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Letters from Vietnam

  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 26 April, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 13 July, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 4 September, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 5 November, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 1 December, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 21 December, 1966
  • Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 23 February, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 26 February, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 27 March, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 30 March, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 7 May, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 13 May, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 25 August, 1967
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 27 January, 1968
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 6 March, 1968
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Hong Kong, 11 March, 1968
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 12 November, 1968
  • Catherine’s letter to her mother – Hong Kong, 5 December, 1968

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 26 April, 1966

Dear Mommy,

 

Three letters waiting for me when I got back. Yours, Catherine, Martinie* to tell me that Swiss magazine will take two color pages on Ann Margret. I’m not so self-conscious about my technical skills any more. Going to decide to work with the American agencies locally, while still sending certain things to Martinie. He’s honest, apparently my friend, and it’s money in my Paris bank account, which is no bad thing…… In the near future I’ll decide whether to stay or go home. I’m leaning towards staying a while longer. If only Catherine would come, nothing’s going for her. Here, life is easier. Please don’t worry about what you see on our good old French television news. As usual, lots of bullshits. It can be checked all the better because I’m here. If you send me a package, please send me my pink trousers and the small navy blue top that you gave me (I think it’s silk). We have to change often here because it’s very hot (right now it’s the hot season). Have you put any money in my account? In any case, Martinie will pay me soon. So don’t worry. Don’t forget to include a bank receipt and a blank check. I think I’ll bring back lots of nice things, I’m looking especially for them in the villages (there is nothing real in Saigon). As for the cats, your photos are exactly what’s on sale in the streets: baby wild tabby cats like ocelots. The breed? Bourgeoise!! They are simply the offspring of wild cats (we’re in the Far East here. You forget that tigers were still hunted a few years ago and in the bush, monkeys and pythons (I’ve never seen one) don’t care about stupid politics, their war is to eat and sleep and between us that’s far enough. The silence…

I think about you a lot. I’ll write to Daddy, thank him for his letter.

All is going for the best, don’t worry.

I’m writing to Delbusaye. Give me Beauté’s address.

Write to me.

 

Also send me a box of Tampax, you never know. Don’t forget to put the money in my account.

Love

Cath

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 13 July, 1966

Hotel Caravelle Saigon [hotel notepaper]

Dear Mommy,

 

I’ve had your two postcards from Italy, which made me smile. You’re back in Enghien, brown and fit, getting ready for your next vacation. Where are you going in August?

I’ve been away a lot lately. Firstly to Da Nang with the Marines. Their press department is the best in the whole of Vietnam. Opposite the river, open-air cinema. The Marines are really great guys. I went on a night patrol with them. Four days on an operation with a Marine colonel: 47, a boxer’s features, and colorful language… with three wars to his belt, plus extensive war medals. We went together on a Candy Fair operation. The report will be in Jean Durieux*’s forthcoming article for Match, probably in August. I’m credited as a free-lancer for this and should get 50,000 francs in my bank account shortly. Work is tough at the moment, but I’m keeping up my spirits. I have visa problems. Tomorrow I’m going to see the chief of staff at the ministry for the interior, recommended by Commander De. I’ve received a letter telling me that the visa from 1 May to 31 August was refused. I’m rather worried. This is not the time to be thrown out of the country. I mean to stay until September: going home by boat would probably be a good idea. I don’t know yet. Write to me,

 

Love

 

Cath

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 4 September, 1966

Dear Mommy,

 

I’ve just received this really funny card. I celebrated my 22d birthday at the Da Nang press office in the company of lots of Marines. I had left Saigon a few days earlier with an AP reporter for an operation near the DMZ. On this occasion he opened a bottle of French champagne when we got back. I only got back last night, Saturday, very tired. A letter from Cath, a card from Marguerite and your mail were waiting for me. I’m getting an iron reputation with the marines. I’m very proud of it. I’m leaving tomorrow, Tuesday, morning for the Delta. Subject: a village a few days from the election. The war seems to be calming down, as always happens just before political events. The Delta is the key region. I’ll stay there two or three days. After that, I don’t know. I’m preparing a few photos of me taken in various locations and will send them to you. I haven’t forgotten your wig, I’ll take care of it too. Don’t be angry with me. I’m always away: back in Saigon for two days, get something cleaned, tidy up, wash, everything is dirty – I don’t pay for a boyesse [servant], they steal everything in sight – sleep a little and then away again. What can I tell you about my social life, other than to say it’s far from my concerns. I would really like to go for a rest at the end of September on an island near Hong Kong. Not at big hotel but at a Chinese fishing village. Go fishing with them, sunbath and do nothing for a week on vacation. I’m thinking about it. I’ll probably open an account at an American bank and so I can deposit my dollars. I can’t complain on that score, I earned $565 in August = 287,000 francs. I should be able to double that by the end of the year. It’s tough, you can imagine, but I like what I do and I can’t see any reason to stop. I can’t see what I could be offered elsewhere, compared to the life I have here. By the way, if anything happens to me, you’ll be informed within 24 hours. So don’t worry if I sometimes leave you without any news. I hope Daddy is OK.

 

Love

 

Cath

Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 5 November, 1966

Dear Daddy,

 

Your letter dated 29 October arrived this morning.  With a bit of luck, the mail arrives quite quickly from France to Vietnam.

The American journalist traveling from the North to the South would most probably be the only one to do that at the moment. Whom is he working for?

Without being a choir child, the American “Bosses” are less thieving than the French – quick and precise, we want good work and will pay for it. With the photographers it’s quite different. One guy tried to have my American press card removed because for three weeks I had taken better photos than he did. He is paid monthly, I am paid a fee for each photo (“free lance”). He made a big thing about it. I’ll spare you the details here. Luckily, everything was sorted out this afternoon, but I was stuck in Saigon for a week without knowing whether my American press card would be renewed. For a week I was in such a state that I could have jumped into the “Mekong”…. As for relations with other people, everything is very superficial, since I am constantly absent, I haven’t had the time to get to know other members of the press corps. Drawn between handfuls of French who are reliving the Indochina war all night long: “When I was in Tonkin…..” the keyword, their faces light up….. as far as I am concerned, I don’t give a shit, what I’m interested in is today. In short, these people annoy me with their sometimes unjustified criticisms. On the other hand are the Yanks, nice enough, but nothing but business. Very dumb when you have to spend a whole evening. Clearly, you end up talking about the “Indochina war, de Gaulle (with his 76 year old) and you evidently end up fighting about a Charles who put 15,000 French people in an awkward situation because of his grudge. And me too sometimes. The moral is, I who had voted Tixier Vignancour,* sometimes find myself facing dumb remarks from the Americans (let’s talk about these poisoned arrows), because I’m situated 18,000 km from Paris, I’m sometimes obliged to speak up for him. It’s too much. I’m quaking with rage.

I find all this very tiresome, I generally stay at home the two nights I spend in Saigon between two operations. That’s it.

 

Write to me

 

Love and kisses to both of you

 

Cath

Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 1 December, 1966

Dear Daddy,

 

I’ll finish my week in Saigon, I’ve been very tired lately. Furthermore, I needed to renew my credentials (press card): AP and UPI have given me letters for it. The American press Department will give me my card in 2 or 3 days. Being French brings you lots of problems (on 1 September you ask for a 6-month visa, you get approval for a 3-month visa on 30 November, i.e. valid up to 1 December….). It’s been going on for nine months… Yesterday I met the Vietnamese boss of the security ministry. It will be sorted, but it kills me, you have to run around everywhere, wait, explain your good faith. I think this time will be good, I have to come back with more papers tomorrow.

That’s the latest news. I think the next six months will be very important for me. I’ve shown my photos to the boss of Time, who advised me, if I have good stuff, to send it to Life. I think I’m going on an operation in the week with the 1st cavalry, known as “First Cav,“ in the high plateaux for about a week.

After that I will probably go back to the Marines.

Very warm hugs and kisses

 

Cathy

 

When is the mysterious man arriving and why don’t you tell me his name?

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 21 December, 1966

Dearest Mommy,

 

I’ve just missed Joe Masraff* and I’m really sorry. I spent 5 days with the American paras (Airborne) in a company a few kilometers from the Cambodia border not far from Kontum. The jungle is the thickest in Vietnam, mountains, mountains…. mountains… It was impossible for me to get back any sooner and Masraff is in the plane as I’m writing…

I’m really very happy and you can easily guess why… I’m going to be made an honorary member of the 101st Airborne. I am the only member of the whole press here who will jump during the first effective combat jump by American troops in Vietnam on 13 January… The green light was given by Colonel Collins (the son of General Collins) head of the American army for several years. I’m jumping with joy. First I have to jump in early January on an exercise with Alpha Company…

The second piece of good news: a letter from Black Star* that I translate found that I am a very good photographer. They want me to send them photos… unfortunately they have two staff photographers here and can’t give me any ideas for a story. I have to find them myself. On the other hand, I want to buy myself a third camera soon and I really need some money. Can you send a check with a banker’s receipt, Urgent… I promise to send you a package in early January, or to give it to someone I know who is going back to France soon. ..

Everybody in the office is in a good mood. I’m dirty, my battle jackets are in my bag… I’m wearing trousers and a blouse that are almost khaki color…. to be clean in the Off Mess I let go my size 7 jungle boots…

I’m going to the Continental to post your letter and then going home to change.

 

Warm hugs to both of you as the year draws to a close. I’ve just received a charming letter from Mrs Delbushayes and Mrs Samuel Grang, Catherine’s mother, who I haven’t had any news from for over a month… Cathy’s mother also included a small card. I had sent them season’s greetings in early December.

I’ve written to Michel, Cathy Danvers, Marguerite while I have still not received anything from them.

Write ….. Kisses to you and to Daddy

 

CLeroy

Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 23 February, 1967

Dear Daddy,

 

I jumped [in a parachute] yesterday 22 February with the 173d Airborne. I am the first woman to jump in Vietnam during this first operational jump by American parachutists since the war began…

I was supposed to be the only member of the press corps (over 400) to jump, but at the last minute 2 other guys jumped too.

My good friend, General Deane*, had personally intervened with Westmoreland*. In short, it was a success.

700 men were dropped in less than ten minutes, 3 miles from the Cambodia border. I was in the 4th plane (C130, 60 men), the 7th to jump on its first flight.

Associated Press bought my story, plus the photos in black and white. Life, I hope will buy several color pictures. As for Match, they were sent a portfolio of color pictures of Cathy with a parachute before we took off….

I’m very proud to have jumped with the Americans here, it’s a big professional success in every way.

I now know that I will be able to work in the United Sates one day without too much problem. I just have to carry on the way I’m doing now. At the end of the year I will submit my best photos to the jury for Pulitzer and other major prizes, via AP. Maybe I stand a chance of winning a prize.

I’ve always thought I should succeed because I never gave in. I will be made an honorary member of this brigade after the end of the operation. There will be a big ceremony to hand out the certificates for parachute jumping in combat. After that I will have to go through an initiation rite to become an honorary member. I’m a bit afraid, because they won’t do me any favors…..

I include a wire photo.

 

Warm kisses, and to Mommy too

 

C Leroy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 26 February, 1967

Dear Mommy

 

I wrote to you from Saigon yesterday, but this letter will reach you sooner, as it is posted in Paris by a journalist. All’s fine. A big professional success. Received letter given to 5 Colonnes* [French TV news magazine]. I’ve just got back from Hué – 5 days with the Marines – big battle – good photos – I’m staying in Saigon for a week. Working on a tape for Look – super story.

 

Don’t worry, everything’s fine.

 

Big kisses

 

Cathy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 27 March, 1967

Dear Mommy

 

I got back to Saigon on Saturday with some good photos after a 5-day operation near the Cambodian border.

I found 2 letters waiting for me, one from Daddy and my exit visa for Singapore.

I had an important meeting yesterday evening with an American writing a photo book on Vietnam in color (he knows Mac Namara)* and it was on his advice that he came to Vietnam. The book will be more or less published by the American State Department. In short, several photographers are coming from the United States in the next month to start working on it.

I had an envelope with all my best photos with me,  around forty of them. We dine together plus one of his friends, a colonel, Westmoreland*’s right-hand man, spend a pleasant evening together (he is satisfied with my work, wants me to shoot a few color rolls, if it’s good I’ll be given a contract to work for him on this book), I go home in a taxi, the driver wants to steal my bag, I try to get out of the car, the inside door handles are filed, impossible to get out but from the front, he was gesticulating outside the car at this time, I slap him, 2 Vietnamese were going past, the three of them are in close conversation, I go away, go home, sleep, this morning I realize that the envelope with my photos were still in the cab…. I’m completely distraught…. Horst Faas* tells me he can get some of them back from the archives in New York (there are about 1 million photos a year on Vietnam….) so I think I’m really out of luck. I had thought I could use these photos for a book, now I can’t even show my work, everything is lost or almost. I’m in a completely catastrophic state. I cried all morning.

I’m going to see the transport manager, give him 100 dollars to handle the matter, in short I’m ready to pay.

I’m going to write a check for 500 francs for a Frenchman, make sure the money is in my account. I’m going to Singapore at the end of next week, first I have to deal with my house move, get money back from all over the place, do the paperwork to renew my visa, go on an operation with the Marines.

I’m leaving with 800 dollars, 4000 francs… so I’ll send you some nice things.  Following your two letters, I was at CBS this morning. The Vietnamese shipper told me they had sent the case to Paris a week ago. Phone them, it should have arrived.

 

Write to me soon, warm hugs to both of you.

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 30 March, 1967

Dear Mommy

 

I’ve just had an assignment from Saturday on for 6 days for the London Mirror, thanks to Horst Faas*.

I contacted their reporter, she’s a rather comical English woman (a bit crazy),  So I’ll start working for her on Saturday for 500 francs a day…. much more than I had thought.

I feel much more rested. I’ve been in Saigon for three days and deal with my personal stuff.

My departure is set for 10 April. I’ll send you a package, it’s a promise, with several things for you and for Michel’s children.

I’ve met a nice Colonel. He is in Saigon, one of Westmoreland*’s advisors. We dined together yesterday and he gave me a funny book about love and a single cat, it’s really very funny and I’m sorry there’s no French version.

I have nothing in particular to tell you.

 

Kisses

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 7 May, 1967

Dear Mommy

 

I enclose 2 photos of me. I’m leaving with the Marines again in 2 or 3 days. I was on the front pages of all the American papers and my photos are all published with my signature.

I’m intending to go to N York in July and to contact the leading agencies who may be able to put me on assignment on a monthly basis (a week at 100 dollars a day). As far as the rest is concerned, I will continue working for AP, which will probably mean I can win a prize by the end of the year.

I’ve made a name for myself now and I have a good chance of getting what I want.

I’m going to set my earnings aside in the hope of being able to funding it myself. It will clearly cost me at least 750,000 francs, but I think I’ll manage it. I’m pleased, everything is going well now, everything seems very simplified…..

I have plenty of projects and am in good health, am well rested after my stay in Malaysia. I’m much calmer and relaxed.

I had some telegrams from several guys in Paris congratulating me.

Nothing from Catherine, I’m so disappointed. You can call her some day and tell her.

I bought a Japanese stereo record player in Singapore, runs on batteries, great. And a wig (me too), the trouble is it’s not the same color as my hair. It’s like your hair, but a bit lighter. My hair has been completely bleached by the sun, with big platinum colored strands.

You’ve probably received my packet from Singapore. I hope Michel’s children like the small tunics I sent them.

I can’t think of anything else to tell you. I enclose a negative of me that you can have processed. Today is Sunday and the film labs work at a much slower pace.

 

Warm hugs to both of you.

 

C Leroy

Catherine’s letter to her father – Saigon, 13 May, 1967

[Associated Press notepaper]

Dear Daddy,

 

Thank you for sending Match. I have just received it. This issue would only have been available in Saigon a few days later, so thank you.

The rain and mango season has just started. An overture to what the monsoon will be in a few weeks from Saigon to Pleiku.

The city is getting a bit cleaner, people walk about in a hurry in the streets, the atmosphere is lighter, you can breathe better.

10 pages in Match, 6 pages (Faas* reckons it will make 5000 dollars) in Life Magazine. Two and a half million francs….. Article in Time Magazine, front page on all the American papers. Photos presented in the biggest news magazine on the leading American TV station, NBC. First photographer to have her photos signed on the front page of N York Times (since Horst Faas in 1965). In short, I’m getting telegrams from people who I didn’t know existed for years, while at the same time I’m hated more than ever by known and unknown enemies in Saigon, American civilians as well as servicemen in Saigon. Let’s not put the worst light on it… I have some good friends, those I got to know at the start. A Marine Colonel considers me a bit like his daughter and has helped me out when times were tough, plus a few others. These are my friends.  General Deane, 173rd (American parachutist who tore down all the barriers a few months ago so I could jump with them) sent me a charming telegram from the depths of an operational CP to congratulate me…. There are a few idiots in this American army, but most of the people I met here are really fantastic.

I have a good chance of winning a major American prize, the Robert Capa (the biggest war photographer, a Frenchman who was killed in Indochina) in N York at the end of the year.

I may come to Paris in July, I’ll keep you posted ….. provided I sort out my visa problems.  I heard from Mommy that you went out this morning with my tie and my Chinese tie-pin, which by the way means good luck. It will not lie….

All this, being just the first part of a year, 67, that should be a success for all of us.

 

Warm hug and to mommy too.

 

Cathy

 

I hope that your stupid bitch of a sister has seen MATCH

C Leroy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 25 August, 1967

Dear Mommy,

 

I’m back from Da Nang, after spending several days with the 101st Airborne (paratroopers) who are on operation near Chu Lai. The jungle, the jungle, the jungle…. The terrain is impassable, where Viets are walking around 10 meters away. In short….. it’s great fun… !!!!

I’ve just had a telegram from Bob Allison*, who is reporting in Cairo. All’s well with him.

Life finally paid up, I have over $2000 in my bank in N York (10,000 francs). In fact, you know I don’t feel very rich and I intend to go back to Paris with at least 2 million under my belt. For the time being, meanwhile I’m working like mad. I’m expecting an answer for my letter to Match and at least their special reporter should arrive any time. The British magazine Sunday Telegraph is giving me a photo assignment for an interesting story. Their reporter is here, has just had an Indonesian junk built in Singapore which he converted into a restaurant-night club. I’ve been invited for the launch at Christmas, it promises to be a really big do.

Around a hundred correspondents, journalists and photographers will be invited and it’s probably not a bad idea to go there for the New Year… Vietnam is, for me, very sad at that time of the year as for all people on their own I suppose……/

[The rest of the letter is missing]

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 27 January, 1968

Dear Mommy,

 

I got back two days ago after over two weeks in operation. Unfortunately I didn’t get the photos I wanted. The situation here is very tense… a possible invasion is expected any moment. Same place, Hill 881 Khe Sanh – 55,000 Americans and Viets facing each other. If it gets going, we expect the end of Têt (Vietnamese New Year) six days (for the Viets) with anxiety. Although the expression has been repeated a thousand times, Khe Sanh looks like Dien Bien Phu and for the first time things are starting to look really serious. The North Vietnamese have their batteries of artillery in position and are starting to use them. Giap* is even said to be leading the operation. I’m leaving within the next 48 hours. I haven’t done my story for Look. My luck is still out.

Douglas Duncan* (from Life) has just got back. He is making me feel better.

I’m writing to you beside the pool, I go swimming to relax.

Love to both of you.

Cathy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 6 March, 1968

P.S. the guy from 5 Col*gave me your letters

Dear Mommy,

 

I haven’t had any news from you for a long time. So I’m just writing you this short note, hoping that all’s well with you in Paris. I stayed a week in Saigon on an assignment for Life. There’s nothing to do, other than wait for the next communist attack. It didn’t come and I spent all my time at the swimming pool. I’m thoroughly tanned and rested.

I’m leaving for Hong Kong on Saturday, going for a week. I will buy some new toys (cameras)… and think about something else besides the war.

This month of February has been a double success-story for me this year. After getting the cover page on Life, I will have all the honors in Look. I spent a week with the Marines during the battle for the Hue bastion, I wrote a diary every hour on the way the situation was playing out (huge losses, morale at rock-bottom)… Black Star* sent me a telegram to say that the photos were “First Class”… and Look cabled that the stuff was fantastic… maybe I’ll get the cover there too. .. to finish these work stories on a high note, I’ve just been informed that I won the George Polk award (the most important after Pulitzer). Dinner in N York at the end of March. AP will not pay for my trip. I would like to go… Maybe Black Star…  I haven’t had any news from NPPA*… but maybe the letter will come later…;

That’s it. … oh yes, Robert Buchard from Zoom* is in Saigon. He is going back to Paris and will be back in Vietnam in two weeks. We will do Khe Sanh together. At the same time he will do a story about me…. I gave him your phone number. He is an absolutely adorable guy that I like a lot, maybe he’ll call you.

My spirits are excellent. Warm hugs to both of you.

Cathy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Hong Kong, 11 March, 1968

[Mandarin Hotel notepaper]

 

I’m sending you a small note with photos taken in the Danang press centre, it’s my friend the cat that kisses like a human. They are slides. Have them mounted so you can project them.

I’m resting, buying cameras, I’ve just bought a very pretty crocodile bag.

I think I’ll go to the United States for my award and stay a week.

It’s very cool in H Kong, these are my winter sports holidays, so to speak.

I’ll be in Saigon on 14th or 15th.

Kisses,

Cathy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Saigon, 12 November, 1968
Dear Mommy,

 

I’m giving this letter to Daniel Camus* of Match, who’s going back to Paris just now. I spend most of my time in Saigon. For the last few days I’ve been actively working on a script for the American TV channel NBC. It’s about a black soldier just released from the army, to whom I’ll show Vietnam. I intend to submit this project next week and should get an answer from N Y within two weeks. That’s it…

I work very late every night and am quite tired and after all life in Saigon is not much fun.

I don’t know if Look will run the two stories I did for them, I still haven’t heard back.

Has Robert Buchard* phoned you?..

Warm hugs to you and to Daddy.

Cathy

Catherine’s letter to her mother – Hong Kong, 5 December, 1968

[Hongkong Hilton letter head]

Dear Mommy,

 

I’m on my way back. I just arrived in Hong Kong and will stay there until Monday, followed by a night in Tokyo. I’ll be in N York on the 10th and will stay there about ten days. You can guess what this trip means to me. I want to sell the idea of doing a documentary on Vietnam to the Americans and it is imperative for me to go to the United States before the end of the year. Of course I’ll be in Paris for Christmas, and then back in New York in January. I feel very anxious and the idea of facing the winter in NY does nothing to help.

CBS know I’m coming and I have a very important meeting on the 12th.  I’ll write when I get there. I’ll have to stop at a hotel, as the people I was due to stay with are not in New York at the moment.

Warm hugs and kisses

Catherine

What are the Jeanssens doing for Christmas?