“Stone was a lapsed logger from Vermont, twenty-five years old with sixty-year old eyes set in deep behind wire-rimmed glasses, their shrewdness and experience almost lost in the lean anglings of his face.” – Dispatches by Michael Herr
Gifts to Kimball Union’s Archives are always welcome. They are often objects of great value to the donors, but ones they have decided to share with our community on a permanent basis. This past July, we received just such a gift from Bobby and Guy Harley, sister and brother-in-law of the late Dana Stone, class of 1958, courtesy of his late widow, Louise Smiser Stone. This very generous gift contains all that the Stone Family possessed of Dana’s original work as a photojournalist operating in the Vietnam War. It includes many photographs of U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers and villagers caught in a war, as well as Dana’s handwritten notes. There are also copies of TIME and Newsweek magazines that include his photographs and a scrapbook of Dana’s life put together by his widow Louise. Other memorabilia include one of the cameras he used in Vietnam and his Timex watch. The Harleys felt that Dana’s war work was too important not to be preserved as a complete collection and therefore have placed it in trust with us. We very much appreciate this gift, not only for its historical and personal value, but for its potential as an educational tool.
Many in the KUA community are aware that Dana Stone was employed by the UPI and AP press in Vietnam from 1966 until the day he and fellow journalist and good friend Sean Flynn (son of early film star Errol Flynn), were captured in Cambodia on April 6, 1970. A photo shows Dana and Sean sitting on shiny, new motorcycles about to head into Chi Pou, just inside the Cambodian border, for a brief trip. According to a 1988 KuAlumni magazine article by former faculty member and trustee Paul Sheff, Dana was nervous and more reluctant than Sean about going on this assignment, but he soon followed Sean as he didn’t want to be “scooped” on a news story. An eyewitness said they got as far as a Cambodian roadblock, where word suddenly came: “Viet Cong! Viet Cong!” While others fled, Dana and Sean remained. Later that day, Communist forces took control of Chi Pou and the surrounding area. Dana and Sean were presumed captured.
Many attempts were made to have them freed including those by his wife Louise who found some assistance from Walter Cronkite who, along with other distinguished journalists, tried to exert international pressure for their release. Noam Chomsky, a political activist and opponent of the Vietnam War, sought help from the North Vietnamese in Hanoi. Louise also corresponded with deposed leader Prince Sihanouk, but no one was able to find them or get their release. It is now accepted that Dana and Sean were executed by the Cambodians; to date, their remains have not been found.
Looking further back into Dana’s youth, one would not immediately expect Dana’s legacy to become one of world travel and adventure. He was born on April 18, 1939 in North Pomfret, Vermont, where he lived with his parents, Robert and Connie Stone, and his sister Bobby and brother Tom. His parents sent him to Cardigan Mountain School for three years before enrolling him at KUA as a sophomore.
According to his sister Bobby, Dana thrived in the structure he found in boarding schools. At KUA, he was fully involved in the daily life of a small, New England prep school. He was a three-sport athlete and involved in many school activities including a very active Spanish Club – El Circulo Castellano – that “acquainted students with people and customs of Spain” through films, slide shows and lectures. He was a three-year member of the student newspaper, The Kimball Union, and worked on the Concordia his senior year. Also as a senior, Dana joined the Press Club that was formed in 1956 to release information to newspapers, radio and television stations about KUA student activities. Dana, as one of 12 seniors elected to the leadership group, the Orange Key, was involved in planning school events and activities, but, more importantly, they routinely met with the headmaster as a group to discuss any problems confronting the school.
Left: Dana lived in Chellis Hall his sophomore year (front row, 2nd from left). Below: Dana with the JV Hockey team in 1956 (front row, far right). He was on this team for two years before joining the varsity squad his senior year.
Dana, voted by his classmates as “wittiest,” was, it seems, a regular high school student making his way towards college. However, as I read Paul Sheff’s article on Dana, referenced above, I became aware of an independent spirit lying beneath the surface of this young man, one that would eventually lead him to dangerous work in a distant land.
For instance, the summer before his senior year, Dana misrepresented his age and found employment as a seaman sailing the Great Lakes. Back at KUA for his last year, he graduated and entered UVM in the fall, but became disillusioned with college and dropped out after a few weeks. He joined the Navy, but as he suffered from violent seasickness, was granted a medical discharge. Dana’s next adventure was to hitchhike with a fellow classmate and good friend to Los Angeles. His friend soon returned home; Dana stayed. From then on, his life on the West Coast was one of travel from place to place and job to job. In June 1962, he met his future wife Louise Smiser, a Kentuckian. Together with her, he continued to travel and work. They bought an abandoned cabin that they repaired and lived in until their money ran out. Dana then found work as a logger, sorted mail in San Francisco and worked as a storekeeper on Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) ships that carried soldiers and cargo to Vietnam.
Robert Foley, Editor of The Kimball Union Alumni Bulletin, wrote in his 1968 Alumni Profile, Dana Stone ’58, that Dana had decided he wanted to go to Vietnam himself and work with a news agent as a photographer. First, he had to find a newspaper to represent him in order to attain State Department approval for a passport. He came home to Vermont and convinced Stephen Taylor, Managing Editor of the Valley News, to write a general letter of introduction for him as a photojournalist to give to the authorities in Vietnam.
While in Vermont, Dana visited with his family. They would never see him again. With papers in hand, Dana flew to Tokyo where he bought more camera equipment and then on to Saigon. Paul Sheff wrote in his 1988 article that Dana convinced a sympathetic Army colonel “to agree with him that there was no real background one could have to become a combat photographer” and was thus given permission to work in Vietnam.
Left: Dana wrote on the back of this photograph, “Am wet and cold (or hot and thirsty) confused and scared and generally in someone’s way. All because an aunt and uncle of mine thought I should have a camera 7 years ago. Things are better for me now than they have ever been before and I am grateful for the start you gave me in something I would never have undertaken myself.”
Right: Dana with his wife Louise whom he married a year and a half after arriving in Vietnam. Below right: Sean and Dana about to leave for Cambodia on April 6, 1970.
“Dana was the man in motion, he just couldn’t slow himself down. He was the smallest man on the trail, but his engines would drive him up it as though the incline ran the other way.” –Dispatches by Michael Herr
Dana’s first day in Vietnam was an immediate shock to him. In a recording, he reported that, “The group I was with executed someone right in front of me the first day I was with them. No reason, just shot him…really stupid….” His sister Bobby told us, he didn’t like being in a war and wanted to come home, but he didn’t have the money to leave as he wasn’t being paid much for his photographs at that time. Except for the time he was able to spend with his wife in their home in Danang, his life for the next four years was one of war with all its horrors, as brutal as his photographs portray.
Paul Sheff wrote, “Dana covered all of the big stories of the war. He brought Louise with him during the early days of the Tet Offensive. From their home in Danang, she and Dana rode about on his motorcycle, passing through withering crossfires and scenes of carnage. …Dana went up to Hue, where he was one of the first photographers to get in and out of the city. …His photographs of American Marines ransacking the beautiful villas of Hue were published around the world.”
Right: Injured soldier being carried away from danger. In a taped message to his parents, Dana commented, “When I first came here, they said, ‘We can’t pull out of here, we got 3,000 men killed.’ Now they’re saying the same thing, only its about 13,000 killed. I hope ten years from now they’re not going to say they’ve got 80,000 killed.’” – Paul Sheff 1988 article
The Dana Stone Photography Room in Flickinger Arts Center was dedicated at Reunion on June 15, 1991 and, at the same time, some of Dana’s war photographs were exhibited in the Taylor Gallery. With the new series, Vietnam, by Ken Burns and his partner Lynn Novick recently aired on PBS television, this seems an appropriate time to honor Dana’s work. A display of many of his photographs may be seen in the lobby display cabinets of the KUA Library in Miller Bicentennial Hall from October 3 to November 6. Dana’s 1958 classmates will celebrate their sixtieth Reunion this spring and more of his work will be on display at that time. If you would like to read more about Dana’s life in Vietnam, you will find a link here to the KuAlumni magazine, Spring 1988 article that was written about him, Dana Stone ’58 “One of the Missing” Remembered. However, please note that since the time that article was published, new information has become available regarding the disappearance of Dana Stone and Sean Flynn which is not accurately reflected in the article. As new information surfaces with respect to the ongoing search for Dana, we will share them with the KUA community.
Left: Dana’s photograph was used on the front cover of TIME, October 6, 1967. Right: Dana often wrote notes on the backs of his negative envelopes to explain its contents.This one says, “mortar attack on army motor pool near Tan Son Nhat ambush– wrecked truck, car, office, etc. man with torn pants being interviewed by tv is PFC Richard Santo, Detroit, Mich. who was a guard on duty and was thrown down by first round.”