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From battlefield to tourist trap

From battlefield to tourist trap
Photo Information
Copyright: Gert Holmertz (holmertz) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 7854 W: 441 N: 15425] (70776)
Genre: People
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 1985-04
Categories: Daily Life, Ruins
Photo Version: Original Version, Workshop
Date Submitted: 2014-12-26 10:01
Viewed: 2858
Points: 70
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
All right, I admit, the title of this photo is a bit exaggerated, but after 36 years in journalism I just can't deny myself the pleasure of a punchier headline.

This is from Khe Sanh, where one of the major battles of the Vietnam war was fought in the first half of 1968. Today nothing remains of the huge American base that used to be here. Instead tourists are coming here to get an idea of what happened all those years ago. It's actually very difficult to get a good idea of anything, since there is nothing at all to see.

Khe Sanh is a fairly remote place in a less touristic area of Vietnam, so it couldn't possibly become a tourist trap on a level with the Fontana di Trevi or the Eiffel Tower. The locals try their best to make a few dong from guiding visitors or selling bullets or shrapnel they find with the help of metal detectors. That is probably what is going on in this photo.

My guide, from the Hue branch of some government ministry, gave me a bullet which he found just by looking at the ground. I had been sent to Vietnam in April 1985 to write stories ahead of the 20th anniversary of the end of the war. Khe Sanh was one of the legendary places I wanted to see, but there were certainly other places that I found more interesting.

Khe Sanh made the headlines of newspapers and TV reports all over the world in 1968, when the North Vietnamese troops in the nearby hills laid siege to the base for several months. American aircraft dropped incredible amounts of bombs on the hills, according to Wikipedia roughly 1 300 tons every day.

Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Vietnamese were killed during the fighting at Khe Sanh, and yet it seemed afterwards the the siege was merely an attempt by the North Vietnamese to draw the attention of the Americans away from the Tet Offensive, which started roughly at the same time. During Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, in 1968 North Vietnamese troops assisted by the southern National Liberation Front, known in the US as the "Viet Cong", entered a number of South Vietnamese cities through quick and surprising attacks, in Saigon even managing to get inside the US embassy.

There are those who even today claim that the Tet Offensive was an attempt to draw the attention away from the battle of Khe Sanh. Well, who knows?

In a workshop you can see a wider view of Khe Sanh, as well as a place where Vietnamese soldiers found their final rest. All photos were scanned from Kodachrome slides.

Here is a larger version.

ourania, Romano46, lousat, emilbo, Didi, abmdsudi, jhm, Graal, annjackman, COSTANTINO, rychem, danos, kordinator, saxo042, kasianowak, williewhistler, PiotrF, Royaldevon, bukitgolfb301, ruisc_pt, mcmtanyel has marked this note useful
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Critiques [Translate]

Hello Gert,
the main photo is a stunning way to introduce the subject of that horrible war -but all wars are horrible. The whole island of Leros was a large battlefield during WWII, the physical scars and the impact on the inhabitants' mentality were huge. Recent generations know little about the events of the war and it's difficult for them to imagine a war occurring in their familiar daily life setting.
It's interesting to think about what brought these smiling people in this empty space in front of your lens. Their common language is gestures, smiles and eye contact. The warm, moody colours are superb. The workshop pictures showing some of the effects that the war left behind are very intriguing. It's striking to see how the local people tried to physically erase traces of such a well documented, recent war. Congratulations and thank you for pictures and notes!
All the best, have a lovely weekend,

Ciao Gert
se devo essere sincero, il titolo non mi sembra esagerato, sia dopo aver osservato la fotografia che letto le tue note, anzi mi sembra che rifletta molto bene la situazione.
Da una parte la turista alla ricerca di souvenir da riportare a casa e dall'altro lo scaltro vietnamita che dopo aver raccolto schegge di metallo con la sua attrezzatura bene in vista.
Ne deriva un bel quadretto che aiuta a comprendere la scena.
A me piace molto sia per le espressioni dei personaggi sia per il paesaggio circostante (il nulla assoluto).
Una bella foto che racconta una storia molto meglio di mille parole.
Ciao e buona serata

  • Great 
  • lousat Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 11756 W: 126 N: 21145] (108879)
  • [2014-12-26 12:11]

Hi Gert,Visit your gallery is always very challenging and it takes a bit of time, but I always like very much to read your notes using the translator, now have become an integral part of your job, almost most important of the pic.Another fascinating story which compensates for the fact that in this place there was nothing left to see, great job as always.Have a nice weekend and thanks,Luciano

  • Great 
  • emilbo Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2051 W: 498 N: 2162] (22616)
  • [2014-12-26 12:26]

Allô Gert!
Avec ta plume de journaliste, tu nous racontes bien l'histoire. La femme semble très attentive à ce que lui raconte l'homme. J'aime bien le WS #1 qui nous montre le cimetière de guerre.
Passe une belle fin de semaine,

  • Great 
  • Fis2 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 9593 W: 157 N: 15499] (124061)
  • [2014-12-26 13:47]

Witaj Gert!
Nice scene from daily life.
Good frame and characteristic colors.
Well done.
Good night

Ciao Gert
un giornalista è giornalista sempre, anche quando non esercita più.
La foto è comunque originale e bella, la turista sembra divertita dal gesto del vietnamita, mentre per lui sembra un gesto molto ricorrente.
Molto belle anche le foto del ws, anche se non sono molto allegre, ma certe documentazioni devono servire anche per ricordare.

  • Great 
  • Didi Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 8687 W: 4463 N: 15271] (61475)
  • [2014-12-26 17:11]

Hi Gert
Very interesting subject with interesting trajic notes about Vienam history
Good scan quality
Best wishes for a happy new year
Kind regards

  • Great 
  • Nicou Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 13813 W: 0 N: 16043] (169294)
  • [2014-12-26 17:59]


quelle image superbe cette dame et cet homme en plein conversation visiter des galeries est toujours une grande aventure quel rendu dans les tons et image.
Bravo et belle journée

Hi Gert
Remember Nam!
Three informative and so peaceful images. It's now gently rolling fields but the carnage and destruction of some fifty years ago is hard to forget when you see the many cemeteries dotted about the landscape. This is a simple straightforward capture which is just right here but the expanse of the eye popping landscape makes us think and remember. Piece of history, a definite atmospheric feel to it and a powerful remembrance, but life does go on, battle finished, mouths to feed. You captured simple but delivering a very effective message. Gone but not forgotten.. Great shot, Congrats.
Have a great weekend,
Best regards

Interesantan tekst o Khe Sanh sa istorijom i opisom ...
Dobar rad sa lepim fotografijama u radionici, lepo pokazano mesto, lepe boje.
Sve najbolje sa lepim secanjem na 1985.

An interesting article about Khe Sanh with a history and description ...
Good work with beautiful photographs of the workshop, demonstrated good place, nice colors.
All the best with beautiful memories of the 1985th

Hello Gert
A very intriguing photograph of the interaction between these two people, who, perhaps would be 'enemies' during the war. The timing is spot on and the expressions stand out. The workshop pictures, the vast fields now empty and the cemetery with more tangible reminders of the great horror, are equally impressive and impactful images to accompany the superb note.
Have a nice weekend and a great new year.

  • Great 
  • jhm Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 24405 W: 523 N: 40828] (175668)
  • [2014-12-27 1:04]

Hello Gert,

Vietnam, one of the most great WARS after WORLD WAR II, but as journalist you known this absolutely better.
All three your pictures are very interesting with the lady as best moment.
What a pleasant panorama view about these area.
Perspective and depth make the picture attractive.
An excellent composition good presentation too.
Very well done, TFS.

Have a nice weekend,

  • Great 
  • Graal Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 9445 W: 268 N: 3085] (103038)
  • [2014-12-27 1:45]

Hello Gert,
interesting scene and remembrance of war in Vietnam. Good shot. Nice composition, colors and superb quality of scan. I like it.
Have a nice WE.

  • Great 
  • emka Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 10131 W: 144 N: 25349] (123439)
  • [2014-12-27 6:02]

Hi Gert,

Interesting scene of the tourist (for me looking like a German) and the Vietnamese guy with the metal detector. Probably he wants to sell the bullet. Have you still this bullet as a "souvenir"? . I was in some places not far from there, also badly damaged and suffering in Vietnamese was of 1968 - the battle of Hue was one of the bloodiest. But I was impressed deeply in My Son, where the ancient Siva temples that survived centuries were destroyed by US carpet bombing during a single week. Good title and not exaggerated. One of the attractions in Vietnam is a narrow tunnel used in war.

Have a nice winter weekend


Hello Gert,
Since visiting Vietnam and Cambodia a couple of years ago I have read various reports about the Vietnam war in an attempt to understand this part of modern history that I grew up with. When it was happening I didn't pay enough attention to the complexities of the war as it all seemed so distant from my life in the UK. Interestingly, just after getting my visa for Vietnam I passed through USA immigration. The officer noticed the visa and questioned me as to my reasons for visiting Vietnam in the future. He seemed genuinely perplexed that I should consider the country as a tourist destination. The war probably remains a difficult subject for the Americans.
Your photo and note are, as usual, very interesting. So TFS a well presented scanned slide from thirty years ago.
Warm Regards, Ann

Bonjour Gert,

J'aime beaucoup cette photo d'archives. La numérisation est vraiment bien faite. Il faut croire que le support argentique était de grande qualité. Une image qui raconte une histoire.

Bon samedi


hello Gert,
une photo qui date et qui est un témoin de l'histoire;
C'est du beau travail de journaliste, bonne présentation.
Bon W-E

Ciaoo Gert, lovely composition with strange couple, nice scene, fine details, excellent clarity, splendid light and wonderful colors, very well done, my friend, hsve a good week end, ciao Silvio

Hello my dear friend Gert Holmertz
and have a nice time
your notes are very usefuldescribing this
place where one of the major battles
of the Vietnam war was fought in the
first half of 1968
your capture is simple but brings
a message because its actually
very difficult to get a good idea
of anything since there is nothing
at all to see

Hello dear Gert,
Another photographic "delicatessen" in your gallery !
Similar scenes can still be seen here in Turkey specially in the battlefields of Dardanelles where people search for reminders of 1915 !
Again perfect pov and layout, very good scan as well.
Many inteesting notes makes your entry a perfect TE job.
TFS and have a nice weekend

  • Great 
  • rychem Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 3350 W: 0 N: 7673] (55973)
  • [2014-12-27 7:52]

This is the classic journalistic title on the first newspaper page, such a friendly meeting, as in your photo, shows kindness, not animosity, very nice scene, well captured
regards Ryszard

  • Great 
  • danos Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 13701 W: 295 N: 27287] (109585)
  • [2014-12-27 12:02]

Hello Gert,
nice the snapshot with the native man with the primitive minesweeper on his shoulder to speak with the woman in the field with the red soil.Informative your note about the war in the country with the two WS to complete perfect the whole scenery.

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year,Danos

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  • Gerrit Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5832 W: 95 N: 9345] (52961)
  • [2014-12-27 12:06]

Hi Gert,
Like in so many places, imagination must do the trick. Being where it actually took place is a strong help.
Have a great time, you and your loved ones,

Dear Gert
A very interesting article about the war in Vietnam and beautiful photos from your archives.
I would not be involved in politics, even though I had a lot to say.
Beautiful double portrait with fine colors.
Fine atmosphere.
Excellent photo work.
Kind regards

Hej Gert,
En ypperlig kombination av en mycket intressant text och tre mycket intressanta bilder. Den röda jorden dominerar alla bilderna och den du valt som huvudbild, har en bra kontrastverkan i de två helt olika personerna.
Ha en bra fortsättning på julen

It's a nice image to go with very informative narrative about an event during the Vietnam War, I was in the U.S. Navy during height of the conflict and during that time we were inundated with news report from the war front. And I think your title is very appropriate and can be applied to a lot of battle grounds from the past wars. Well done, tfs.

Hi Gert
Indeed, looking at the landscape in the main photo and the workshop one would never guess it had once been a scene of a major battle. But I must say, you did manage to take an interesting photo by capturing a situation that says something about the place - both its present and its past.
Best wishes

Hello Gert,
there is a nice interaction between the skimpily dressed young tourist and the man with the metal detector,how times had changed from 20 years before.
Your comprehensive note raises some interesting issues,yet at the time we were probably naive and chose to believe the more palatable information being fed to us.
It`s a fascinating note and a set of images that provides food for thought.
Warm regards Les.

  • Great 
  • PiotrF Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 3978 W: 2 N: 6692] (33192)
  • [2014-12-29 12:06]

Hello Gert,
Interesting scene. Congrats for the post and thank you for detailed notes.Good scan quality of this picture. I wish you Happy New Year 2015.

Hello Gert,

It is satisfying that some good can come out of the battlefield though it is a small compensation considering the number of people who perished. When will we ever learn!,
You must have had an interesting time in Vietnam.
This is an excellent shot, clear and with good interaction between the two figures.

Thank you for sharing your interesting journeys,
Bev. :-)

Hi dear Gert

Very good and unique combination and pairing shot.
I cannot believe that this was taken 30 yeras ago.

All the best and have a good day! Takero from Tokyo

Hello Gert,

How right you are! The topography reveals nothing of the drama shrouding this place 36 years ago. I was one of those people glued to the television, watching the war unfold, with Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather reporting, the horrific statistics coming back to haunt the divided nation. Your report brings to life those unhappy days for the world, for the Americans, and even worse, for the Vietnamese. But I don't mean this in a derogatory sense. You are still a superb journalist.

Happy New Year,


Hello Gert,
Another excellent scan of a good historic slide. It is interesting that the in the thumbnail, the guide looks as though he's begging for money, matching the title for the photo.

Hi again Gert,
It is a great title..
You captured the moment of what was going on.. I don't really know what they were talking, I bet that they could make a few dollars by selling the bullets back the Americans...:-D

  • Great 
  • jmdias Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 10502 W: 174 N: 17843] (79251)
  • [2018-07-15 14:07]


nice flagrant of the candid tourist and the smart hunter of bullets.. the soil in this are looks like ours here in my town. nice image with a great sense of daily life.

take care


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