Excerpt from “Vietnam – a Reporter’s War” by Hugh Lunn ~~Mini-Moke~~

This is what Dinh later told me:

‘Saigon police chief my friend, call me and said: “Any Reuters correspondent go to Cholon this morning?” And I said: “Yes, two men there.” And he said: “Sorry, something not good news for you.” That all he said. I said: “What happened Colonel?” He said at least two people killed. Five people in mini-jeep.

‘We went to police station nearby where they reported shot. And I say I must go to the area to see if Bruce Pigott wounded and not dead yet. Police chief very angry with me because he friend of mine. He say: “Are you crazy boy? How much do Reuters pay you to do that?” I said: “Nothing. My heart order me to do that. But nobody pay me. Because Bruce friend of mine I miss him very much. I love him.”

Dinh then set off to walk one kilometre into the fighting, unarmed, to see if his friend Bruce was still alive. Vietnamese refugees poured out – only Dinh walked in the opposite direction. Nobody else would have approached that area in less than company strength, and then backed up by tanks and grenades. And, for the moment at least, no army was going in there just for the sake of a few reporters.

After he and Jim Pringle had been pinned down by fire in this area soon after Tet began, Dinh had vowed never to go there again. Now he walked ‘step by step’ into what he described in a letter to me later as ‘very quiet area’. Then, fifty metres away, he saw the Mini-Moke and some bodies. As he moved closer, suddenly two men ‘black pyjama AK arm’ pointed their guns at him. ‘”Where you going boy?” they say. They were ready to shot, because battlefield going on now. Air strike, bombing, artillery, anything going on, mortar, something like that,’ said Dinh. He told them he lived there and, because of the danger, wanted to get out.

It was not in the Viet Cong’s interest to kill every fellow Vietnamese in sight, and Dinh, being clever, and talking to them in their own peasant lingo, managed to win a brief confidence. The men told Dinh it was all right to clear out, but he had still not found whether Bruce was alive. So he ignored the Viet Cong instruction to go and moved straight to Bruce, whom he could now see slumped over the other side of the Moke.

‘I saw Bruce legs still in car and head lay down on the land, and Laramy sitting back something like that.’ He realised that if the Viet Cong thought he were a friend or relative (his word) they would shoot him. So he asked, ‘Is that American GI soldier?’ and the Viet Cong leader said, ‘No, that is the CIA. We must kill them. We must shoot them.’ Dinh felt obliged to agree. ‘I said, “Oooh, CIA, that is correct you must shoot them.”’ But this renunciation of Bruce hurt him. ‘I looked like crying at that time, but stopped. I quickly stopped. I saw Bruce’s body and I want to cry immediately. But I stop myself. I said, “Stop.” I said to myself, “Must stop.” If I cry then they already know who am I. So I stopped. And I said, “That is CIA then you should kill them because CIA do dirty job in Vietnam. Let me see the body of CIA?”

‘One said: “You can look that body quickly boy.”

Dinh then described the tragic scene. Holding up his left hand with the fingers tightly together and straight, like a priest, he said, ‘I put my hand in Bruce’s heart,’ and he put the hand over his own chest, inside his shirt. ‘And Laramy’s heart,’ and he did the same again. ‘But finished. No, nothing more. And I move back to police station and report.’

Dinh did not check the bodies of Mike Birch or John Cantwell, though he was sure they too were dead. (The autopsy was to show that the smallest number of bullets in any of the four journalists was ten – the most, twenty-six.)

Pham Ngoc Dinh and son outside the Reuters office in Saigon

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Vietnam – a Reporter’s War” by Hugh Lunn ~~Mini-Moke~~

  1. Hugh Lunn was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 1941.
    This happened on 5 May 1968. Hugh Lunn had left Vietnam a few months earlier, with Ron Laramy being his replacement.
    Those who were killed were – John Cantwell, an Australian and a Time Magazine staffer, who was driving; Michael Birch of the Australian Associated Press who was in the right front seat; Ron Laramy, a British national who worked for Reuters, and was on the right in back; and Bruce Pigott, another Reuters man and an Australian who was in the centre.
    Frank Palmos had a half seat in the back with his left leg hanging out over the side. When the shooting started, he jumped to the left, staggered about 10 yards, pretended to be hit and fell. As the Viet Cong were finishing their work, he managed to sprint off and escape amid a spray of ill-directed bullets.

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