Monday, June 21, 2010

Combing Cambodia for Missing Friends

“LET’S rock ’n’ roll,” said Tim Page, once one of the wild and daring young photographers of the Vietnam War, strapping himself into the front seat of a four-wheel-drive van.

“Like Flynn and Stone, three intrepid journalists left Phnom Penh on a hot morning headed for Kampong Cham,” he said, narrating his departure recently with two colleagues.

He settled back for the long ride, past the town of Skun, known for its fried spiders, past hypnotic rows of rubber trees, out to this dusty village near the Mekong River where he believed the bones of two missing war photographers, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, were buried.

It was not an unusual journey for Mr. Page. Now 66, he has been on this hunt for years, determined to find answers and to come to terms with the war that has dominated his life.

Forty years ago, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Stone headed down an empty road with their cameras in search of Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They were never heard from again.

Their disappearance has become one of the enduring mysteries of the war, two young journalists — like movie adventurers — riding their motorbikes into no man’s land and losing a bet against fate.

Mr. Flynn, the dashing and glamorous son of the movie star Errol Flynn, had in fact briefly been an actor, and he brought an aura with him to Vietnam that gave his disappearance at the age of 28 a mythic quality.

“Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had 30 years before as Captain Blood,” wrote Michael Herr in his classic book about the war, “Dispatches.”

“But sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip, overloaded on the information, the input!”

Mr. Page had shared some of those journeys into darkness, and his visit to Pkhar Doung was the latest of many searches in what he called “a 25-year madness” in pursuit of the bones of the man he calls his brother.

Weeks earlier two bounty hunters made a false claim to have found them, reviving interest in the disappearance and spurring American investigators to step up the search for the missing journalists.

Mr. Page said, “I don’t like the idea of his spirit out there tormented,” a wandering ghost that could find rest, as many in Asia believe, only after proper funeral rites. “There’s something spooky about being M.I.A.”

Mr. Page is also seeking a measure of peace for his own soul, scarred like his body from the traumas of combat, from nearly fatal wounds and from the loss of friends, trying to put together what he calls “an enormous jigsaw puzzle, bits of sky, bits of earth.”

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/19/world/asia/19timpage.html?ref=cambodia

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