BY JOE GALLOWAY
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
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
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
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
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by top war photographers at