Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What we remember - and what is real

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - For years and years, when I talked about situations in which thing were desperate and people barely escaped, I would frequently reference this photo - a very famous shot that many people remember as I do (well remember as I did).

We believe(d)that this shot was the American Embassy in Vietnam in 1975, as the last Americans were being airlifted out before the North Vietnamese swarmed into the city.

But it wasn't until an old high school chum sent along the link to the picture and an article in the New York Times by the photographer who took it, that I realized the shot is actually of an apartment complex in Saigon and the people being evacuated were Vietnamese.

A similar scene was playing out at the American Embassy, but this was not it.

So I'll have to amend my storytelling to allow for this shot. But the fact that for so many years I was sooooo sure this was the embassy will work its way into my university lectures about accuracy and fact checking. I'm occasionally working on a book about growing up and my graduating class from high school. And in running just a few chapters past some friends, I've discovered that three people who took part in the same scene remember it - and their role - very differently.

So I've rejiggered what I'm doing to make it a series of essays - based on what I remember.

Otherwise, if I project it as the cold truth, well, I'll be struggling to jump on a helicopter to escape from my 40th high school reunion next summer.

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