, but younger generations
of Vietnamese were subtly reshaping the country.
weddings are popular in Vietnam.
"I think the young kids
with their Internet cafes, their mobile phones,
their tremendous search for knowledge, have
moved much faster ahead than the government
has. They aren't setting the agenda yet, but
they are far ahead of the government. And they
get by most of the restrictions by ignoring
Lamb spent 1997 to 2001 based in Hanoi, covering
such topics as the Bilateral Trade Agreement between
the U.S. and Vietnam, the 25th anniversary of
the end of the war, and President Bill Clinton's
historic visit to the country. But his favorite
stories were about the warm welcome he received
from the Vietnamese and the resiliency of the
Lamb gets a new perspective:
"I remember asking a taxi
driver when I found out he had fought for the
North, 'Why don't you hate me?' He was quiet,
and pulled over after a few moments. He said
'We fought the Chinese for a thousand years.
We fought the French for a hundred years. You
were here for ten years. You were a blip on
the history of a proud nation.' And then he
Public Affairs has just published Lamb's new
book, Vietnam, Now; A Reporter Returns.
This is his sixth book.
Other titles include; The Africans,
Random House, 1981; The Arabs, Random
House, 1987 (an in-depth, anecdotal look at the
Middle-East culture, religion and politics, has
just been reissued in paperback by Vintage.) Stolen
Season Random House, 1990; A Sense
of Place, Random House, 1993; Over
the Hills, Random House, 1995.