Words by Ryan Hitzel
What to do about history? Study it, deny it, accept it, learn from it? Live it. When we began to plan our adventure to Vietnam it was pretty clear amongst most of us that this would be a trip that set the record straight. Most trips in search of Roark do, but this one felt different.

Our generation was removed from The Vietnam War, it was our fathers’ battle. Just as WW2 was our fathers’ fathers’ war. The only difference is that the war against the Axis in Europe and the south Pacific had clear purpose and finality. No one sang protest songs against it, our grandfathers came home to parades, they were celebrated and honored universally. The Vietnam conflict was very different, although consensus tells us that it was a mistake, and that we shouldn’t have meddled in South East Asian politics the first place – movies and documentaries maintain a picture of confusion and an “us vs. them mentality no matter what the political stance was.”

Upon arrival we wondered what the Vietnamese people thought of Americans, particularly in the North. What were the stains of war? What’s left in a country that we scarred so brutally? And on a lighter note, how was the Pho, were marble plazas skateable and could we surf China Beach? Our questions began to be answered as our guide Cuong shoved us into a 1960’s Jeep Willy’s procured by the North Vietnamese during the war. “I love this jeep” he said. GI’s took good care of it, so do I.” At first if felt dirty to be riding through Hanoi in a U.S. Marine issued Jeep with a communist flag mounted proudly on the stern. But as we made our way through the countryside and received thousands of smiles, peace signs and shakas from villagers – we began to feel at peace. I asked a 15 year old waitress at a restaurant why everyone was so friendly and open to Americans? She answered simply, “We want to show you the beauty of our country and the people you tried to destroy.”

Vietnam is a special place with much to explore and learn from. Perhaps our leaders need to be reminded of the tolls of war – Bob Dylans words still echo, “How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?” Enjoy the story of Roark and the documentation of our journey from Hanoi to Da Nang, we hope you’re inspired to go yourself. Embrace the past and live in the present.
Chapter 6
It was nightfall by the time we reached the city. I was surprised by how many of the grand buildings in the French colonial style survived the extensive bombing during what the Vietnamese call The American War. Roark shouted out the names of different neighborhoods, pointed out important buildings, but most of it was lost to me in the din of traffic and the wind rustling through me ears.

We traveled down narrow streets lined with European style buildings. I noticed that many of them had the same color scheme; the buildings had red tile roofs, and were painted the color of rancid butter, accented with green shutters. Roark pointed out some magnificent buildings in the colonial style. I was also struck by how much construction was going on and the number of modern highrise buildings that towered over the cityscape. Hanoi was having a construction boom. The streets were crowded with bicycles, scooters, cars and motorcycles, including the ubiquitous Urals. The Russians had done well doing business with their former client and Cold War proxy.

I realized it had been a long time since I’d come down off the mountain and, after doing a couple of laps around the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, I jumped at Roark’s suggestion that we grab a drink. We then headed into the heart of the old quarter where my Vietnamese adventure with Roark would begin.
Cracked Actor
Chapter 11
Roark loaded me into a taxi and climbed in beside me. We had a little time, as we slogged through the midday traffic, for Roark to debrief me once again on the purpose of this meeting. Roark asked me if I’d heard of a certain actor, one with an Irish surname and roguish reputation who had once been one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. I had, in fact, wanted to be him when I was a boy. Or one of the characters he played –a noble pirate, an honorable thief.
”Of course,” I said.
“Did you know he had a son?”

I wondered where Roark was going with this; was Roark going to tell me he was progeny of this famous actor and infamous womanizer? I did the math in my head, wondering if it was possible – the actor had died young in the late ‘50s- but I ran up against the same problem I had often had with Roark, that is, determining his age. Sometimes the long miles he had traveled showed on his face, and he often had a weathered, wizened look. At others he seemed preternaturally youthful, his innate vitality seemed to shave off the years. It was no stretch of the imagination to believe Roark could be a bastard, but of a movie star? “I did not know he had any children,” I said. “But, given his reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a few.”
Son of Man
Chapter 12
I had been a fan of the famous father, captivated by the heroic rogues he played and fascinated by his wicked, wicked ways.

Roark surprised me by his familiarity with the details of the son’s story, which, at first glance seemed be that of a wastrel youth, fated to follow in his father’s footsteps yet never to step out from under his shadow. After a brief stint in the acting business, trading on the family name, there was a turn, which makes his story interesting. He may have not inherited his father’s talent or good luck, but he did inherit a restless, reckless spirit that drove him to seek his fortune and make a name for himself elsewhere. That he did, although in relatively obscure circles. After some time spent wandering around the world, he arrived in Vietnam, Leica in hand, just as America’s involvement in the war was ramping up, and in the course of the few years that seemed allotted to him, became a legendary figure among his fellow journalists and the young soldiers he documented in combat.

“What happened to him,” I asked.
“No one knows, for sure,” said Roark. “One thing that is known is that he fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge.”
The taxi driver shifted in his seat at the mention of the murderous Cambodian regime, who were driven back into the jungle by the army of a unified Vietnam.
“So, it’s some sort of unsolved mystery thing that your friend is doing,” I said.

“Not exactly,” replied Roark. “Although he’s been declared legally dead for more than thirty years, they never found his body.”
Roark paused a moment before continuing, lowering his voice, so that the taxi driver could not hear him clearly over the Hanoi traffic din. “The Kid thinks he’s found him,” he said.

“His remains?” I asked in a near whisper.
“No, him. In the flesh and very much alive.”
The Law of Human Remains
Chapter 17
“Give our friend here a little background so that we’re all on the same page,” said Roark.

The Kid, after eyeing me warily for awhile, as if he was worried I might leap across the table and enucleate him with a soup spoon, described the events that led him believe he was on the verge of solving a nearly half century old mystery. He had arrived in Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, little more than a month earlier, to do research for a story on the underground traffic in human remains.

After the war, when there was a thaw in relations between the former combatants, both countries collaborated in the effort to find, identify, and return home the remains of missing American servicemen. A black market sprung up in the shadow of the official efforts, catering, for the most part, to the families of missing soldiers and servicemen who were frustrated by the slow pace of official efforts. The underground trade in remains was dominated by scam artists and unscrupulous dealers who recognized that grief is often the handmaiden of gullibility. They forged dog tags or passed off bone fragments belonging to animals or ordinary Vietnamese as those of missing Westerners. After a number of weeks, The Kid made little headway in developing his story. He had made some contacts on the margins of the bone trader but no active traders around whom he could build a story. They were extraordinarily tight-lipped and saw no benefit in drawing attention to themselves and inviting another crackdown. The Kid had drawn attention to himself, as he pursued contacts in a shadowy milieu that was rife with both criminal elements and informers, and discovered that he was being closely scrutinized by the local authorities. Meanwhile, his story was going nowhere, time was running out as well as his money and he little to show for his efforts.


With his own story foundering, The Kid read all that he could find about the missing actor and made some casual inquiries amongst the few contacts he had made. Just when all seemed lost, and he was prepared to concede defeat and fly home, he was informed that a Westerner, who had stayed in the country after most of his compatriots left, who, it was rumored, had been someone of importance. He kept to himself and operated, unmolested by the local authorities. He was rumored to live somewhere around Da Nang. For a few dong –the Vietnamese currency- his exact location might be procured. The Kid was on to something. Finally.

He began to imagine himself to be a latter day Stanley who garnered fame by locating the missing Livingstone. There would be great acclaim, and perhaps a Pulitzer –did they provide a prize for digital journalism? It didn’t matter, this reporting coup would make his name. And all those haters back at the office could bite it. There would, perhaps, be a book deal, followed by a movie, or a six-part series.

This is when two Vietnamese men Cuong and Dung, presented themselves at his door, and informed him, in broken English, that their services would be not only indispensable but mandatory. So insistent were they, that The Kid did not dare say no. The Kid was unsure whether they were connected to some crime syndicate that had ties with people in government or whether they worked for the government themselves. At any rate, they did prove, later, to have a way of cutting through red tape. They were able facilitators, to a degree, but with their arrival all of The Kid’s other sources dried up. No matter.

He prepared to go to Da Nang immediately but first, before he went to seek his glory, he wanted to see the Central Highlanders, to go up river, in country, to the rogue colonel’s compound.

He rented a Willys and, with Cuong and Dung in tow, drove into the hills where he encountered not a mad colonel but an equally colorful
character, Roark.
Chapter 23
Evidently the tension between Roark and the journalist had been brewing for some time, preceding my arrival in Vietnam. Roark had, indeed, dazzled The Kid with a magnificent first impression and had set a standard that would be very hard to maintain. As I’ve said, I wasn’t privy to all the goings-on once the three of us landed in Da Nang and was fed information on a need-to-know basis. I had a specific part to play in what was to transpire but, to my mind, my part was woefully underwritten and I was left to ask that question that plagues many an actor attempting to inhabit a role: what was my motivation? It would all become clear to me in due time and events began to unspool or unravel at a rapid pace quickly in the course of a few days.

But as The Kid lost faith in Roark, I felt my own confidence in my friend wane as well. I began to question not only Roark’s motives, but also his efficacy. Disillusionment can be a heart-wrenching experience and I began to feel a bit foolish with my misplaced trust in someone who I, after all, knew so little about. I, too, had been dazzled and now that I was no longer blinded by Roark’s luminous.
Roark Revivalist

A few words from Jamie

As a newcomer to the RoarkRevival, this excursion to Vietnam would be my first experience with this group of seasoned adventurers. After a 24 hour stint of land and air travel we arrived in the busy city of hanoi and after getting settled in the hotel a few of us anxiously hit the streets to roll around and get acquainted with the infamous North Vietnamese city.

You’re hard pressed to think about the 1960’s or 70’s without some image pertaining to the Vietnam War entering your mind. Claiming the lives of nearly 60,000 US troops, the Vietnam War was easily one of the most controversial wars ever and as a result incited a peace movement that swept across the united states. With nearly 2 decades of documented conflict, the imagery is plentiful and is the backdrop for the country’s history.

This level of conflict tends to permeate ones thoughts and it’s hard to imagine that as an american, we would be welcomed with anything but discord or strife. I’m not sure if our forefathers have been forgiven or if it was the sight of our convoy ripping through the countryside, but we were greeted with smiles and waves everywhere we went.

Hanoi Heat Wave

Nobody should ever have to endure a Hanoi heat wave. It’s sticky, feverish, non-endurable and entirely fucked. Your brain swells and tells you to get out of the city. Clarity finds you on a lost road in a village with no name, strapped to the sidecar of a Russian bike in a communist country. You are not sweaty but you have not pissed in hours. Your pours are leaking and you can’t seem to notice because look at what’s in front of you. Both sides of the valley stare back at you as you ride across the rice field. Children’s eyes light up as their hands wave hello. There’s nowhere else you’d rather be than right here at this moment.

And then the sun fades and the ride is hours from end. Pavement turns to dirt as the plateau turns to mountain. You ride on into the darkness, sunglasses strapped to your face and dirt lining your eyebrows. The road gets steeper, potholes get deeper and turns become sharper. You focus as if nothing else matters but the ten feet in front of you. A single thought remains in your head: A baby becomes a man one day at a time.

Hours pass and a steady climb sees you closing in on lights in the distance. Your mind begins deciding what they could be. Who spends their days up here in the highlands and how would that life be? The bike is so loud it muffles the questions in your head. Brainwaves only reach as far as the light in front of you. Drive. Shift. Brake. Turn. Shift. Drive. Acute monotony turns into absolute thrill every few minutes as you take yourself deeper into the unknown. You are eight thousand miles from home. Nothing can touch you.

You spoke only a handful of words along the twelve-hour ride yet the dialogue was never ending. Riding lives in the moment between thinking and acting. Zero hesitation. Complete confidence. And you made it, dusted up from head to toe with a hunger in your stomach for more. The air feels cool and the food tastes better up here. You scoff thirds and after a handful of Bia Ha Noi’s you climb into your bed inside a net on top of a tree house overlooking the valley below. This is Shangri-La.

You fall asleep knowing that tomorrow is a question only answered by the pace of today.
Photographer and Adventurer
To the definition of the word, to be it, to live it, requires an astute attention to disjoin commonplace habits to the point that it becomes natural. There’s traveling and then there is truly Traveling. Find the extra mile, take it. Commit to a vision & fuck getting dissuaded, follow your feet and make it happen. In the end, its worth it. Drink, love & jump in the damn river. For better or worse, there is only a limited amount of time we can make use of, so you sure as hell have to make sure you do. It’s always a struggle to break routine, Check out from reality and commit to the freezing nights under the stars, the scorching days under the hot Vietnamese sun, the weeks without reception or contact to anything outside of your present reality, wild & free. In the end they’re memories far greater than anything you would’ve done otherwise. I’ve always been in love with the quote “the mad ones”… simply out of the fact of seeking out that breed of people to be surround yourself amount & in all honesty, its simply inspiring, inspiring to aspire to something. To rise, not live common or be common, to be a Savage of life.

Strange Days in a Hanoi Haze