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 -
All photographs are Sturkey’s except for
two, which are so noted.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
21. A water buffalo cools off in the
stream in front of “standard rural housing.”
22. Sturkey rides in a
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”
23. A main thoroughfare in Da
vehicles in sight. But, note the rag merchant business on the
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
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
31. We arrive at “Khe
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
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
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
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.