Four Photojournalists Killed During Vietnam War Come Home For Burial


Horst Faas and Richard Pyle at the crash scene in Laos.

Lost Over LaosWASHINGTON, DC - Remains from the crash site where four photojournalists were killed when their helicopter went down in Laos during the Vietnam war will be buried on Thursday April 3, 2008, during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington.

On February 10, 1971, photographers Henri Huet, 43, of the Associated Press, Larry Burrows, 44, of Life magazine, Kent Potter, 23, of United Press International, and Keisaburo Shimamoto, 34, of Newsweek were killed their South Vietnamese helicopter lost its way over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and was shot down by a North Vietnamese 37-mm anti-aircraft gun. Three of Saigon's soldiers and the four-man flight crew also perished in the midair explosion.

The four photojournalists were in Laos to cover Operation Lam Son 719, AP's Richard Pyle says. It was a massive armored assault by Saigon's forces to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi's supply conduit to the south.

Retired AP photographer and picture editor Horst Faas and Pyle, AP's former Saigon bureau chief, the co-authors of "Lost Over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery and Friendship," will be among Thursday's speakers. Their book tells the story of the crash and the subsequent discovery years later of the crash site, and the efforts journalists made to find and recover the remains of their four comrades 27 years after that fateful day.

"It wasn't the first multiple loss for the Saigon press corps, but the deaths at one time of four photojournalists so well-known and respected was a staggering blow," Pyle said. "At that time the list of dead and missing Vietnam war correspondents stood at 50, and would eventually reach 74 at war's end in 1975 - the most news media casualties of any war in the twentieth century."

"For nearly three decades there was only faint hope that this story might be finished some day. But in 1996, the jungle crash site was rediscovered, and two years later - ten years ago last week - a team from the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) recovered camera parts, film, and other items, along with traces of organic material not yet obliterated by time and climate.The remains being so scant, case #2062 ultimately was ruled a 'circumstantial group identification' by JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory.

The four photographers at take-off, photograph by Sergio Ortiz"In 2003, its plan to bury them at the U.S. National Cemetery at Punchbowl Crater, above Honolulu, ran afoul of an increasing demand for space for World War II veterans. It was then that the Newseum's directors stepped forward, agreeing to accept the remains for interment at their new facility then under construction, and making the arrangements with JPAC," Pyle said.

"Burrows and Huet, both winners of the Robert Capa award for 'superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise,' were the paragons of their profession in Vietnam - expert craftsmen without swagger, pretension, or self-proclaimed grand purpose. Burrows claimed to prefer taking pictures in quiet museums but his Leica spoke most profoundly in the war zone," Pyle said.

"Born in Vietnam, Huet had made the war his metier; he spent more time covering combat than anyone else. Potter, the youngest-ever member of the Saigon press corps when he arrived in 1968, was a brash talent with great promise; a close friend remarked after his death on how his work had matured. Shimamoto was a freelancer - smart, introspective and reliable - who had covered Vietnam since 1965."

The Newseum's grand opening is scheduled for Friday April 11. The interment ceremony on Thursday in advance of the opening is part of the dedication of the Newseum's new Journalists Memorial. The interment ceremony will take place first, and then the Journalists Memorial dedication ceremony will take place on Friday, April 4.

The Journalists Memorial honors those who died or were killed while reporting the news. It bears the names of reporters, photographers, broadcasters and executives who died covering war, civil violence or natural disasters, or who were killed because of their work. In all, the Journalists Memorial displays the names of 1,843 journalists, dating back to 1837.

Other speakers at Thursday's interment ceremony include AP's chief executive officer, Tom Curley, and Peter Prichard and Joe Urschel of the Newseum. The event begins at 11 a.m. EST on Thursday at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, in Washington, DC. The event is open to the media for coverage if they've made arrangements in advance by contacting the Newseum through either Tina Tate or Mike Fetters.