David Lamb once took a reporting job so dangerous that he had to write his own 300-word obituary before he started work.
He went to Vietnam to replace a journalist who was killed, and his successor also was killed. But Lamb survived, and he discussed his experience with about 40 people at a Silliman College Master’s Tea yesterday afternoon.
The foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times will remain on campus to give the keynote address at the Ecological and Health Effects of the Vietnam War Symposium today.
At the talk in Silliman, the author of the recent book “Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Remembers” gave a brief summary of his work and discussed how life as a correspondent in Vietnam shaped his world view.
Lamb, who reported for six years from the front, recently revisited Vietnam when he was asked to open a Southeast Asia bureau for the Los Angeles Times.
“What an experience to go back 30 years later, to a country that I had only viewed as a battlefield,” Lamb said. “[Before I went back] I had Vietnamese acquaintances but no friends. I always ate American food. I did not care if I saw that wretched war-torn country again.”
Lamb, who described Vietnam as the bookends of his career, explained to the audience how it felt to reimmerse himself in the country. He advised people to travel light and immerse themselves in the culture.
On his most recent visit, he was able to visit cities and meet people that were inaccessible during the war.
“I was able to discover Vietnam as a country, not a war,” he said.
Lamb continues to be a war reporter and recently reported from Afghanistan.
“When I went to Afghanistan, I was scared to death,” he said. “I was hoping that the office would allow me to hang around in Pakistan.”
But he was sent to Afghanistan, where his hotel was run by warlords and there was no functioning government, he said.
Lamb used the experience he gained in Vietnam to help him find information.
“The best thing to do is to latch onto a reporter who has been there for a while,” he said. “You have to use common sense.”
Lamb talked about the risks and challenges of reporting.
“When you read your newspaper in the morning, think how hard the reporter worked to put that story on your breakfast table,” he said.
Lamb became a reporter after leaving his hometown of Buffalo as a young adult.
He drove cross-country until he found a job with a newspaper in Las Vegas.
Although he said he had little experience with international issues, his eagerness to report abroad presented him with the opportunity to write about Vietnam.
“The center of the universe was Vietnam — it was the story of the generation,” Lamb said. “Things come our way. I never had a game plan.”
His career took off, and he continues to report, having recently worked in Pakistan and Israel as well as Afghanistan. And he’s not finished.
“I’m headed for Cairo,” Lamb said. “My bureau feels that the administration is serious about war with Iraq.”