A Photo-journalist’s Remembrance of Vietnam

The death of Hugh Van Es, whose photograph captured the Vietnam War’s end, launched a “reunion” of those who covered the conflict

Hugh Van Es spent much of the day on Saigon's streets but saw the line of evacuees from his office window. (Bettmann / Corbis)
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"I've searched for an answer why I stayed all those years," says George Esper, an AP reporter who spent nearly a decade in Vietnam. "What I keep coming back to was a young nurse from upstate New York I saw on a firebase. It was monsoon season. We were under rocket attack. She was tending the badly wounded. Some died in her arms. And I said, ‘Wow. What a woman! Why are you here?' and she said, ‘Because I've never felt so worthwhile in my life.' That's how I felt, too."

"Did Vietnam teach me anything professionally?" says Loren Jenkins, a wartime reporter for Newsweek who is now the foreign editor of National Public Radio. "Absolutely. It taught me never to believe an official. It made me a terrific skeptic."

"I honestly believe those years gave [Hugh] the best memories and most meaning to his life," his wife said after he died in the Hong Kong hospital, never having regained consciousness. The FCC set up a "Van Es Corner" in the bar with a display of his Vietnam photographs. Nearby is a small plaque marking where his colleague and drinking buddy Bert Okuley had a fatal stroke in 1993, a double Jack Daniels in hand. For her part, Annie honored only one of Van Es' two requests for his exit: his wake at the FCC was indeed boisterous and celebratory, but his coffin was not on display and did not serve as the bar.

David Lamb covered Vietnam for UPI and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of Vietnam, Now (2003).


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