Monday, June 28, 2010

The Wisdom of Distance

No doubt about it, what passes through your lens leaves a residue. Just ask Norman Lloyd, the legendary CBS News cameraman who spent thirty years dragging glass into battle all over the globe. He'd tell you about Bravo Company. In fact, the retired combat photog has just completed a documentary about the American soldiers he followed into Cambodia in 1970. "Shakey's Hill" tells the story of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry regiment's search for a massive North Vietnamese weapons cache; a merciless lunge into the jungle replete with leeches, chopper wash and enemy fire. The interviews are new: Lloyd coaxes many of the men who so long ago buried details of those days to open up. The footage is old: forty years old to be exact, but four decades in the can doesn't diminish the power of Lloyd's incredible combat camera work. Fifty eight seconds into the trailer, a shot pops up that nearly liquefied my bowels. I simply can't fathom the guts it took to acquire that footage. But what would you expect from a 26 year old loner who bought a one way ticket to Vietnam? Lloyd did just that and while he didn't plan to come back, he ended up finding his life's purpose in those fields of fire.
"I would go out for three days, sleep in the jungle, shoot action, take notes, and give the film to a reporter who would then do the story. I'd get paid $50 for three days' work."
But Lloyd's courage didn't dry up after the fall of Saigon. He kept taking assignments others wouldn't; traveling to Tehran, Belfast, Nicaragua, Beirut, Somalia and Iraq. Along the way, he cemented his reputation as a combat photog who didn't flinch under fire. He also made lifelong friends; his partnership with a young Ed Bradley helped the late correspondent distinguish himself early. They continued to work together for 35 years. But during all that time, Lloyd kept thinking about the young men he chased into Cambodia - especially the battalion's youngest soldier, a stammering teenager nicknamed 'Shakey' who never made it back from the hill his fellow soldiers eventually won. Carrying a camera into a scenario where everyone else is armed to the teeth calls for a certain kind of youthful courage. Going back to examine the scars requires a wisdom only distance can bring. Norman Lloyd doesn't need to look at old film to understand the horrors of Vietnam...

But the rest of us could use the history lesson.

(Special Thanks to John Dumontelle for source material.)

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Combat photojo's are crazy. Not foolish, but a bit crazy. Worked with a retired one a couple years ago. If you weren't careful, he'd corner you in an edit bay and tell tales of his earlier life being burdened with more gear than the soldiers he was chasing into battle.

Looking back, I sometimes regret not cornering him with a camera and letting him talk about what he saw.