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Apr-24-2011 16:58printcommentsVideo

Vanishing Flynn

The continuing saga of the search for Vietnam War Photographer Sean Flynn, who lived the life his father portrayed in film.

Sean Flynn
Image from a French newspaper article titled: 'The Nowhere Man', about the opening of Sean Flynn's flat in Paris, untouched two decades after his disappearance. Learn more

(BANGKOK) - I called up Tim Page, the war photographer famed for Requiem and other books on Vietnam.  I went to his home page and got his number in the contact section. Then I went on Skype and called him. The man on the end of the line was Tim Page.

I told him who I was and what I was doing. I dropped a name, a colleague of his, and grunt, Tom Stone, who met Sean Flynn in the battlefields in the Mekong Delta, whom I am a friend with. We last  met up briefly in Udon four months ago and Tom Stone visited Tim at his hospital bed in Bangkok after he broke his hip in Vietnam.

Tim asked how he was doing, and I said he was doing really well with his website on Essan and that we were in constant contact on Twitter. His handle is @isaanlife

I had recently posted a link on a new biopic about Sean Flynn , The Road to Freedom, on Twitter (trailer below).  Tom Stone  DM-ed me and said he'd forward that link to his mates "Joe Galloway we were soldiers once and Young plus a whole lot more".( Joe Galloway, a UPI correspondent during the war and the author of the book When We  Were Soldier; Perry Deane Young Two of the Missing."

I said I was so sorry to call up out of the blue. But I told him I was following very closely the case of Sean Flynn.

I said I posted a few stories, and would like him to take a look, and make sure I haven't written anything libelous. I had a feature published in Salem News. The owner Tim King is a big fan of Sean Flynn and has a section of his web site  devoted to the son of Captain Blood.

I asked Tim if he was aware of a certain document, which I posted in my last blog post on MacMillan, specifically 1583.

He said he had 20 years of reports, classified documents and contacts, but "now they are lost forever!" He says he never owed MacMillan money for his private investigation work, but does admit that he hired him to track down payment from a crazy German in Saigon who had used his pictures but never paid him.

I'm not intending to start a feud here, but Dave MacMillan suggested I contact Tim Page when he was feeling better after his accident ( he even gave me his email!) . I was in awe when I spoke to Mr. Page -- I've read Page by Page, and still consider it one of the definitive books on an intrepid traveler who makes good by picking up a camera and entering a war zone.  I was so impressed by his humbleness and approachability.

Last year Tim told me he had an accident in Saigon, and broke his hip. Then he had to have emergency treatment for a heart condition. "I'm just getting better," he said. He added that soon he would get back to his book, Bones of Contention, which he has written five chapters so far. "I don't really like writing." I said that after his accident, Dave was very remorseful, and sees you as a father figure. "Yes, I did get a call from him on Skype."

I asked him if David MacMillan would be in his book, "Of course,  he's a big part of the story." I said that in a recent article   written by Richard Linnett (co author of The Eagle Mutiny) Still Desperately Seeking Sean, he called MacMillan a 'feral'. Yes, he said, but "more like a hump along."

But MacMillan is still adamant he never stole any documents, and having to feed his wife and daughter, he was obliged to take further action. In a recent email, he comes clean on the business deal between himself and Tim Page.  In his own words:

"Tim did owe me money $1000 a week for 5 weeks. We shook on it on the balcony of his hotel room before I took him to the airport the last time we officially worked together on the Bones of Contention. When I asked Tim when he would pay he told me "Sorry mate I can't pay you until I get paid mate, that's how it works"

"He said the exact same thing and agreed to owing me the sum of $5000 dollars in front of my longtime investigation partner Quach Thanh Nhan at a coffee shop downstairs from the hotel the following day".

"To me the money wasn't the issue. It was that he shook on it and his hand shake meant more to me than any contract."

"I also want to make the point that I didn't steal Page's information. You can't steal something that you have worked on. I pulled 37 documents which corroborated Matt Franjolas (MacMillan goes into more detail about this report in an essay he wrote for Salem News) report and handed them to Page and Harris, but I did have one document from Tim which was Matt Franjolas' report."

"I didn't go and do the first mission without Page because he didn't pay me. It was because I had a child and responsibilities. I clarified that to him in the first place. In addition, after he was finished with me, he failed to contact me for nearly 18 months."

"I called Tim 18 months later and asked him what was happening about the info we had worked on together."

"He had just arrived back from Afghanistan and I could hear in his voice he was tired. He told me he was looking at doing something with it, but sometime in the future."

"I just personally believed a little more urgency was required and sent off the documents to the Flynn family to ensure they had the information we had been collecting, which had never been forwarded to them."

(To read more background on this, please read The Swashbuckling 'Bone Hunters' of Cambodia))

41st Memorial Party, held April 6th 2011
Photograph by: David MacMillan

We spoke also about Neil Davis, who I am a big admirer of, the photo cinema cameraman who covered Vietnam War for 11 years and was there when the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the Palace. I never told him that I  added  one paragraph in the Wikipedia entry, about his death. I had trolled YouTube and found a former VOA veteran who gave me Bill Latch's point of view, who was Davis sound man. He died the same day as Davis while covering a coup on the streets of Bangkok on 9 September 1985.

Latch, a former missionary, had reservations working with Davis, and knew one day his recklessness would be his undoing, according to a colleague of his from Voice of America. It was no secret Davis also had his own reservations -always meticulous in the care and maintenance of his equipment, in private Davis questioned Latch's ability to meet his standards. [4] Davis was a victim of technology, which may have contributed to his sudden death. He had always worked by himself in dangerous situations, preferring not to make life-and-death decisions for others. But for the past six years of his reporting life, he was tethered to a soundman[5]

Tim Page, who knew Davis well, said he'd be showing some of his pictures at an exhibition in Los Angeles some time this year.

I also told him how I tried to track down Davis's best mate, John MacBeth, ( he was referenced in Tim Bowden's One Crowded Hour) while I was in Jakarta.

"Yes," said Tim, "He does stuff for the Jakarta Post and Singapore Straights." I told him Macbeth replied in an email, while I was in Jakarta recently, that he was too old and needed his sleep.

That I was too far from his house, so meeting up with him was  not possible. I got the message. I told Tim all I wanted to do was pay my respect to Neil Davis.  But in an earlier email from MacBeth, he said he was working on an autobiography of his time as a war correspondent.

We spoke also about many theories of Sean's disappearance, and the writer Linnett cropped up often.

"I’m now in with JPAC. Not on an official level. More as mates." explained Tim Page, which is covered quite well in Richard Linnett (co author of The Eagle Mutiny)   Still Desperately Seeking Sean

Only yesterday did I follow up Tim's advice to read a 50 page feature The Unredacted Search for the Son of Captain Blood, written  by Linnett  in 2002. He goes into a personal search of Sean Flynn by Zalin Grant, another journalist, like Page, who has a keen interest in bringing home Flynn. Grant  also wrote an essay The Sean Flynn I knew: He wasn't like his dad culled from the only extensive interview of Sean Flynn, while in Vietnam.

About the techniques used for digging for Flynn in this article, Zalin eventually says if he ever returns for another dig, "I‘m renting a backhoe."

MacMillan did just that. Page thinks that he should have been a bit more respectful and at least  asked for permission from the Cambodian government before desecrating a grave.  I said to Page, "but didn't JPAC go in after MacMillan and use  a backhoe just like he did?"  (The Skype line wasn't that clear, but Tim continued with his side of the story.)

But the way he went about it was abysmal, says Tim. He said  that you are dealing with local customs, traditions, and spirits.  "You can't just go into someone's country like that and dig around, " he said, adding that MacMillan didn't pay his Cambodian staff and basically pissed off many people.

Perhaps he did, but MacMillan isn't faized. He's been living in Asia for the past ten years, and speaks fluent Vietnamese and is competent in Cambodian where he now resides. And he wrote to me in an email that " I"m well versed in South East Asian customs and culture." In refute of Tim Page's allegations of his clumsy digging techniques, he says to look no further to a book written by the war correspondent to see that using explosives is also sometimes not acceptable.

"Just read Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden" says MacMillan, with a bit of tongue in cheek."Mr.Page writes in his book that the task of hand digging was impossible so he gave up because and he knew they would not get any results without an excavator or explosives. Excavators are used all over the world for this application even in grave yards. But explosives as a means of recovering remains is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard!"

And in response to MacMillan desecrating a  grave site, he says: "It's getting really old but I will go over this again, a clandestine burial site is a place that a murderer dumps and conceals like garbage the body of his victim.  There are emerging strains of previously unknown antibiotic resistant to tropical diseases emerging in Cambodia due to farmers who are planting on clandestine burial sites."

"The Cambodian people believe that their lives and land are cursed and that the deformed spirits of the dead haunt them until they are removed from the site and given a correct religious burial service and interned into a proper grave. So if these  "spirits"  are disturbed, it wasn't by me but by the Khmer Rouge who killed and dumped innocent people in these mass graves. The dead people's souls can only be freed if their bones are dug up and given a proper cremation with their their ashes put in a resting place of a stupa."

"This is not a pissing contest," a hardened journalist once said, after a heated debate. And I feel like this post has been very heated, and I welcome any comments. There is one last one. MacMillan says that his team paid for all costs of the last dig, from the renting of the back hoes and paying the driver to the labourers who did the back breaking work. "I paid them handsomely," said MacMillan.*

We look forward to seeing Tim Page out in the field again. He says when he's feeling better, he will be back in Cambodia soon to continue his search for his 'brother', and fleshing out his Bones of Contention. And so will David MacMillan, who we know is just as intent on finding Sean Flynn.

(Thanks Tim Page  and David MacMillan for being so generous with your time, and good luck with your search)*

"As far as not paying the locals, we were digging on two sites that were roughly 3 km away from each other. The landowner of the field hospital was $30 per day everyday we were digging by hand with a team we were paying $10 a piece per diem, with the added incentive that if we discovered remains on his site we would give him a bonus of $300USD. But we didn't find anything so the land owner never got his bonus."

"On the site we excavated mechanically we paid the landowner the $150USD that she asked for and the excavator driver $130 for the excavation and and addition $70USD to fill in the excavated clandestine murder site"

"That's the glory of being a videographic journalist we record the facts on film which is timeless and we have documented evidence."

_______________________________________________________

I.T. Brecelic has been writing about South East Asia for the past 2 decades. "I am attracted to the extreme side of life where humanity functions at its best. My features have been carried in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail, Ralph, and publications in Europe, syndicated by Planet Syndication."

The intersection between I.T. Brecelic and Salem-News.com came about due to an interest in the history of Vietnam War Photojournalists Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and others, who remain missing to this day. This is a subject that other Salem-News.com writers like News Editor Tim King have a lot of respect for. Learn more about I.T. Brecelic's work, visit: http://vanishingflynn.blogspot.com/ .




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Flynn admirer April 28, 2011 3:49 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. Brelic, I appreciate the fact you gave Tim Page equal time with Dave MacMillan and that tho their stories differ you very tactfully handled your article by not taking side. Insightful story.

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