Monday, December 24, 2018

a Christmas Eve story...

About four years ago I received a message from my agency office that someone had called, and was inquiring about somehow getting a print of a picture I did Christmas Eve 1970 - an improbable forty eight years ago. I was on my way then to Alpha 4, the old Con Thien basecamp up on the DMZ, now manned by Army instead of Marines, and on the way, stopped in Phu Bai to get the chopper north. As it happened, it was the day Bob Hope and his band of merry makers were performing a USO show for the 101st Airborne Division, and I stuck around long enough to make a few pictures. Among those photographs was a group shot of a mass of guys in fatigues, the faces of the audience of soldiers, all cheering the show in front of them. In the front row are a couple of senior officers, but it’s mainly a collection of hundreds of faces of grunts. It’s a picture for which I’ve often thought “how can I find some of these guys?” I was a terrible reporter in those days (and still am) and almost never wrote down anyone’s name/hometown/age, etc. In the magazine world you could skate by with a good picture and a broad undetailed caption. That has remained one of my great regrets over all these years.
In the note I got, there was a phone number in Illinois, asking me to please call back. Because it’s kind of a pain to get prints made, and takes a lot of hands-on time from someone in the office, we generally don’t get into selling prints other than in the art market, which is, at least, monetarily worthwhile. So it becomes a kind of low priority. I called the number and reached Terry Knox, and got the story of how he found the picture. He first asked to verify that I was really the guy who shot the picture at Phu Bai… and when I said yes, he started crying, and weeping openly.. it was very moving. It’s been so infrequent that I run across someone who was actually where and when I was in a place that it really hit me, too. It felt like the telephone equivalent of reaching our hands out and holding on to each other.
Bob Hope USO show arrives in Phu Bai (Terry Knox in red...)  1970  Christmas Eve

“Especially at Christmas time,” he explained, “I start to think of my friends who didnt make it back. The other night, it got to me again, and I got up in the middle of the night, and went to my computer. I typed “bob hope show phu bai” into google… and was taken to a page with your picture. I started to look at the picture, and realized I was IN it. I got chosen to go by the first Sergeant who did a lottery, and one other guy and I were the only two people from our base to go. I didn’t know anyone else in that crowd.” Spec 4 Terry Knox and I had a long conversation, and I promised to send him a print (I actually sent him 3 16x20” prints) and we hung up, each of us quite happy to have tried to close a tiny circle in our lives. Four months later, while I was on assignment in southern Illinois, Terry drove down and we finally met. Like the rest of us, he looks very little like the 23 year old version of himself in the picture, but the smile on his face, as we met, and hugged, was probably as broad as my own. In so many of the situations I have covered in my fifty years of taking pictures, I am the anonymous photographer, photographing anonymous subjects, and those rare times that we close those circles, it seems that a tiny bit of order has been added to the world.

  • Terry and DB  2015
photograph ©2018 David Burnett/Contact Press Images

Friday, December 14, 2018

Ranger Rules

Is there anything better than being with people you love. NO!  And they do not even have to be there physically.  Don’t you wish that you could take the people you love right out of your dreams and hug them? YES!  

The other night my dream was rather fantastical, and briefly I got to do just that.   It started with my friend Joyce Kravitz throwing a surprise 17th birthday party for me.  As with most dreams there was a tremendous amount information which was true, but not in the right order or time. For example, at 17 there was a surprise party which Andy Hurwitz and Pam once planned. It was on the day Kennedy was shot so the celebration was not what it should have been, but we were 17 so the meaning  of the assassination did not weigh as heavy as it might have had we been a bit older.  The  impact of the Kennedy shooting was much heavier during the funeral.  

Anyway, there was a reporter there, Richard Pearson, who exists, but is an actor who seemed to represent all the reporters during my years spent in politics. It’s funny because I could only see his head —usually in a crowd, as though his body wasn’t attached.  Didn’t want to hug him so it didn’t matter. During or after the party we drove to a river, where my friends, Kerry, Dennis and Andrea Hart awaited our arrival.  We didn’t swim in the river and suddenly we were back at the party where Terry O’Connell was holding court about something political, but not clear what it was— that happens in a dream. As with most dreams, this one was mushed in a hundred different directions.

Speaking of Terry O’Connell, a dear friend who was injured in Vietnam and lost an arm and an eye.  His health has degenerated over the years he is now in a wheel chair but you cannot  think of him as handicapped. Anyway, Terry was always very savvy about politics.  So when the DNC hired us to plan a fly around with all the Democratic candidates in 1984, I asked Terry to help “advance” the stops. There were two planes. On one plane was Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, John Glenn and the Senator from South Carolina who was often mistaken for Foghorn Leghorn (Ernest Hollingsworth.)  That was my plane. Walter Mondale was on the other plane with 4 candidates. It never occurred to me that Terry had never done an Advance.  

The trip went swimmingly but after it was over Terry, who had been beyond stellar,  confessed that this trip was his first as part of an Advance team. ‘Impossible!” I said. and he said “No - you can do anything if covered in  the "Ranger Handbook," Rangers being a special category in the military.  So in honor of Terry, who always maintained a sense of humor, here is what he read:

1.   Don't forget nothing.
2.   Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a  minute’s warning.
3.   When you're on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first.
4.   Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an Army depending on us for correct information. You can lie all you please, when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don't never lie to a Ranger or officer.
5.   Don't never take a chance you don't have to.
6.   When we're on the march we march single file, far enough apart so one shot can't go through two men.
7.   If we strike swamps, or soft ground, we spread out abreast, so it's hard to track us.
8.   When we march, we keep moving till dark, so as to give the enemy the least possible chance at us.
9.   When we camp, half the party stays awake while the other half sleeps.
10.  If we take prisoners, we keep' em separate till we have had time to examine them, so they can't cook up a story between’ em.  
11.  Don't ever march home the same way. Take a different route so you won't be ambushed.
12.  No matter whether we travel in big parties or little ones, each party has to keep a scout 20 yards ahead, 20 yards on each flank, and 20 yards in the rear so the main body can't be surprised and wiped out.
13.  Every night you'll be told where to meet if surrounded by a superior force.
14.  Don't sit down to eat without posting sentries.
15.  Don't sleep beyond dawn. Dawn's when the French and Indians attack.
16.  Don't cross a river by a regular ford.
17.  If somebody's trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your own tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.    
18.  Don't stand up when the enemy's coming against you. Kneel down, lie down, hide behind a tree.
19.  Let the enemy come till he's almost close enough to touch, then let him have it, and jump out and finish him up with your  hatchet.

There are other parts of the handbook which talk about color coding different groups of people and maybe other useful information but these were the most important and the most amusing.

Back to the dream.  A little time after we got back from the river, the dream switched to the a beach outing with old friends, (some alive, some I should have hugged years ago). As is often the case, its difficult to remember the rest.  All I know is that I will always hug the memory of my friends who are no longer in a place where I can do it physically and I will celebrate every New Year as if it is my last!

We’re just sayin’….  Iris