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Southeast Asia: a correspondent's Vietnam revisited 35 years after the fall of Saigon

Every conflict has its own scribes. Southeast Asia's had a singular take.

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American freelance photographer Sean Flynn (r.), shown working near Ha Tranh, South Vietnam, in 1968, went missing two years later in eastern Cambodia, along with another freelancer, Dana Stone.

Dana Stone/AP/File

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For correspondents on the scene of the past half century of foreign wars, there never was anything quite like the decade of United States military involvement in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from the early 1960s to "the fall of Saigon" on April 30, 1975. Call it the best of times, the worst of times, or both, but journalists had a measure of freedom, and often luxury, in those days that they never had in the Korean War or World War II – and certainly don't see in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Memories of jumping on US Army helicopters or lumbering C-130 transport planes bound for distant landing zones and airstrips remind those who covered the war of how easy it all seemed. One letter from an employer to the Joint US Public Affairs Office on the ground floor of the Rex Hotel in Saigon (the name by which the historic core of Ho Chi Minh City is still known), or two letters from editors willing to vouch for freelancers, were enough to get a press card good for military transport, for cheap dining in military mess halls, for shopping at post and base exchanges, and even for using the Army post office. And hotels, markets, bars, and restaurants of Saigon and other Vietnamese cities offered services at amazing discounts for those who changed their dollars for local dong at "the Bank of India" – the catchall name for the money-changers from India who operated behind the cover of bookstores and offices.

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