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The StoriesDavid

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
Lamb spent 1968-1970, reporting from Vietnam's battlefronts.

A young reporter goes to war:

"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.

american g.i.s, not vietnamese, were Lamb's focus.
American G.I.s, not Vietnamese, were Lamb's focus.

American casualties, American conflict:

"I knew very little about Vietnam, very little about the culture, the history… 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.
The U.S. embassy was besieged by Vietnamese trying to get out.

Lamb on covering the fall of Saigon:

"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 in Vietnam.

david lamb riding bike

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.

western-style weddings are popular in vietnam
Western-style weddings are popular in Vietnam.

A reporter returns:

"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 them."

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 people.

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 drove on."

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.

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