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Capturing blazing B52s over Ha Noi

Update: September, 13/2015 - 17:48
To the press: President Ho Chi Minh edits a newspaper entry at the Presidential Palace's garden. — VNA File Photos

Vietnam News Agency celebrates its 70th anniversary this month. Its war photographers recalled their time mingling with soldiers and shooting photos amid danger in a writing competition called "My Time with VNA." This submission is by Nguyen Duc Chinh.

Ha Noi was under fierce fire for 12 days and nights (December 18 - 30, 1972) as US B52s conducted carpet bombing raids. Most of the city's residents evacuated. Only the soldiers and those who served the defence of the city stayed back. Among those who stayed were a number of Vietnam News Agency staff.

Day or night, these photographers would rush to the top of high buildings upon hearing the sirens, camera in hand. Or they'd stand ready by the anti-aircraft artillery or missile emplacements, while other reporters stayed in their bunkers by the telephones. Immediately after receiving a report that an enemy war plane was shot down, they were taken to the scene.

Wall of history: Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visits the Vietnam News Agency exhibition hall at the Viet Nam Exhibition Centre to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the August Revolution and National Day. VNA/VNS Photo Tri Dung

At midnight on December 18, 1972 when the first B-52 bomber was shot down in the first US blitz on Ha Noi, Van Bao ran quickly to the scene with his Canon F2 in hand. He took a burst of photos of the still-burning plane and the captured American pilot. He developed the film quickly and printed the photos during the night so they could be published in time on the front page of popular newspapers like Nhan Dan, Quan Doi Nhan Dan and Ha Noi Moi the next day. We were also told that Van Bao could capture images of downed US war planes and captured pilots in Quang Binh, Vinh Linh and Hai Phong. These photos of his were also released by the Vietnam News Agency on its foreign service network for international audiences.

Prepping for battle: Militiamen of the Post and Machinery Factory make long straw plaits to protect gridlines.

The night after, Minh Truong (the Vietnam News Agency) and Trieu Hung (Quan Doi Nhan Dan newspaper) were stationed in separate locations, but after just an hour they filed reports about the downing of a B-52 bomber and the capture of its pilot by militiamen in Phuong Liet and Nga Tu Vong wards.

The enemy intensified their bombing raids against the capital. The war photographers were working even harder. Photos of American pilots were plastered across newspapers early the next day after they were captured.

Counting down: Hanoians gather to see a printed board that gives updates on the number of planes shot down during airstrikes. — VNA/VNS File Photo

During the night, the photographers worked more intensively amid the bombs and anti-aircraft artillery fire along the Red River.

Van Bao was present on Chem Road on the way to Phuc Yen to take pictures of Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles being fired. Ngoc Quan and Duy Anh were stationed in Dong Anh. Doan Cong Tinh took photos of the battle with a combination of artillery, airplanes and missiles on the Gia Lam battle field. During this time, Minh Loc stood by the militiamen at the Hai Ba, Hoan Kiem and Ba Dinh anti-air artillery sites. Loc also went to take photos of the Dong Da militiawomen who shot down a US F-111 warplane.

Skyline: Photographers find themselves on top of tall buildings scattered around Ha Noi to get a better view of the air battle during the 12-day Christmas bombing. — VNA/VNS File Photo

A B-52 was shot down over West Lake, and its fragments were found scattered in Ngoc Ha Flower Village. This was reported by Minh Loc.

After several days and nights, all the photographers met to talk about their experiences capturing photos of the downed B-52s. They all agreed it was much better to take photos of the downed B-52s while they were still burning in the sky.

Ready for action: Militiamen at a factory codenamed Y in Ha Noi rehearse day and night to prepare for the notorious Christmas bombing on Ha Noi during the fierce air strikes on the city. — VNA/VNS File Photos

Vu Ba and Nguyen Dinh Uu were embedded into the anti-aircraft artillery unit stationed at the foot of Long Bien Bridge, a very dangerous spot. Duy Duc stayed for four days and nights in Quang Ba, hoping to capture photos of a downed US aircraft. He found his chance at 10pm on December 27. He took a photo of a downed B-52 bomber that was published by Ha Noi Moi and reprinted by the Berlin Post on February 1, 1973.

Two militia women were seen rowing a boat to the site of the B-52 wreckage on Ngoc Ha Lake.

Return fire: Artillery stations shoot at war planes dropping bombs on Ha Noi and Hai Phong during an aistrike in December 1972.

Photographer Trinh Hai took a photo of a bulldozer that was collecting wreckage in the street in front of Hang Co Railway Station. Dinh Quang Thanh snapped a photo of two girls who were rushing to save people with a stretcher in their hands, and one of a militiaman who was carrying an old woman on his back out of the ruins at Ly Thuong Kiet Street.

Photographers also took photos exposing the US's war crimes against the people of Ha Noi. The disasters were caused by the US bombings on Kham Thien Street, at Bach Mai Hospital, the residential areas of Dong Anh and Yen Vien and Phuc Xa. There are also photos of Vietnamese bandaging the wounded, captured American pilots.

These brave photographers took photos amid enemy raids to show the world that the people of Ha Noi were still living a normal life amid the chaos. They took pictures of power plant workers, markets with fresh flowers, farmers working on their fields and a wedding organised right beside the air-defence artillery unit. Or, the brightly lit cathedral on Christmas night. — VNS

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