Photographs of Vietnam Today

In June 1998, Marion Sturkey returned to Vietnam for two weeks. This second trip to Vietnam came 32 years after his first. This time Sturkey came not as a combatant, but as a tourist.

Sturkey spent a day in Hanoi. During the remaining 13 days he traveled throughout the former I-Corps (First Corps), the military region assigned to the U.S. Marines during the war. The cities were totally new to Sturkey, for his battles in the 1960s’ had been fought in the rural rice basins and mountains. Out in the familiar countryside, he found that nothing has changed. And deep in the rugged mountains, the terrain looks exactly like it did in the 1960s - beautiful!

All photographs are Sturkey’s except for two, which are so noted.

1. Sturkey, in front of the Japanese minibus used by the tour-group (mostly Vietnam-era U.S. Marines). With him is the group’s Vietnamese bus driver holding a “Semper Fi” decal.

2. In Hanoi, Sturkey stands in front of the remains of the French Prison, “Maison Centrale.” During the war the American POWs called it the “Hanoi Hilton.”

3. In Hanoi at the War Museum complex (somewhat like the American Smithsonian), Sturkey stands in front of a MIG-21.

4. Da Nang, now a laid-back coastal city, sports vehicles of all types. Note the three-wheeler minibus. There are no traffic signals and no traffic control. One only needs (1) brakes and (2) a loud horn - mainly the loud horn.

5. Stop the Cyclo!!! On a city street, Sturkey spied an old Marine Corps jeep. It still functions, and still has the old serial number and “USMC” stenciled on it. But, obviously the white sidewall spare tire is not original equipment.

6. Local Vietnamese wait in front of the railroad station in Hue, the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam. All signs are written in Vietnamese and English, and sometimes also in French.

7. Sturkey stands at the tunnel entrance into the massive Citadel in Hue. This huge fortress, with each wall measuring a mile and a half in length, has exterior walls that are 37 feet thick. Note the obvious thickness of the fortress wall in this photo.

8. Inside the Citadel, Sturkey and Bob Battison stand atop an abandoned tank. Abandoned military hardware such as this has been moved to one location within the Citadel. Here, it is a mini-museum of sorts.

9. Inside the Citadel one can cross another moat and go into the Imperial Palace grounds, the former home of the Emperors. Here, our group stands in front of the massive Imperial Palace (modeled after the Palace in Peking). Destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, it has been totally rebuilt.

10. Japanese tourists are everywhere in Vietnam! Near the Imperial Palace, this group was posing for a photo by one of its own members. Sturkey snapped a photo of them, too.

11. Sturkey stands in front of one of the Imperial Tombs - the tombs of the Emperors - seven miles upstream from the city of Hue on the Perfume River.

12. Cows graze by the remains of the asphalt runway at An Hoa. Except for the runway, nothing is left of this former military base. Thirty or so years before, to the west lay the hostile “Arizona Territory.”

13. Downstream from An Hoa towards Hoi An, the Marines had constructed the huge “Liberty Bridge” across the river. Now, over a quarter-century later, Sturkey stands among the remnants of the bridge pilings. Nothing else remains.

14. Hill 55 had been a battalion base of operations in the rice basin southwest of Da Nang. Sturkey and Bill Maloney stand in front of the Russian-built war memorial that now tops the hill. The inscription - in Vietnamese, English, and French -- reveals that it commemorates the defeat (which may, or may not, have happened) of the French Army here.

15. The fertile “Antennae Valley.” The Marines and North Vietnamese continually battled for control of this remote eight-mile-long valley in the 1960s and 1970s.

16. In the former “Arizona Territory,” still desolate, these Vietnamese children materialized out of nowhere. We shared our granola bars and candy with them.

17. We enter the dirt porch of a roadside house, open to the elements, where the residents sell candy bars and hot soda. The two dogs will soon go into the stew pot, the lady tells us. Note that on the young boy, clothing is somewhat optional.

18. A fancy roadside “seven-eleven.” Poles holding up a thatched roof, with plenty of air-temperature soda and crackers for sale. Left to right: Sturkey, Bill Maloney, John Hunt (standing in background), Troy Mittleider, Bill Stilwagen, Beth Lillie, Jay Lillie, and several Vietnamese standing on the far right.

19. Sturkey kneels with a young child on the dirt main street of a village.

20. Typical main street in a rural village. Dirt streets, wooden buildings, thatched roofs, and no motorized vehicles.

21. A water buffalo cools off in the stream in front of “standard rural housing.”

22. Sturkey rides in a Cyclo, the Vietnamese version of a taxi, in Da Nang. Pedal Power got you anywhere, and the all-day fare was two dollars. All Vietnamese merchants and vendors will accept either Dong or Dollars, but they prefer Dollars. All hotel restaurants have their menu prices listed two ways, “VND” (Vietnamese Dong) and “USD” (U.S. Dollars).

23. A main thoroughfare in Da Nang. No vehicles in sight. But, note the rag merchant business on the left.

24. Driving north on Colonial Route 1 from Da Nang to Hue, one has to traverse lofty Hai Van Pass. The view is striking. About 20 local vendors wait here for the expected Japanese tourists.

25. On the mountain at Hai Van Pass, the old French Command Bunker and brick watchtower still stand guard. Note that both have been pockmarked by scores of bullets.

26. Jay Lillie, Bill Stilwagen, Sturkey, and Frank Gulledge stand in front of the French-built bunker on top of Con Thien (in Vietnamese, the Hill of Angels). Note that you can still read (barely) what some Marine spray-painted over the bunker entrance: “The White House.”

27. The Vietnamese version of the heavily traveled American interstate highway, I-95. North of Dong Ha on the main highway, not a vehicle or bicycle is in sight. Cows freely roam along the side of the road.

28. Jay Lillie stands on the old runway at Quang Tri. Cows graze in the background.

29. West of Dong Ha on Route 9, we stop to allow two Water Buffalo to cross the road.

30. On Route 9 we ride down the main street in the village of Khe Sanh. The street is only one lane wide, but it is paved. Many small-displacement motor bikes line the roadside.

31. We arrive at “Khe Sanh,” the former USMC combat base named after the nearby village. The remains of the runway are still there. This is the view eastward down the runway toward the precipice at the eastern end. Totally surrounded by mountains! How remote! How beautiful! Just like I remember it from the 1960s, a timeless Shangri-La.

32. Sturkey kneels by discarded ordnance that still litters the ground at Khe Sanh. Looking is OK. But those who touch may get a sudden ringing in their ears.

33. At Khe Sanh, three young girls materialize from somewhere. Two carry firewood, and one had a ditty bag of some sort.

34. Sturkey chats (a somewhat one-sided chat) with local children in a rural village.

35. (This is a postcard.) We saw bamboo bridges like this, but none this long.

36. (This is a postcard.) A man and three women harvest rice.

37. We stop to watch the rice-planting process in the flooded rice paddies.

38. This woman does not try to ride this bicycle. It is loaded down with cargo and is designed to be pushed instead of ridden. The efficiency of a pick-up truck, but no expense of operation.

39. Along a dirt street in a rural village, the government has posted a Public Health notice. Some of the Human Graphics on other HIV/AIDS messages are even more explicit. Nothing is left to the imagination.

40. Signs of the war are everywhere. Here, Sturkey examines a firing pit for a North Vietnamese .51 caliber machine gun. The locals have stripped away the brass and have sold it for scrap. But, several thousand of the lead rounds (virtually worthless as scrap) remain.

41. Our group walks up a dirt trail. Behind us is the most famous landmark for Marines who fought in Vietnam - the 700 foot high “Rockpile.”

42. Sturkey stands on the small knoll where he was wounded in August 1966. In the background, a mile to the south, is the massive Rockpile.

43. Standing on the same knoll (mentioned immediately above) is Frank Gulledge. Behind him, a mile to the west, is the three mile long “Razorback.”

44. All through the remote countryside, abandoned fighting holes are seen everywhere. Here, Sturkey stands in one that is partially full of undergrowth.

45. Our Vietnamese driver sports a USMC cap that we gave him. Cap or no cap, he could walk while balancing this water bottle on his head.

46. Inside - yes, inside -- of Marble Mountain, the volcanic mountain from which the former Marine Corps helicopter base drew its name. Inside the mountain, about 200 feet above the flat coastal plain, is this Buddhist Temple.

47. Still inside of Marble Mountain. Some of our more adventurous members attempt the climb to the top. No guts, no glory.

48. Sturkey stands on the pinnacle of Marble Mountain, surrounded by Japanese tourists (young children, mostly) who also completed the climb. The view takes one’s breath away. To the north are Monkey Mountain and the former Marine helicopter base. To the northwest is the city of Da Nang. To the far west are the jungles and mountains. To the southwest one can see past An Hoa to the rugged Que Son Mountains. Directly south lies the fertile rice basin. Immediately to the east is the Ocean. Breathtaking!

49. I photograph John Hunt, Dennis Mittleider, Jay Lillie, and Bill Stilwagen. We have decided to take our chances climbing down the outside of Marble Mountain.

50. Sturkey stands on the beach adjacent to the former Marble Mountain helicopter base. It is, arguably, the most beautiful beach in the world. But, no one else is there. Truly unfortunate.