The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
Bound by the Beauty
BY JEAN CLAUDE GUILLEBAUD
GILLES CARON, "173RD AIRBORNE, HILL 875, A SHAU VALLEY,
How could we communicate that? Up against this light and shade
in the jungle photographed by Gilles Caron, the soldiers'
shadows seem petrified by the rays of light. In this
predictable close edge we find a hint of what attached us to
We were fascinated less with the war than with beauty.
We never look at these photographs without thinking about it.
In the medium of black and white and the sensitivity of the
framing we appear to see, as do these soldiers of the 173rd
Airborne, some of the moving Vietnamese "thread." It starts
just behind the trees, we are sure.
A thread? Oh, yes! The infinity of the rice paddies framed by
cumulus-spotted mountains. Their meticulous division into bee
cells which, inch by inch, disciplined earth and water as far
as the horizon. This grid of clay embankments where women
toddle along, shoulders bent under the weight of balancing
pole. Gestures, rhythms. The irrigation buckets held by two
men facing each other, swinging in cadence at the extremity of
a rope. The splashing made by harnessed water buffalo immersed
Other water buffalomonstrous clay statues shelled with dry
mudfollow children leading them by the nostrils. Or they
squat on their backbones like Hindu mahout.
A flotilla of ducks sails over rivers and ponds.
In Vietnam, whether on the road or in the jungle, soldiers
sometimes came so close to houses that they stumbled onto the
intimacy of family life: mud walls, straw huts under the watch
of a barefoot grandmother, small yards with dozing oxen under
Women raised up, a hand on the hip throwing back their conical
hats on the nape of the neck. The gesture, beautiful. This
archaic and pacified universe repeats itself for miles without
beginning or ending. Only the light organizes its changing
revolutions, scintillant intervals or else, as in this
photograph, a stroboscopic alternation of sun and night. It
wasand always isthis indestructible Vietnamese identity that
endures; the substance escaping the storm, the reserve for the
tomorrows of history.
Jean Claude Guillebaud has been war correspondent for
Le Monde for three decades He has traveled extensively in
Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet
republics, and is the author of 30 books, including Return
To Vietnam (1994).
Gilles Caron covered the Battle of Dak To for the French
news organization, APIS, in 1967. In 1970, while in Cambodia,
he disappeared near Phnom Penh. He was 30 years old.
Under Fire: Images from Vietnam,
is a multimedia project
that sells museum-quality prints of exclusive images of the
Vietnam War by top war photographers at
Visit The VVA Veteran
to locate back issues.
E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org