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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 6. 1971

[This is War continued]

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Photo of a soldier running

We crossed three dry rice fields, then hit some full of water. Suddenly we were met by a hail of rifle fire and the water splashed up like fountains. Bullets started hitting the ridge where we were and I lay in the water with my head almost under and my hand holding my cameras on the ridge. This bugger waving the Cambodian flag had brought AK47 fire down on us: a bullet burst my Nikon. I thought I was going to die. Nobody moved. I smelled something on the other side of me and there were three dead VCs, killed the day before, lying in their black outfits face down in the water. Nearby I saw one of their shoes made of car-tyre - "Ho Chi Miner 1000 milers" they're called. The Cambodian flag-bearer lay down beside the radio-operator to shelter under his steel helmet. The radio-operator said "Back up" so I crawled about 300 yards on my back through the water. When I got up to run it was like in a bad dream, my legs were like two sacks of heavy weights. Mortar fire was hitting the ground all round me, the earth was going up in the air and exploding in huge cascades. We waded through another canal with 400 Vietnamese in foxholes watching us: they were all laughing when we got back. The Vietnamese don't respect the wounded, like the Americans do.

"The Cambodians found their way back, one had been killed and some were hit in the face. The marines tried to go round the right but they got clobbered as well. Everybody got hit in the face. Then they brought in close air support, old Skyraider aeroplanes, and dropped two bombs. The Vietnamese Major said "Right ho, we go in now." This time I had a helmet. About two or three hundred yards from the town we dropped into a bowl where the VC couldn't see us. I lay down and didn't move, with Vietnamese running past me at a crouch. Before we knew where we were we were running along a road into the town, one at a time, 400 men of the Crazy Buffalo battalion. As we were going in Skyraiders were bombing the flanks of the town to keep the VCs' heads down.

"Inside the compound there was a French colonial house with a big verandah and a steep red-tiled roof. There were three or four old French aimed vehicles with 50 millimetre machine guns. The Cambodians looked very worried. It was like Noah's Ark, with chickens and human beings, all seemed to be in pairs. The Cambodian commander was very lively; he was wearing an American bullet-proof glass-fibre vest. He was the only one who looked like a professional soldier. It was only 10.10 but it seemed like the whole day had gone by. The marines poured in and took up strategic positions. The Cambodians looked like the gypsy fair on Epsom Downs. Then the VC started dropping mortars and I was ushered into the big colonial house. Wounded men were lying on the concrete floor with blood-stained bandages. I heard a curious wailing noise and a Cambodian indicated '20' with his fingers: I found a huge rice store full of women and children, crying. They seemed pleased to see me. I

Photo of two Vietnamese soldiers

"They brought up a huge open lorry and loaded (he wounded blokes on it. I knew the man beside me had died when his toes next to my face went lifeless and began to move with the jolting of the truck. I looked over at the Captain—his head was being cradled by one man and he was being fanned by another. He died later in the hospital."

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Photo of soldiers loading a weapon

"Two Cambodians dragged out a great big antitank gun, a 106 Recoiler Rifle, and began loading it. It makes an incredible bang. I think they were trying to impress the Vietnamese marines."

"Before we knew where we were we were running along a road into the town, one at a time, 400 men of the Crazy Buffalo battalion."

Photo of soldiers lying down

felt naked in front of them. I pulled out two pockets of fruit Polos. Some kids resented touching me, they thought I was evil, but others began to lick and got the message, their faces became smiling and you could hear 20 sucking mouths. I felt in a way like tearful; I was much happier outside.

"One Vietnamese marine got shot in the balls. That is the most humiliating thing to see. You walk away, you don't want to contaminate your thoughts. Two Cambodians dragged out a great big anit-tank gun, a 106 Recoiler Rifle, and began loading it. They ran this cumbersome thing into the road to fire three or four rounds. It makes an increaible bang. I thought this proved nothing - I hid because I couldn't stand the noise. They took the rifle back to the compound under a hail of cover fire. Then some men ran across the road and dragged a dead VC body back and pulled it about a bit. I think they were trying to impress the Vietnamese marines.

"The VC went on trying to rub us out. The wounded were being dragged into the houses. Then in the distance another marine battalion could be seen coming across where we had been that morning: about 500 of them - tiny black spots all over the plain. It was very exciting. It didn't seem modern, they looked more like a print from the Kaiser's war. By five in the evening they were all in, 1500 men inside the compound. After nightfall the Vietnamese started to spread out from the compound, giving us more elbow room. I suggested to the Cambodians that they find beds for the wounded who were lying on concrete, but they didn't listen so I found a bed for myself.

"About 2 a.m. there was a fantastic crumble: I woke up stiffly and reached for my helmet. Howls were echoing round, then screaming. Two mortar shells had landed in the compound and clobbered the Cambodians who were sleeping on the surface of walls: they didn't know to sleep in holes, like the Vietnamese. They brought in about 10 of them. I walked away again, I didn't want to know. That was the last of the action.

"When I woke up it was sunlight and I could hear birds. Funny thing about war, if you hear birds you hear normality. Helicopters were droning around: all the VC had gone. I looked into a big room where the wounded were: one man had a face like a minstrel show, with white foam all round his mouth, and a hideous head wound you could see right into. He was moaning. Others were asking for cigarettes. Outside a man who'd been hurt the previous night had died of very superficial wounds, probably from shock. He was on a bed under a white sheet; two feet were sticking out beside him, and I saw they belonged to a little girl with dead staring eyes.

"By now the place was a hive of activity so I thought I'd have a walk over and see that dead VC and it was then I found this

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Photo of a man and injured child

Photo of soldiers

pit with two dead men in it. They looked like exhausted lovers in a bed. The man on the left had had his leg blown away and had crudely tried to bandage it. To the others these men were just part of the 'body count': the Vietnamese claimed a body count of 150 VC but I'd only seen about 30; they always overcount on their bodies, they count civilians as well. There were two ordinary criminal Cambodian prisoners who'd been tied up and left out in the open all night throughout the battle without any cover. Now they were untied and made to gather up all the Cambodian dead and heap them up in a funeral pyre and burn them.

"I got the first helicopter out of Preyveng back to Phnom Penh. It's a beautiful town, still very cheap, and life was pleasant there. But there was a certain amount of tension as three American TV men had got killed in a jeep south of the town and cables kept arriving telling journalists not to leave. Then after two or three days somebody at the Roayl Hotel told me there was a battle going on at Setbo, a village 10 miles south of Phnom Penh, so another journalist and I jumped into a car and set off. We passed various road-blocks, oil-drums, barbed-wire entanglements - the soldiers at the checkpoints were very friendly - then on to a green road. After eight miles we saw a load of old buses, like like children's toys, full of Cambodian soldiers wearing yellow scarves. They were a battalion of para-trooopers. It all seemed very casual, more like a beano with crates of beer than a convoy carrying ammunition. There was a slight breeze, and a little spotter plane buzzed above us looking for Vietcong. I felt safe because I was with paras who are always the elite in a war. The commander told me that were we were going there were "beaucoup VC". The bloke I was with went back to town for a press conference with Marshal Ky. I was pleased I wasn't going back to the hotel swimming-pool: I'd told them I'd be back there for tea.

"They unloaded the buses (Russian light machine guns on wheels, mortar-tubes and bipods) and spread out on either side of the road and started marching forward and everything seemed to be great. A few hundred yards from the village it was quiet as anything, there were two gun-boats coming up the river with flags waving, the paras were dragging their equipment along in a lolling fashion. We passed through the village and came to a wooden bridge, and it seemed the VC had been watching our every move all the time, they opened up with everything they had.

"Everybody was afraid, and I thought, I'm going to get my tail out of here because what does one picture mean if it's going to cost you your life; so I thought for the first time my nerve went and I ran off down the road and I dropped my hat and I thought, was it worth going back for the hat and wouldn't it be stupid if I got injured? And I thought, no, blow it, I won't go; so I ran back again to the side of a house. I jumped down in a hole, and there was about 10 men all lying down there and I was simply terrified. I thought to myself, well, if a mortar drops in among this lot they'll get everybody, so I moved out, and there was a truck parked in the middle of the road, a jeep, and I crouched down behind the truck and I thought, what the hell am I doing?

"And then there was a tremendous explosion and I knew what it was right away, and I expected to be drenched from head to foot. This thing had dropped right in front of me. And all my past seemed to come before me, I thought, this is it, I'm going to die; I looked down and saw blood pouring out of my trousers, both legs, and I almost panicked. And I tried to be efficient and I put my cameras in my bag. I thought, I'm going to try and run for it, and I stumbled through some houses and fell down the side and begged these people to take me back, kept saying 'We go, we go.' And they couldn't understand me and they said 'Restez,' and I said 'No, I want to go.

"And I kept putting my camera in the bag and getting all the straps mixed up, and when I pulled them over I was covered in these big red ants and they were biting me to death, and I thought what a hideous situation, to be hurt and nobody understands you, and I really felt sorry for myself. So anyway, I set out to crawl back. I found a lot of men had been wounded, and the medics were rushing about. They had my trousers off, and they kept pinching my legs and then a man rushed from nowhere and stuck a needle in my thigh, and then he went on and stuck a needle in somebody else's thigh, and the confusion was incredible. They then put me up on this filthy old lorry which had all cooking pots and things on and instead of throwing them off we had to try and lay round them. And then they filled the lorry up with about half a dozen soldiers, who were wounded. They backed the lorry back up the road where I got injured, and kept waiting there for someone to be picked up, and to and behold a whole hail of mortars started coming in on the lorry, the driver ran off to take cover and left us on the back and we were all screaming for them to get us out. There's nothing worse than being hurt and being mortared, and when the VC start they throw everything.

"Anyway they threw some more men on the truck, and the medics were treading on my legs and making me holler and there was a man they put on the truck and he was in a very bad way; he kept sitting up trying to fight people who were holding him down. I tried to say, 'tell him to lie down.' but you're stupid at times like that."

Photo of an injured child

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Photo of soldiers

Six weeks ago the helicopter carrying photographer Larry Burrows was shot down over Laos, with no survivors reported. In 1965 Burrows photographed one of the most vivid stories of the war - the tale of a single, bloody mission of Marine helicopter "Yankee Papa 13". Airlifting troops to a suspected enemy staging area, the chopper ran into ground fire as it approached the landing zone. Crew Chief James Farley, aged 21, returned the fire and the chopper successfully dropped off its first load of troops. On its second run, "Yankee Papa" set down close to a downed chopper. Farley tried to rescue the unconscious pilot, but he could not drag him from his seat, and in the end only two wounded crewmen made it across to "Yankee Papa". As "Yankee Papa" took off, Farley turned to one of the wounded crewmen and started to bandage a wound under his right armpit. But blood came from the man's mouth and he died. Aghast, Farley rose and 20 minutes later, after the chopper had landed at Danang, he bowed his head in an empty supply shack and wept.

Photo of soldiers in a helicopter

Photo of a soldier shooting out of an aircraft

Photo of soldiers running in a field

Photo of a crying soldier