I was drafted late in 1968 to help prosecute our highly immoral war in Vietnam. Those who desired my presence are probably disappointed that I didn't damage anyone for what they said was our country's honor. I did, however, notice a few other things while there.
Vietnam is a beautiful, exotic place, and I love that! Until I was made a photographer, the military considered me just a dumb grunt. But they couldn't take that sense of place and wildness away.
My first view of the A Shau Valley from a high prominence reminded me of California's Yosemite, though it was much different. I always tried for C-130 window seats on those rare flights down-country. I saw idyllic little beaches surrounded by steepness. Mountains were often pointed and jungled. Hai Van Pass between Hue and Danang had a special attraction for me.
The girl in the photo lived along the coast east of Phong Dien, north of Hue, in early 1970. She'd just found a crawdad, and was happy about it! Today, she'd be 35-40 years old.
I wanted to see this place again, in the absence of war, but I didn't act on my resolution for 28 years. Then, I joined a bicycle tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in January, 1998.
I didn't know much about long-distance bicycling; it was fast learning! Truth is, I found the cycling long, hard, and hot--even in January! But I saw both culture and country up close, where before I'd seen just parts.
I did this trip to see the land. Geologically, I want to find out how this part of the world came together. I met some outstanding people whose homes are on both sides of the ocean. I've done some writing, and I'll do some more. I have photographs from Army days, and now from the bicycle trip.
Years ago, the military wanted me only for cannon fodder. But now, I feel I've turned that draft notice around to my advantage.
Left, Lanny takes a break on the long climb from Phan Rang up to Dalat.
Below, fishing boats moored at Nha Trang.
In the winter of 1999, I went againpartly because there were gaps in my notes and in my photography. It was like seeing another country! In 1998, Vietnam looked like a third-world place. In 1999, there were things being built, roads being repaved, and the country had the look of impending prosperity.
The Vietnamese people are proud of their independent country. Recall that before fighting the United States, France, and Japan during WWII, the Vietnamese fought China for a thousand years. Their independence is what they worked for so long and hard.
A book, Vietnam in the Absence of War, has been completed about all this and is available now, either at this site or from other booksellers across the country and online.
Back to Tom Rampton's pages