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Lost over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship

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In 1971, as American forces hastened their withdrawal from Vietnam, a helicopter was hit by enemy fire over Laos and exploded in a fireball, killing four top combat photographers, Larry Burrows of Life magazine, Henri Huet of Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International, and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek. The Saigon press corps and the American public were stunned, but the remoteness of the location made a recovery attempt impossible. When the war ended four years later in a communist victory, ...

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Overview

In 1971, as American forces hastened their withdrawal from Vietnam, a helicopter was hit by enemy fire over Laos and exploded in a fireball, killing four top combat photographers, Larry Burrows of Life magazine, Henri Huet of Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International, and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek. The Saigon press corps and the American public were stunned, but the remoteness of the location made a recovery attempt impossible. When the war ended four years later in a communist victory, the war zone was sealed off to outsiders, and the helicopter incident faded from most memories. Yet two journalists from the Vietnam press corps- Richard Pyle, former Saigon Bureau Chief, and Horst Faas, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer in Vietnam-pledged to return some day to Laos, resolve mysteries about the crash, and pay homage to their lost friends. True to their vow, twenty-seven years after the incident the authors joined a U.S. team excavating the hillside where the helicopter crashed. Few human remains were found, but camera parts and bits of film provided eerie proof of what happened there.The narrative of Lost Over Laos is framed in a period that was among the war's bloodiest, for both the military and the media, yet has received relatively little attention from historians. It is rich with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the Saigon press corps and illustrated with stunning work by the four combat photographers who died and their colleagues.

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Editorial Reviews

Associated Press
A sad, often poignant memoir that speaks to the hold Vietnam has on virtually everyone who's been there.
Metrowest Daily News
A tale of dedication and camaraderie that blends the era with the men...a front-line view through a camera lens.
5/18/03
Rocky Mountain News
You can't come away without having a greater appreciation for journalists who risk much to bring us the truth.
USA Today
The ending is not as conclusive as Hollywood would make it, but it fulfills a pledge Pyle made to "go to that place, walk on that mountain, taste the thick jungle heat … address any spirits that might exist and say to them, 'I am here. We are here. We have come to tell you that you are remembered, and well.' " — Bob Minzesheimer
Wargamer.com
As history, it has much to recommend it...as a personal account the book truly excels...a very moving account.
Publishers Weekly
This deeply moving and personal recollection of the lives and work of the only four combat journalists killed during the 1971 U.S. invasion of Laos is an excellent short history of an important part of the Vietnam War as well as a fascinating insiders' look at the rugged life of civilian photographers during wartime. Former Saigon bureau chief Pyle (Schwarzkopf: The Man, the Mission, the Triumph) and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Faas (Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina) worked together for the Associated Press in Vietnam and were close friends with the men who died, which adds depth to their biographies: Larry Burrows, whose famous work for Life magazine made his name "the most closely identified with pictures of armed conflict in Indochina;" the Vietnamese-born Henri Huet, whose work earned the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Award; the passionate young Kent Potter, who threatened the United Press International "to resign if forced to leave the war zone;" and Keisaburo Shimamoto, a seasoned Vietnam correspondent with the "high-powered" French agency Gamma who had just returned for his third tour of Vietnam as a freelancer. Pyle provides an excellent look at the history of North Vietnam's use of Laos for its Ho Chi Minh Trail to arm its soldiers in South Vietnam, and he shows how its success provoked President Nixon's invasion of both Laos and Cambodia. Most moving is Pyle's account of how he and Faas returned to Laos 27 years later to search for-and successfully find-the wreckage of the dead journalists' helicopter, along with some of their personal and photographic effects, a journey that becomes a tribute to every journalist who covered the Vietnam War. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Combat photography is a dangerous business, as this book shows. At its heart is a helicopter crash on February 10, 1971, during the invasion of Laos by the South Vietnamese. Among those killed were four veteran photographers (Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Kent Potter, and Keisaburo Shimamoto), but the bodies and the wreckage were never recovered from mountainous territory held by the Communists. Pyle and Faas work for the Associated Press, covered the Vietnam War together, knew the victims, and vowed to find out what happened to them. Their book recounts the adventurous histories of the four photojournalists, what it was like working in the madhouse of Indochina at war, and the fatal flight and its aftermath. After a long bureaucratic struggle, an American-Laotian recovery mission systematically excavated the site in 1998. Anthropological and forensic research at the site is detailed here, and the entire text is of course accompanied by memorable pictures. Part personal quest, part investigative reporting, and part military history, this work is suitable for all photography and Vietnam War collections. (Foreword by David Halberstam and index not seen.)-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Associated Press reporter Pyle and photographer Faas reopen a forgotten incident of the Vietnam War: the 1971 disappearance of four colleagues somewhere over Laos. Of the 2,583 Americans officially listed as missing in action at the end of the conflict, four were journalists. Not included in the Pentagon's original count, because they died in a helicopter crash in the Laotian jungle beyond the range of admitted US operations, were four respected photographers: Life correspondent Larry Burrows, whose startling image of a wounded medic tending to another wounded soldier helped move public opinion further against the war; AP legend Henri Huet, a French war junkie characterized by an American field officer as "the bravest man I ever saw"; UPI's Kent Potter; and Newsweek's Keisaburo Shimamoto. In 1998, working with Pentagon forensic specialists, Pyle and Faas mounted a campaign to discover the crash site and recover the men's remains. Much of this well-written, heavily illustrated book documents that effort, but it is much more than a you-are-there travelogue. Pyle wisely uses the occasion to address the combat correspondents' devil-may-care ethos in a time before the military controlled the flow of information from battlefield to outside world. Along the way he offers behind-the-scenes views of such famous battles as the siege of Hué and Hamburger Hill (whose name was a journalist's invention) and pays honor to his comrades, some forgotten, some now famous. He also rightly celebrates his accomplishment with Faas in eventually locating the place where their colleagues had died-a rare instance of contemporary journalism, he writes, that did not rely on "managed events and prepackagedinformation." A solid addition to the shelf of books about the Vietnam War, worthy of being placed next to Faas's own Requiem (1997) and the Library of America anthology Reporting Vietnam (1998).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306811968
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 2/27/2003
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Pyle covered the Vietnam War for the Associated Press for nearly five years and was bureau chief in Saigon from 1970 to 1973. Now based in New York, he covers politics and breaking news for the AP.

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