My name is Frankie Frost and I’m a photojournalist.
I’m more of a visual historian than an artist. My mission is to inform and to tell the truth with my photos as accurately as I can. It’s a bonus if I can make the images compelling and interesting. I try to be a fair witness, to record accurately the events of the day. 50 years from now, long after I’m gone, another generation will see my photos and have a good idea what that day was like.
I have always loved to travel, and was I blessed to be invited to record the events of a non-profit humanitarian trip to Vietnam late in 2014. Here’s how it happened:
I met Heidi Kuhn 18 years ago when I photographed her for my paper, the Marin Independent Journal. She had started an organization to help rid countries of the remnants of war; the mines and unexploded ordinances (UXO’s). Once the lands had been cleared of danger, profitable crops would be planted, cultivated and harvested for sale in the United States. She calls her idea “Roots of Peace”.
In late October, I photographed a classic car rally in Novato, California, and connected with Heidi. The rally was one of her fund-raising events. After pleasantries were exchanged, she said “I’m going to Vietnam in November, do you want to go?”
Fresh out of high school in 1970, I signed up for the draft and drew a low lottery number. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam then but it’s a different story now.
I had little experience working in foreign countries, especially in communist countries. I was apprehensive at first but quickly realized that I was welcome in Vietnam. Heidi vouched for me at the Foreign Press center. She got me access denied to many others. On the day we visited the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) site for instance, I was initially denied entry but it had been cleared with Vietnamese officials and I was welcome to record bomb detonation in the fields which would become farmland for the people.
I was told the trip would change me. Indeed, on many occasions, my eyes and heart were opened in ways I could never have imagined.
During my 35+ year career, I have photographed some truly horrific events, and managed to always hold it together, reporting the events without bias or emotion. As I photographed Agent Orange victims Kieu and Quy, I became overwhelmed, a rare feeling for me, and broke down over the emotion of the historical toll placed on these beautiful people. Surrounding jungle crowding in. In the quiet, I could imagine bullets zipping though the thick vegetation. I could see how defoliating the area with Agent Orange would be advantageous to the American military, leaving the people and the land exposed and barren.
In the cool, wet stillness of Hamburger Hill, I imagined the flat crack of gunfire and the concussion of bombs and grenades. The area is wet and slippery, making footing treacherous. I could feel the frustration of laden soldiers as their boots sought purchase. I could hear the cries of the wounded and the barked orders to take the hill at all costs. I could almost smell the fear. The battle there was one of the bloodiest of the conflict. The U.S. lost. There were many casualties on both sides.
Even after the hell they’ve been through, I found no animosity from the Vietnamese people, no anti-American sentiment. I don’t see how that’s possible. Everyone I met, even strangers on the street in Hanoi, smiled, were open and warm. It appears, in spite of all their suffering, the Vietnamese people have found a way to be happy.