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

July 2004

Dream Walking


Photo by: David Hume Kennerly
David Hume Kennerly, "A Woman Crosses the Street," Saigon, 1971

She crosses a busy street, her best ao dai caressing her body and the wind as she walks, at once demure, covered neck to ankle, and revealed, the thin rayon clinging to subtle curves. She is delicate and shy and unworldly on the outside, but her backbone is of steel, her courage unquestioned.

Early in our war, circa 1965, there were actually quiet days when we would jeep the highway between Danang and the old city of Hue. There each would hire his own sampan and be poled into the middle of the Perfume River to lay back on bamboo mats and be rocked by the breezes.

Above, on a high bridge later destroyed by war, an endless stream of Vietnamese coeds bicycled home from the university at day's end, all wearing the pure white ao dai of the young, innocent girl. All wore their shining black hair waist length, some with it cut square across the ends, others with it untrimmed. They were visions shimmering in the heat, so lovely, so beyond our reach.

I dream of them still and wonder if they somehow survived Tet, survived the war, and gave birth to new generations of girls who bicycle across the Perfume River and into the dreams of young men. They must have survived; they are quintessential survivors, with that tough inner core so fitting a nation born of a revolution in the year 40 A.D. led by two sisters, Trung Tac and Trung Nhi.

The sisters gathered an army of 80,000 to drive out the hated Chinese. Legend says the sisters chose 36 women, including their own mother, to lead their army. They captured 65 fortresses.  Trung Tac became, briefly, ruler of an independent Vietnam. The people enjoyed their freedom for just three years before the Chinese returned, as ever. The Trung sisters committed suicide to uphold their honor.

A Vietnamese proverb says when war strikes close to home, even the women must fight. They fought on both sides during the ten-year American war. In the north, the Communists mobilized more than 200,000 women for service in the regular army, militia, and local forces.

In the south, the other side had its Tiger Lady, unofficial commander of her husband's battalion. The south, too, had its dragon lady, Madame Nhu, and first ladies like Madame Thieu, who departed with suitcases filled with diamonds toward a world of numbered Swiss bank accounts.

David Hume Kennerly won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his photographs of the Vietnam War. He served as White House Photographer for President Gerald Ford from 1973-77 and later worked for Newsweek, Life, and George magazines. Today he is a Newsweek contributing editor.

Joe Galloway covered the Vietnam War for United Press International and is co-author, with Gen. Hal Moore, of We Were Soldiers Once and Young , the 1992 account of the 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. He is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

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


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