in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), my assignment editor said the U.S. Navy was
involved in a humanitarian effort of transporting sandbags up the MeKong
River to flooded city of Chau Doc on the Vietnam/Cambodian border.
"Get met the story and photos," he said,
and left it at that.
A few inquiring phone
calls later and I was talking to Navy liaison who told me a shipment was
leaving the next afternoon from a dock in Can Tho and gave me a rendezvous
point and departure time.
I tucked my tooth brush,
some C-rations, cameras and film and incidentals into my pack, slung
it over one shoulder and caught a ride out to the airport.
There, I managed to get
on a flight the 80 miles south to Can Tho where highways 1 and 91 join
in the busy town near the Mekong.
I checked into
billeting and the next morning, I met the sailors and we were all off up
the Mekong 70 to 80 miles to Chau Doc where the Mekong River enters
While, I'm sure I wrote
about it in my story, today, I don't remember the proper designation for
the kind of water craft it was. It looked a lot like the World War
II landing craft you see in the movie "Saving Private Ryan."
Doing interviews with
some of the crew of five the 75 mile or so river trip eventually became
Boredom was occasionally
broken by water craft tips like the crew teaching me how to warm
up my canned C-rations by placing them down below on the engine's exhaust
manifold for a while.
Monotony was also combated
by a heightened fear and readiness when the craft entered areas of the
river where the banks were narrow and we became easier targets for the
enemy who could be waiting in ambush.
But our crew was heavily
armed and ready to return tons of fire at whoever fired at us, and by radio,
we could have air support level any area that fired on us.
In addition, with the
river flooded, the old banks were gone and it would have been difficult
for the enemy to slog through newly swamp land to reach a vantage point
to shoot at us.
It got so boring that at one point
the crew started firing their grenade launcher's into the water and I got
to fire a few rounds off myself.
Some 2.600 miles up river,
the Tibetains call this same flow Dza-chu. It rises in the Tanglha Range
of eastern Tibet and flows southeast through Sikang and Yunnan provinces
of China and through other countries before disappearing into the see at
We finally arrived in
Chau Doc tied but OK late in the afternoon and I photographed a few shots
of sandbags being unloaded and thanked the crew for the ride and story
befor bidding them bid farewell. They were staying for a couple of days,
and I had to get back to Saigon and file my stories and photos.
Chau Doc is
a small city where 4,500 people lived in the 1940s and 75,000 in the 1990s.
Then and now it serves as a major export point between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Here the Vietnamese share
their city with many
Cambodians, Chinese and Muslim Cham minorities.
Nearly every three
years, the Mekong suffers a major flood that closes schools and blocks
highways and it was one of those years that we were bringing the sandbags.
I walked through Chau
Doc for about an hour, photographed a helicopter medic heping a wounded
South Vietnamese soldier from the chopper across a flooded soccer
I was able to talk helicopter
pilot into taking me up for a few minutes so I could get some aerial shots
of the area.
Then I went back to the river and
found a PBR boat that was headed back down river and caught a ride.
The quick and small Vietnam
era version of a PT boat, the craft looked like a modern fiberglas ski
boat but with a machine gun turret at the bow.
It was just getting dark as we pulled
back to Can Tho and I checked into billeting.
It had been a busy and
productive day for photographs.
Next morning, I caught a ride
to the airfield and before catching a ride back to Saigon, I photographed
some Vietnamese prisoners who had just been taken off a South Vietnamese
I never saw a copy
of the stories or photos I filed before going out on so many other assignments
so if any of the crew or any one else happens to have a copy in their scrapbook,
I sure would like one. Thanks.
Also, to learn more
about Chau Doc, check out Thinh Le's Chau Doc website here.
It is his hometown and clearly he knows it well.
up the Mekong