Vietnam’s “Victory Day”, 30 april is also a great yearly opportunity to pay respects to my long time friend, the late Jens Nauntofte.
He was one of only a handful of Western journalists who chose to stay behind, when Saigon fell on 30 April 1975. He could not bring himself to leave behind, what he believed would be the greatest story ever to file to national Danish Broadcasting.
The following weeks became an experience of a lifetime as the new regime emerged, but also the ultimate frustration for a journalist, when all international communication lines were cut off. Jens were unable to share these great historic moments with his audience back in Scandinavia. In stead, he noted down all that he witnessed in his personal diary.
His observations were not for the faint hearted. One morning he witnessed a former officer from the army of South Vietnam, pouring gasoline over himself. Next the officer torched his body in a horrific demonstration, reminding the spectators of the famous buddhist monks who sacrificed themselves in the streets of Saigon in vain protests against the repression of Buddhists during President Diem’s infamous regime.
In 2013, Jens posed for my fun-shot below with a wartime photo of himself in front of his old hang-out, the Continental Hotel on Lam Son square. Jens had at times been able to secure for himself the same room as author Graham Greene did in 1950’ies, while he worked on his great novel ‘The Quiet American’.
Later that night Jens and I went to Augustin, his favorite restaurant – drinking too much wine, while Jens once again shared his treasure of memories from the longest war in modern history.
The 2nd photo is of a VNA cabin attendant en route to Saigon posing with the published edition of Jen’s 1975 diary “Yellow Star over Vietnam.”
This souvenir shot was my greeting to Jens in 2015 on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam. Coincidentially, the cabin attendant’s name was Nhu, just like the enigmatic young Vietnamese woman, who worked as an assistant for Jens in the final days before the fall of Saigon. In the diary, Jens refered to her as his ‘Mata Hari’, because he suspected that she reported his activities to the underground communist network in Saigon. Nevertheless she was a very good fixer for a young foreign journalist trying to find his way through the chaos in war torn Vietnam. Nhu disappeared suddenly without a trace, and Jens often wondered about her fate.
Jens is sorely missed today, professionally, and even more, personally.