Associated Press reporter Pyle and photographer Faas reopen a forgotten incident of the Vietnam War: the 1971 disappearance of four colleagues somewhere over Laos.
Of the 2,583 Americans officially listed as missing in action at the end of the conflict, four were journalists. Not included in the Pentagon’s original count, because they died in a helicopter crash in the Laotian jungle beyond the range of admitted US operations, were four respected photographers: Life correspondent Larry Burrows, whose startling image of a wounded medic tending to another wounded soldier helped move public opinion further against the war; AP legend Henri Huet, a French war junkie characterized by an American field officer as “the bravest man I ever saw”; UPI’s Kent Potter; and Newsweek’s Keisaburo Shimamoto. In 1998, working with Pentagon forensic specialists, Pyle and Faas mounted a campaign to discover the crash site and recover the men’s remains. Much of this well-written, heavily illustrated book documents that effort, but it is much more than a you-are-there travelogue. Pyle wisely uses the occasion to address the combat correspondents’ devil-may-care ethos in a time before the military controlled the flow of information from battlefield to outside world. Along the way he offers behind-the-scenes views of such famous battles as the siege of Hué and Hamburger Hill (whose name was a journalist’s invention) and pays honor to his comrades, some forgotten, some now famous. He also rightly celebrates his accomplishment with Faas in eventually locating the place where their colleagues had died—a rare instance of contemporary journalism, he writes, that did not rely on “managed events and prepackaged information.”
A solid addition to the shelf of books about the Vietnam War, worthy of being placed next to Faas’s own Requiem (1997) and the Library of America anthology Reporting Vietnam (1998).