Posts Tagged ‘vietnam’

World War II vets in San Clemente spend Veterans Day distributing handmade Buddy Poppies to symbolize their solidarity, brotherhood and sacrifice while recalling experiences of their service.


SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Army veteran Sam Thorndyke, 85, of San Clemente is on a mission. He’s pretty sure that if he lives to be 105 he’ll be the oldest living veteran of World War II’s Pacific theater.

On Friday, Thorndyke, a member of San Clemente’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7142, sat with fellow Army WWII veteran George Key, great-great-grandson of “Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key, in front of the Ralphs supermarket off Camino de los Mares in San Clemente to hand out Buddy Poppies in honor of Veterans Day.  Buddy Poppies are lapel decorations made by vets as a symbol of solidarity and brotherhood and a remembrance of their sacrifice.

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Judy Brown of San Clemente accepts a Buddy Poppy from World War II veterans George Key, right, and Sam Thorndyke on Veterans Day. “We are so proud of our veterans,” Brown said.


VFW Post 7142 is handing out Buddy Poppies on Friday and Saturday outside San Clemente’s two Albertsons supermarkets on Avenida Pico and the Ralphs and Stater Bros. stores on Camino de los Mares.

Donations will be accepted to support five veterans-related charities.

For more information, call George Key at 949-498-2489.

“The best part about this is the stories we get to share with people. We hear some great stories,” said Key, who served as an engineer and participated in five campaigns across Europe after landing at Omaha Beach in France.

Capistrano Beach resident Katherine Sgambellone said her grandfather fought as a German soldier in the muddy trenches of Europe during World War I.  She held her hands to her face and covered her mouth, illustrating how her grandfather told her is the best way to light a cigarette on a battlefield without getting shot. Opposing snipers would see the lighted end and shoot for its glow, she said.

The veterans around her nodded in agreement.

Thorndyke was an infantryman from 1944 to 1946 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the campaign to liberate the Philippines  from Japanese control.

Thorndyke recalled being on the Philippine island of Luzon when his captain asked for volunteers as scouts to lead a patrol through the jungle.  A buddy of his put his hand up.

His buddy was shot in the neck during the patrol, though the bullet went through without causing major damage and left just two little scars.

“Don’t ever volunteer,” Thorndyke told the soldier upon his return.

Telling the story Friday, he shared a laugh with Key when someone suggested Thorndyke should have given the advice before his friend volunteered.

Thorndyke held up his hands and smiled. “You just have to accept your fate and hope for the best,” he said.

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Ruaridh (Rory) Stewart (shown at left photographing a car at the recent LA Car show), 37, of Laguna Niguel, knows the business of what makes photos work.  He describes a photo of a Vietcong guerrilla captured by US troops photographed by Philip Jones Griffiths, a Welsh photojournalist from the 60’s and 70’s.


“Griffiths set the standard for what makes a news photo…how he shot events, no one had done before, his approach…everything…students of photography should begin with his books and photos, he started it all really…”



Griffiths published Vietnam INC, and the book had major influence on American perceptions of the war and became a classic of photojournalism with astounding and compelling images.  All qualities that Zuma Press, a full service photo agency based in Dana Point and where Stewart works as News Director, look for when they license photos for magazines like Time, Newsweek and National Geographic. 



This image conveys the tragedy that is war, there are multiple elements to his images that cause the viewer to really pause and look…”


Stewart, born in Perthshire, Scotland in 1971 is tall, lean and serious, but not without a certain kindness in his gaze.  He pauses between points and reflects, seemingly editing his words one last time, just before telling you what he thinks.  It’s his thoughts on photography and how he got started that you realize his greatest trait must be his innate compassion.


“I was always taking photos when I was young and while traveling in India over the summer in 1993, I was doing travel photos, I knew it was what I wanted to do, something just clicked …I traveled all over Asia and it was the people…taking pictures of the people….you just have to go for it and make it work and that’s what I did…”


Stewart’s work at Zuma Press as News Director is what you might think at first to be the standard faire of deadlines, fact checking and the eenie, meenie, miny, mo of where to send which photo to which publication.  Consider that Stewart deals with over 700 contract photographers from all over the world and in every possible situation at any one time and delivers to hundreds of magazines worldwide; there is no doubt that many of the photos you see in your favorite magazines, he sees first.


It wasn’t too long ago that Stewart was looking through the lens and seeing it all first hand.  In 2000 he was selected as Photographer of the Year by the Hong Kong Press for a photo that depicts children praying at an assembly after their Principal has just shared that the Chinese takeover in Hong Kong would no longer allow English to be taught.  Stewart had the opportunity to work for several newspapers and magazines in Asia and traveled extensively on assignments that included sports, politics and earthquakes. 



“In 1999 I was assigned to cover the aftermath of the earthquake in Taiwan where over 2000 people died…the devastation was impressive….to see people in those conditions was humbling…”


Stewart had the unique nuts and bolts experience of literally working through the change from film to digital.  Assigned to cover the fall of  President Suharto of Indonesia in the spring of 1998, he was given a digital camera to take with him along with his equipment for film; that first digital camera cost more than $10,000 dollars and had less than 2 megapixels; soccer moms would scoff at anything less than 6 megapixels today.


“We would shoot maybe 5 rolls a day of the rioting and protests and then return to the hotel room to process the film in the bathroom and use the hotel hair dryer to dry the negatives….eventually I ran out of chemical and so I started using the digital camera…the image quality was terrible but it was that immediate result and even more I appreciated the speed”


Stewart explains that after returning to the hotel and developing the film it still took hours to edit the photos down to two or three that would get sent out to the paper.  He details the methodic orgy of using the bathroom as a darkroom, developing in the bathtub, drying the negatives on the shower rod with the hair dryer, scanning the negatives into the computer, getting a dependable international phone line, usually splicing the lines himself and then spending 3 hours to download 3 images.  The confusion, chaos and imminent collapse of President Suharto’s regime made for excellent and emotionally charged photos but wasn’t the safest spot to be.


“ I was shooting from behind a crowd, towards the government troops…I was getting the rioters throwing rocks when the soldiers began to shoot into the crowd…it all broke loose at that point…there was a wave of people…everyone was scattering, except for me…at one point I looked out over the top of my camera….in front of me just 10 feet away was a soldier…he was franticly trying to pull out his pistol from its holster but he had forgotten the little leather strap that held it in…he kept trying to get it out and then he was working on the strap…it just wouldn’t come…I just stood there watching until a hand from behind pulled me out…an Indonesian photographer I think…I don’t know what would have happened…”


Stewart is in the office now mostly and likes it better that way because now he can pick the assignments he wants to do and at the end of the day he goes home to Laguna Niguel, his wife, Sylvia and his little girl, Ailee, 18 months.


Stewart has had an ongoing assignment at US military installations photographing, the  Army as they train and prepare for duty in Iraq.  It keeps him close to home, it’s safer and it’s an easier commute but it’s not the only thing that’s easy.




 “When we first got the digital stuff…the image quality was not that good and the batteries were huge and we had to carry extra batteries where ever we went…now the cameras are just phenomenal…the point and shoot cameras that we have today take better pictures than what I had in Indonesia…”


Stewart feels that with the quality of digital cameras today, there is no reason why a reasonably skilled photographer couldn’t take a shot where you would be unable to tell if it were color film or not; digital only keeps getting better every day.


“There are some great digital cameras out there right now but, you know, I still have all my film cameras…”


Stewart knows what he’s doing; he’ll make it work out.


Ruaridh Stewart:



Philip Jones Griffiths:









 Zuma Reportage:






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Memorial Day 2004 at Fort Rosecrans Military Cemetery Point Loma In the late 1960’s and up until the mid 1970’s in Southern Orange county there was a heavy military, especially Marine, presence as a result of the US involvement in Vietnam.  It was not uncommon to find Marines woven into every aspect of our lives and as children growing up we were not lost on where these men had been or where they were going.  We saw them in military dress and as civilians, even though as civilians their distinctive haircuts and bearing set them apart. 

 A child’s world is much closer, immediate and in focus; it’s more visceral, although they don’t know what it means yet.  Perhaps it’s because children are that much closer to the ground or they don’t have that omnipresent crush of bills to pay, jobs and bosses to appease, spouses to please and even children to raise


On errands with my mother I saw them coming and going through the downtown bars and pawnshops, in line at the bus station, at church, at the barber and on the beach enjoying the ocean and the sand on our side of the Pacific one last time.  We saw them with their strange tattoos; snarling tigers, crossed swords, hissing snakes, Marine Corp emblems and naked girls in curvy poses. We saw the convoys of trucks and jeeps on the road up close as we passed in their inevitably long, slow moving line.  These were serious men with serious faces and a serious job to do.


I saw the Marine helicopters at recess from the blacktop of our school’s playground as 20 or 30 in a single flight, passed over on their way from ship to shore, cuddled and hovering within the valleys of their base just south of our elementary school.  Trips south to Vista, where my grandparents lived, we passed through the mid-section of the base and there again from the highway I watched as these men prepared for Vietnam; armored carriers, launched themselves seaborne from ships just off shore and made their may to the landing zone, crashing dramatically  through the surf.  Overhead, flying low and heavy came the fat, wide, drab colored helicopters lending care and support to the men maneuvering on the beach. 


Even at night from our beds, if we listened we could hear the dull throaty recoil of the Howitzers and the popping staccato trill of the heavy machine guns at the practice range.  As children we witnessed, heard and saw all of this and although it was common it did not fail to make an impression everyday.


The Vietnam War ended on my birthday, March 31, 1975; I turned 11 years old that day.  At least that was the official close of hostilities for the US Armed Forces.  The Republic of Vietnam held on for a little while, staggering and bending first on one knee, like a wounded water buffalo, and  then slowly giving up the other three.  We watched on TV, along with everyone else, the final moments of the fall of Saigon and the take over by the Communists from the North.  Fresh from the jungle, the mean Russian made tanks rolled through the tree lined streets of the capital.  We imagined the war was over now, even for us, but wars have a way of living on. 


Two weeks later in mid May, eight or so grey and white USMC bluebird school buses, just like the yellow ones we rode everyday, came rolling through the gates of our little elementary school.  From all that we had seen over the years we might have expected to see Marines in those buses but that was not the case.  There, through the windows and at each seat we could see, as the buses pulled up to the cafeteria and the school office, little black haired children, boys and girls of all sizes; they were not speaking English and they were nothing like us. 


The school faculty lined our classes up on the playground for an assembly and we stood and watched as group by group the new arrivals marched off the buses and onto the playground opposite us.  It was quite an impact to see them dressed as they would have been in school in Vietnam.  They wore white short sleeved shirts that were fine and delicate, almost like a blouse and they had the patch of their school over the left breast.  They wore black linen pants and black sandals that clacked and clattered on the blacktop, keeping pace and time with the Vietnamese they spoke. 


The teachers announced the new arrivals and welcomed them, assigning the appropriate ages to the classrooms that corresponded best for them.  I was impressed by the entire scene that day and even more so when I thought back to what I had seen on the TV only a few weeks before and knowing these new students had come out of it all and were here with us.


I am taller now and with the eyes of an adult I can see if it weren’t for those men that lived, fought and died, it might have been me on that bus, in some other country, far away from my home.


‘History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.’ – Dwight D. Eisenhower 




NOTE: This photo was taken 4 years ago on Memorial Day at Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery Point Loma, Where my father is buried.

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