The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2003
 
   
 

One Man Is Down. Another Is Up.

BY JACK FULLER

 

   
  Dana Stone, "Special Forces Soldier With Grenade, 1968" Dana Stone/AP  

One man wounded, clenched with pain. The other man's hand clenched around a grenade as he heads for the crest of a hill. Something on the other side of that hill has pinned the unit down. The man with the grenade runs toward it, silhouetted against a perfectly blank sky.  

What the camera cannot see snaps invisibly through that emptiness. But the men on their bellies know. The photographer, Dana Stone, is on his belly, too, because he knows. The air is alive with death.  

Stone's photograph reminds me of Robert Capa's great work. One moment in a war: stark, pure, uncomposed. The plainness of the dark, scattered earth. The empty abyss of the sky. The utter randomness: One man is down. Another is up. Their places could have been reversed. They could have been anyone. They could have been you or I. 

But you were not there, and I wasn't there.  

We did not know how it felt that day to have only the gentle slope of the hill protecting us from what was on the other side. We did not hear the bullets cracking through the empty air or wonder when one of the enemy on the other side of the hill would rise up and lob a grenade into our midst.  

But if we had been there, we would have hoped beyond reckoning that someone among us would stand up, clench a grenade, and run to the crest with it. Maybe the one who stood up would have been you.  

This is something that can only be known in the moment, then never forgotten by those who survived. Yet for all the rest of us, this overwhelming moment might have been just one more terrible event in a multitude of such events that made up one long, agonizing, but relatively small‑scale war. For us, it would have been as if the thing had never happened, preserved if at all by a few names etched into a dark wall. Yes, of course, men stood. Men fell. Men survived. Men died. And life goes on.  

Had Dana Stone not been on that hillside, the moment would have been lost. One man was down. One was up. And the third, he bore witness so that in some small, inadequate way we might know the moment, too.


Dana Stone covered the Vietnam War for the Associated Press, Time magazine, UPI, and CBS. He was captured in April 1970 in Cambodia by the NVA and remains missing in action. Jack Fuller is the president of Tribune Publishing. A former Army Vietnam War correspondent for Pacific Stars and Stripes, he won a Pulitizer Prize in 1986. He is the author of seven books, including the novel Fragments. Museum-quality prints of this photo and others in a series entitled "Under Fire: Images From Vietnam" are available for purchase from www.pieceuniquegallery.com This is the third in a series initiated by combat journalist Catherine Leroy.

   

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