Was this before the war kicked off?
It was starting to pick up. America was probably losing one or two planes a week. I conned a job in the agricultural department for 160 bucks a month digging up jungle plants for the American housing compound gardens. I had a crew of Lao workers that would help me. When we got to where we were going to dig they would make a bong out of bamboo and we would all sit around and smoke before we went to work. I then started stringing (running film and copies back and forth, getting film developed, etc.) for United Press International and the war had started to pick up by then.
On one occasion the [radio] had burned out so in order to get a story out I had to ride my motorcycle towards the river crossing—I had the pictures and my mate had the copy. We hired a small boat, took the bike off on the other side in Thailand and rode to the Udorn Airbase. Two days later the bureau chief from Saigon came for his annual visit and said, “Hey kid, would you like a job?” Twenty-four hours later I had a blue telegram in my pigeon hole offering me 90 dollars a week to go straight to Saigon. I arrived lock, stock, and barrel, my motorcycle tied to the front of the cockpit door ahead of the first row of seats on an Air Laos DC-4. I wheeled my bike down the steps and I was in Vietnam!
How long were you in Saigon before heading into the field?
I think about ten days before I was sent to the middle of the country in the Mang Yang Pass where a Special Forces camp had been ambushed. They’d sent out a heavy recon group with trucks, machine guns, jeeps, and things. I was up there for three days. I helped the other GIs pick up all the Americans and mercenaries that had been killed. We ended up coming under seriously heavy fire from Viet Cong hidden in the bush. I don’t remember getting too many good pictures that day. I had no idea what was going on, it was a really weird situation.
What was your first time under fire like?
It was freaky. I had no idea what was going on, I had no idea how military things work; I was so green. I’d been in country ten days, my uniform was spotless, and my boots were still polished. Everyone was screaming military language.
Knowing what I know now, [I realize] Charlie knew exactly who we were, what we were doing, and where we were going. It wasn’t his policy to kill media; the media were doing his job for him by demoralizing the American population. As a matter of fact there was a guy that worked for the New York Times and Time, he was the Vietnamese bureau chief and he would somehow get correspondents out who were captured. After the war ended it came out that he was a colonel in the Viet Cong—the most senior spy they had.