Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveller

I am an itinerant American expat trekking the world with my rucksack and taking my pictures. Before I got a life I was a banking professional (VP-Branch Manager) for thirty years, and a (very) young Marine Corps Sergeant in Vietnam. I’ve been snapping shutters for over sixty years, and finally turned professional in 2009. I created my company Indochine Photography that same year. I left the USA in early 2012 to pursue my lifelong dream of photographing the world, and interacting with its many wonderful and diverse cultures. Shortly after arriving in Yucatan, Mexico I spent a year as the staff photographer for The Yucatan Times newspaper. I was also the unofficial “official” photographer for the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation (it’s a long story). I am also a registered freelance photographer with the Boston Globe. Since I’ve been on the road I’ve adopted the philosophy of: Live Simple, Live Cheap, Live Free.

I began my early career as a classically trained artist studying with the well-known San Diego artist Dorothy Wright. Achieving some initial success early on I enjoyed an exhibition of my work at the world-renowned San Diego Museum of Fine Art in 1958. Not living up to my own unrealistic expectations I left the world of paint, brush and canvas behind, and instead embraced photography which I had studied concurrently. Again success came early when I was a winner in Kodak’s National High School Photography Contest in 1962.

Stephen F. Dennstedt

10 responses to “About

  1. My dad was there for the yet offensive explosion. He is in the hospital with acute leukemia as of this last week and wants his story to be heard. You are the first to share an account of what he experienced. Please contact me at +15042140560

  2. Just read your blog for the last couple of hours… I came across it after googling Chu Lai 1968. I could have written your 2013 entry; only a couple of details would have been different. I was in the Army on the southern perimeter at HHQ for the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion when the sirens went off at the beginning of TET. We had practiced drills only a couple of days before, taking cover in the “communal bunker” and then going to assigned places in case a follow-up ground assault might occur. Little did we know that the sirens two nights later were going to be the real deal. I had never heard a mortar hit before, but somehow I knew immediately what was happening when crumps began to “walk” across our helicopter revetments and into our hooch area. It didn’t take me long to grab my M-14 (didn’t have M-16s) and squat in the bunker you described so well. To this day I cannot explain how an orange flash could have lit up the inside of that bunker…the light would have had to bend around corners to get in…but it did. Then a second or so later the loudest noise I’ve ever heard and a rush of wind knocked the ten or twelve of us over. The ammo dump had blown as you remember. Then a rocket landed quite close, and that was a very nasty sound. The mortars sounded tame compared to the rockets that came from the mountains. When things seemed to calm down one guy went out only to quickly return and say, “Hooch 32 has been blown to hell.” Another guy took a quick look outside and hollered, “Shit, man! Hooch 33’s been blown to hell, too!” Our first thoughts were that we had survived direct hits on either side of us. We were probably at least a mile away from the explosion, which by all accounts produced a mushroom cloud, but the fact was the entire company area had been leveled. We did proceed to take up our assigned positions, but no enemy showed. It was determined the second mortar round that morning landed directly on one of our hooches and a guy who had been in my military police platoon at Fort Gordon (AIT) was killed instantly. He had stopped to put on his boots. Six hours earlier I had been with him and a few buddies and he had asked me how to spell a word he was writing in a letter home. It was sad. He had been a door gunner for two weeks and already had a Purple Heart for being shot down, and then he gets killed on his bunk.

    I just read the letter above about the dad with leukemia who must have been at Chu Lai. I will try to call the number in the morning. My wife underwent a stem cell transplant to deal with her very serious form of leukemia last December. Fortunately, twelve months later she is doing exceedingly well.

    I will not go on here, but I have to admit that I have been thinking quite a bit about where I was 50 years ago. I was in Vietnam from 1Jan68 to 31Dec68. That was quite a year. MLK, RFK, Chicago….sometimes I wondered when reading the Stars and Stripes whether I was in a more sane place than the folks at home.

    Suffice it to say, I believe we have some common interests. I consider myself a serious photographer (though not as serious as you). I write a blog (though not as prolifically as you). In 1966 I headed to California from Indiana and landed in the most beautiful spot in the world, Yosemite Valley. I had no money for a decent camera, but I followed Ansel Adams around (he didn’t know) and chimped during a master’s class one week with an Instamatic. We have been fortunate to travel quite a bit and see the world (though not as much as you) and I hope to return to Chu Lai in July with a daughter who will be doing training for the State Department in Hanoi. Who could have predicted that fifty years ago?!

    One last thing…when I returned from Nam I spent a year working at the armed forces entrance and examining station (AFEES) in Chicago. If you remember, that is where everyone went for the dreaded physicals and mental testing prior to draft or recruitment. For fifty years I have held in contempt the rich kids whose fathers got their doctors to write notes about bone spurs to beat the system. They didn’t have the guts or intellect to righteously protest on any moral ground. There were too many who got away with it. And, they laughed all their way home. Today, I pity the fools. I do believe that for fifty years they’ve had to live with knowing they were duplicitous. I have no doubt that for fifty years they have lived stunted lives while trying to prove themselves in order to make up for their lying. They do so in a world they foolishly construct themselves and swear is real. Everything about them lacks true substance. In their phony lives they collect trophy wives, design children in their own superficial image, exploit those who are vulnerable, and believe they have actually earned money. They are suckers for flagrant blandishment, pretend to read the Bible, will never know true love…and they still drive their daddy’s cars and don’t know how to change the oil.

    Best to you and your brother. I will continue to read.

    • Thank you Jim for taking the time to comment. I’m glad to hear that your wife is doing much better … sometimes good things happen (like beating cancer). When I visited Chu Lai in 2004 the base itself was closed but you go to the top of Hill 43 across Highway One and look down on it. Almost everything was gone except the runways and concrete revetments. I was able to get out on the peninsula (Ky Ha) where the Hawk SAM missiles and radar station were positioned (it overlooks the small island of Ky Xuan to the north) and also had coffee in An Tan (the small village outside the main gate). Later drove down to Dong Binh II beyond the southern perimeter where I used to command MEDCAP missions. Later travelled farther south to My Lai and Quang Ngai. I also went up to Tam Ky and then due west into the Que Son Valley where we conducted Marine Operations Union and Union II in the spring of 1967 . . . two Medal of Honor recipients in those operations. I returned to Vietnam again in 2008 for a month and travelled the whole country from the Mekong Delta (in the south) to the Chinese border in the north. Both trips were amazing. Yes, it sounds like we have a lot in common: photography, writing and travelling (my three passions). Welcome aboard my friend. I would love to read about your impressions of Vietnam when you return in July. If you’re visiting Hanoi I could strongly recommend visiting Halong Bay and if you can you might consider taking the overnight train to Sapa (via Lao Cai) in the moutains. I spent some time there photographing the indigenous Hmongs and it’s beautiful (much different than the south). The city of Hue is also an interesting place to visit and is completely rebuilt after the Marines almost completely destroyed it during the Tet Offensive. Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. Welcome home and stay in touch. Steve

  3. Hi, Steve…I’m not sure you want to continue this thread on your “About” page, so tell me how you might want to continue further discussion…
    Will give you a brief update, however, that I think you will appreciate. Re: comment above from Laurel Coyle. After seeing it a couple of days ago I decided to try to reach out and made a call to her. She sounds like a lovely person and was anxious for me to call her dad. I am happy to report that our Chu Lai comrade is responding well to chemo, is receiving great treatment from the VA and is currently looking for an appropriate stem cell donor to undergo a transplant in the future. He has a great attitude, is quite a talented guy (musician, actor, artist) and has been doing his “thing” like us since retiring from a civil engineering career. He has recently operated youth programs including a hostel in Texas, I believe. Does a lot of not for profit work. I’m particularly impressed with his work as a Batman stand-in for Adam West and Michael Keaton! No kidding…you can find him online.

    A few years ago I ran across the 1934 documentary, “Man of Aran”. Have you watched it? Available on youtube. We work with middle school students developing video, storytelling and documentary research. (Hoping to develop some skills at recognizing ‘fake news’) “Man of Aran” is considered a ‘fictional’ documentary…an interesting concept…bit of an oxymoron, in my book. It’s a fascinating look at where you’re soon to be. Please let me know if it is as forsaken an area as it appears in the movie. Gotta respect tough people who survive in that climate. Look forward to seeing some of your images from there.

    Good to hear you guys are comfortable in what looks like a pretty plush hostel. Good for you. Best…Jim W

  4. Happy birthday my old (really old) friend. I’ve been following your travels since you left. Hope to see you again one day in this country or abroad.

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