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Sean Flynn's Remains Possibly Found in CambodiaTim King Salem-News.com
Too soon to know for sure, but it would truly be an amazing discovery.
(SALEM, Ore.) - (Editor's note: This is a link to our most current article on Sean Flynn's possible recovery: Clearing the Air for Missing Photojournalist Sean Flynn's Family - Tim King Salem-News.com)
A jaw and a femur bone that could belong to Sean Flynn have been recovered in Cambodia. The legendary War Photographer who never returned from tbe Vietnam War is the son of Errol Flynn, early Australian/American actor of Hollywood fame.
Sean Flynn disappeared with fellow War Photographer Dana Stone in 1970 during the invasion of Cambodia. Bonnie King and I have been gathering material for years to produce a documentary on this subject.
At this point from all of the accounts we are seeing, there is no definitive proof that the remains are those of Sean Flynn. The group apparently does not claim to have located Dana Stone.
Popular accounts tell of Sean Flynn and his friend and fellow War Photographer Dana Stone, being captured by communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas after riding their Honda motorcycles up to the guards, believing they would be captured and later released. Only the first part came to pass.
One person who contacted us over the story, T. Jeff Williams, says our description of the last sight of Sean Flynn is not complete accurate, based on his memory, and he is indeed someone who would know. Jeff Williams was the only American correspondent (AP) in Cambodia when the March 18 1970 coup occurred.
The remains were discovered by two British men described as "adventurers", in a suspected mass grave in the central Kampong Cham province of Cambodia earlier in March. The U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh took custody of the remains for testing.
"The US Embassy in Phnom Penh has sent the remains to the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which identifies missing Americans from past wars," The Times UK reported.
The discovery was made by 60-year old Keith Rotheram, a Briton who owns a guesthouse in Sihanoukville, and 29-year old David MacMillan, a Scottish-born Australian.
Villagers near the site are said to have witnessed Khmer Rouge soldiers executing a prisoner who matched Sean Flynn’s description. They said it happened in 1971.
Nobody has spent more time on this story than Tim Page.
One of Flynn's closest friends, Page, was portrayed in the movie Apocalypse Now as a somewhat frazzled international war photographer, a memorable character. In reality, Page took it upon himself to investigate the disappearance of Flynn and Stone, and his findings amount to some of the best information on the subject.
Regarding this news of the possibility of the discovery of Sean Flynn's remains, Page said, "It was not a forensic dig: they used an excavator and uncovered a full set of remains, which they removed from the site."
He obviously was concerned about it, but it was Tim Page that encouraged the searchers to turn the remains into forensics, so he's not discounting the possibility.
The last living western person to see Sean Flynn and Dana Stone alive, Professor Stephen Bell, was in a limousine in front of the pair of motorcycles, as they left the five-star hotels in Phnom Penh enroute to the combat areas during the early days of the invasion of Cambodia.
Stephen Bell was, for many years after the Vietnam War, a morning anchor on the ABC program, "Good Morning America". He graciously allowed us into his home in Indiana and offered an extremely candid interview about Flynn and Stone and the crazy times covering this aspect of the American war in SE Asia.
Bell said it was a sight he would never forget for a number of reasons. "Oh it was a heck of a sight, they were on those red Hondas and they were wearing part army gear, there were cameras and I remember how odd it all seemed."
As I wrote in the article, Remembering Sean Flynn: a Photojournalist Who Died at War on 15 May 2008, Sean Flynn could have lived his life a thousand different ways. He did have a semi-successful acting career, along with all the money, looks, fame and fortune that any man of his day could have wanted, but instead he spent years covering the war in Vietnam.
These war photographers were a rare breed, and their chosen profession was one of the most dangerous that you could ever name. There was no year long tour for a war photographer or reporter. If they were freelance or tied to an agency covering the war, they would sometimes stay for years.
I have always been captivated by the story of Sean Flynn and totally impressed with the things he was willing to do. I thought of him often while covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. Again I thought of Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and John Steinbeck IV when I covered the war in Iraq in 2008. The life they led is and is not like the life we lead covering the wars today. Many reporters today are embedded, and the amount of leverage they have in choosing their coverage is limited to the patrols they can go out on.
News crews who are not embedded are at constant risk of being kidnapped, injured or killed. It is dangerous work, and it was extremely tough in Vietnam, though these men like Page, Flynn, Stone and Steinbeck, broke barriers, they laughed at government press releases and learned to speak Vietnamese, so they could get the real story. They were not popular with everyone, but they were respected.
John Steinbeck IV was one of two sons born to the famous California author of "Cannery Row", "East of Eden", the "Grapes of Wrath", and many other American classics. In fact John Steinbeck IV is one of the few members of this core journalistic group who did come home. He even mastered his life and beat drug and alcohol additions, a couple of years before unexpectedly dying during a routine surgical procedure.
Blake Smyle, John Steinbeck IV's daughter, was born in Saigon and actually lived on Phoenix Island in the Mekong River off and on during the Vietnam War, where Flynn and Stone and Steinbeck and Page and Young and so many others lived, with an eccentric Buddhist spiritual figure known as "The Coconut Monk". Blake's mother Crystal was in a relationship with Steinbeck, and very close with all of the photographers and correspondents.
In regard to the possible discovery of Sean Flynn's remains, the granddaughter of the famous Author of "Cannery Row" and "East of Eden" John Steinbeck said, "I am sure that if it is confirmed that these are Sean's remains it will answer one of the mysteries of the war; closure for the family will finally be possible. I am curious to know if Dana Stone's remains are also there."
Blake and I have spoken at length about her tremendous interest in the history of her father, John Steinbeck IV, and all of his friends. She was with them all for the earliest part of her life. The news of how these remains were uncovered from the ground she says, is partly unsettling... and there is a good reason for that.
"The use of large excavating equipment rather than a forensic dig is puzzling and I am curious to know more about that. In my practice as a forensic investigator, buried remains can't be removed by me, I need a forensic anthropologist," Blake Smyle said. "I have never had the experience though. But, Cambodia is a whole other story. Whose permission did these guys obtain prior to digging? I am looking forward to more of the story. Were multiple remains there as well?"
Sean Flynn's sister, Rory Flynn, who I have never met directly, is one of the people who this possible discovery must hold great meaning for. After he disappeared, bumper stickers all over New York City read, "Where's Sean Flynn?" People care, time passes, and we are very happy to be able to share a few of the things we know about it.
Another friend of this group who came home is Perry Deane Young, who wrote the memorable book about Flynn and Stone titled, "Two of the Missing - Remembering Sean Flynn & Dana Stone." Perry is an incredible human being and his intensely emotional recollections of learning that Sean and Dana were missing.
Perry told Salem-News.com that he was jealous of the two at first; everyone believed they would emerge from captivity, but they did not.
Regarding the possible discovery of Sean Flynn's remains, Perry told us today:
"The reason correspondents worldwide were upset over these 'bounty hunters' [as the london tabloids called them] is that they took a backhoe into a site where there was evidence that as many as 10 westerners might be buried. They were interested only in the one celebrity. There is no evidence whatsoever that the remains they have found are Flynn's...except for a description from a captured Khmer Rouge soldier that a tall American was executed and buried in that area. Now, of course, the site has been brutally compromised for future forensic archeologists. These guys held onto the remains for more than a week before Page and others pressured them into turning them over to the U.S. Embassy. That's when the story became public. However undignified the process, I reckon it's nice to see Flynn AND Stone remembered so close to the 40th anniversary of their disappearance."
As you can see from the main photo accompanying this story, provided by Perry Young, he and Sean Flynn spent time in combat and on the beach. It was a memorable time for all of them, he says.
One American in Vietnam who knew Sean Flynn very well, was Roxanna Brown. Another War Photographer, she spent seven years covering the action in Vietnam. When Roxanna arrived in country in 1969 after graduating from Columbia University, she was the youngest credentialed reporter there. Her brother, Fred Leo Brown, is a recognized authority on the Vietnam War.
Not only did Roxanna know Sean Flynn, they likely spent his last night as a free man together, though some dispute that. It does not matter, Roxanna Brown was the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum in Bangkok, Thailand when she flew into the Seattle SeaTac Airport and died in federal custody due to neglectful treatment by officials.
Now Roxanna is gone; a voice forever, that could have provided vital information about this time period and her friend Sean Flynn. She and her brother worked with Horst Faas and Tim Page on their book Requiem- one of the only real in-depth photographic accounts of these brave journalists of the Vietnam war.
I also learned through Fred Leo Brown and others about Dana Stone's brother, Tom Stone, who joined the Army and went to Vietnam in hope of learning what happened to his brother. John Stone never did find Dana, but what he did do was remain in the service as a member of the Vermont National Guard. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006, the year I arrived there to cover the war for the coming winter. It is a small world.
In our research of the Steinbeck/Flynn/Stone story, we visited Nancy Steinbeck, widow of John Steinbeck IV along with her daughter Megan who John adopted, during an Armed Forces Network reunion in Indianapolis. The time her husband spent with Sean Flynn and others who comprised Dispatch News in Vietnam, is discussed in the book by Nancy and John Steinbeck IV, "The Other Side of Eden: Life with John Steinbeck".
Nancy Steinbeck told us how much Sean Flynn meant to John. She too has been anxious for closure regarding John's old friend. We asked for her reaction to the possible discovery of Sean Flynn's remains:
"Eerie, isn't it? I don't know what makes them think the remains are Sean's. It reminds me of the recent uproar over Natalie Holloway's skeleton supposedly being seen by some divers off the coast of Aruba. Maybe these people just want their 15 minutes?"
The photos from these brave photojournalists appeared all over the U.S. and the world in print; magazines and newspapers, and motion picture film on the nightly news. They were radical, more than edgy, and they lived life to the fullest as long as they could, so frequently surrounded by death.
Knowing several people involved in the story, we are gifted with the larger-than-life lore and the inside scoops on these people. I am glad to be able to share a few examples.
One Night with Sean Flynn
After I published my May, 2008 story about Sean Flynn, I was fortunate to receive a story from a former U.S. soldier named Tom Reilly, who had a chance encounter with Sean Flynn in Vietnam. The story says a great deal about Sean Flynn's character, and why he was so widely liked and admired. Tom Reilly was with the 299th Engineer Battalion (Combat) on a firebase/airtsrip in the Central Highlands called Dakto in 1969 when Sean dropped in for a visit. As Tom recalls, it was in May, 1969 when the base was under siege. Though he is not positive about the date, he recalls the encounter well.
"Dakto was a frequent target of VC and NVA rockets and mortars so the reporters who would appear with the arrival of the Hueys in the morning would invariably leave on those same birds when they flew out before dark. Sean stands out as the only reporter to my recollection who stayed overnight with us. He sacked out on a cot in the same tent that was my home."
As Tom recalls, it was a 10 man tent, but again many years have passed.
"Sometime during the night we came under rocket attack and I went through my normal drill of pulling on pants, boots, steel pot, flack jacket, M-16, M79, .45 pistol, ammo, and a six pack of warm Carlings Black Label on my way to the foxhole right outside the tent."
He noticed that the reporter was sound asleep, "So I nudged him with the barrel of my 16 and suggested that he follow me. He woke up in the dark, looked at the rifle pointed at him, and was a bit startled. He quickly sized up the situation, followed me, and jumped into the same 2 man foxhole as I."
Sean Flynn by this point, had been in every type of combat situation imaginable. He worked in Vietnam off and on for a number of years.
Tom Reilly says he remembers offering Sean Flynn a beer while they curled up in the bottom of the hole. They introduced themselves, and he recalls that they had, "An eminently forgettable conversation about nothing remarkable. We returned to our respective cots after the all clear. We chatted briefly in the morning and that was the last I ever saw of him."
He says that night with Sean Flynn always stayed with him.
"He stands out in my memory because he was the only reporter who ever stayed overnight with us and I made a point of checking out published stories and pictures to see if his name was in the credits. "The next time I heard his name was a news report saying that Errol Flynn's son was missing in Cambodia a year later. That was also the first I learned of his relationship."
The news that Sean Flynn's remains may have been discovered is big, big news. Much remains to be known, we will stay very active on this one.
The story isn't that simple; research reveals that Sean Flynn and Dana Stone probably survived a year in captivity in Cambodia before finally being killed. There was a story about them dying during a hunger strike. There was word of an even worse fate.
The NY Daily News recalled another important part of the Sean Flynn story; one of a mother's love:
"Errol Flynn was already dead when his son vanished but his mother, French former Hollywood star Lili Damita, spent millions over the years chasing down phantom rumors of a 'movie star' being held prisoner in the jungle."
Their article concluded by stating that she kept that flame burning until 1984, when she had him declared legally dead. Then years later, she passed on too.
The Telegraph UK quoted U.S. Embassy spokesman John Johnson in Phnom Penh, saying, the "possible human remains" were being sent for forensic analysis in Hawaii.
Their article mentions how at least 37 journalists were killed or disappeared covering the brutal 1970-75 conflict between the US-backed Lon Nol government and Khmer Rouge guerrillas supported by North Vietnamese fighters.
History in this region becomes very interesting after the Vietnam War with the U.S. was over; that is when Communist Vietnam took the left behind American war arsenal along with their own, and defeated the reigning government of Cambodia. This is seldom referenced history.
According to Wikipedia: "The Cambodian–Vietnamese War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh biên giới Việt Nam–Campuchia) was a series of conflicts between the two countries, culminating in the establishment of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and the subsequent invasion led by the Vietnam People's Army, which resulted in the removal of the Khmer Rouge regime from power and the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. The war ended the Cambodian genocide from 1975-1979 under the rule of Pol Pot."  Aug-10-2006: Media, the French, War and Americans - Op-Ed by Tim King Salem-News.com
It just seems worth mentioning.
My introduction to Sean Flynn's story came many years ago from the Clash song "Sean Flynn". The song is really hard to follow at first, but in the end enough to ignite an insatiable curiosity.
This may be somewhat of an obscure story, but interest in Sean Flynn's life has never been restricted to a small crowd, and it will certainly be larger after today's news.
Sean Flynn's movie actor father, Errol Flynn, was loved by millions. In spite of that fact, and his fantastic acting ability, he was in reality probably far closer to scoundrel -than hero in his personal life.
Sean Flynn was the opposite. He didn't live his life from behind a set, he lived it extreme real time. Sean Flynn picked up a weapon and fought when the Americans he was with were overrun. Dana Stone wasn't very different. The Marines nicknamed Stone 'Mini Grunt' for his incredible athletic prowess and ability to help Marines in combat keep going when they were terrified. Stone had quickly become an old hand at the game.
And if you talk about Dana Stone, you have to talk about his lovely and vibrant bride Louise, who was there with him in Vietnam and other parts of the world every time she could be. Her story of searching for Dana Stone and Sean Flynn is extensively covered in Perry Deane Young's book. "Two of the Missing", which was recently republished, is the most compelling and fascinating account.
Nobody would accept their status in the beginning. As it turns out, nobody went farther or did more to locate these missing men than Louise Stone. The person who has to be mentioned again here is Tim Page. He was the one person of all who clicked with Sean Flynn.
They were straight, but it was stated that Page and Flynn were like soulmates. Many people believe part of Tim Page, who was mangled and injured so many times covering the Vietnam War, lost something when Sean Flynn went missing. I am glad he is still here with us. We have the privilege of possessing a candid interview with Tim Page that was recorded a few years ago in London. At some point and with the correct permission, I would love to play that for people. Page goes deep into all of this, to say the very least.
For some time, my article about Sean Flynn's role as a Combat Photojournalist has been listed on the front page of Google for those who search "Sean Flynn". That started a growing interest that led to connections with many people around the nation and world who knew Sean Flynn, or have worked on stories about him, on-site research, just about everything you could think of.
Our writer Anthony Wright in Mexico, initially contacted me over one particular Sean Flynn story. He had purchased an incredible set of lobby cards (movie posters) in Spanish that promoted Sean's movies in the 1960's. They were composed by a famous artist who created many of the marquis for Mexico's movies.
That is one small example of the wonderful contacts that I now have over writing these articles, thanks to all of the great people who are now part of our bigger circle of support over this.
Interestingly, we were very recently provided with information about a possible grave containing the remains of both Flynn and Stone.
It will be interesting as this situation unfolds, to correlate the locations and determine if a particular Vietnam Veteran who did a lot of research in Cambodia in recent years, had it right.
I will say that the information we have does not involve a mass grave, and if our contact is right, this will likely not be the remains of Sean Flynn. For now we can only wait for testing to take place that hopefully will quickly lead to real answers.
"The Buzz" wrote, "The recent discovery of what may be Flynn's remains by two British 'bone hunters' sent off a flurry of Search activity. Lookups immediately soared on "sean flynn missing" and "sean flynn photos". Web interest in Errol Flynn, one of the most handsome actors in cinematic history, also surged."
Key to the Past
One incredible story about Sean Flynn isn't what you would call a ghost story, but damn if it isn't ghostly. It's about the semi-recent discovery of Sean Flynn's apartment in Paris, which had been sitting in state ever since the last time he walked out of it and locked the door.
The article was sent to me via email, it appears to have been written around 1990 by Jeffrey Meyers whose name you would recognize from the NY Times.
He is also the author of "Inherited Risk: Errol Flynn and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam"; the kind of writer who makes you feel like you are there.
He wrote about this former home of Flynn's, where the bill was always paid, and decades passed before attention was called to its existence.
In his story called "Secrets of Flat Locked Up for 20 Years", Meyers wrote:
"It is the home of someone who left in a big hurry - the wardrobe doors are wide open and there are two cigarettes in the ashtray. But the clothes on these hangers are from another age and the cigarettes were smoked 20 years ago, the last time Sean Flynn, handsome son of the film heart-throb Errol, left his Paris flat chasing the deadliest drug of all, danger."
"For two decades the flat stayed locked up, while dust gathered on the bottles of mineral water in the kitchen, the fish in the aquarium faded to transparent skeletons, and the telephone directories, dating back to 1964, lay where he'd left them. But now at last, the secrets of this forgotten flat can be revealed - and with them the truth about the strange life, and even stranger death, of it's owner."
The article says the fourth floor flat could have stayed a dark secret forever, had it not been for a young French photographer who found it, believe it or not, while househunting in upper scale Paris.
"Turning the key in the stiff, rusty lock, and creaking open the door, he found himself trapped in this terrible time warp. 'It was incredible, a hallucination almost... the forgotten legacy of the forgotten son of a Hollywood hero.'"
And Sean's war photos, and personal things like pictures of his girlfriend, records by Otis Redding, and unopened fan mail all awaited his return.
Perhaps, finally, the wait is over.
 March-29-2010: Remains of Sean Flynn Perhaps Found - by Mike Krumboltz The Buzz
 Mar-17-2009: Whatever Happened to Sean Flynn and Dana Stone? - Salem-News.com
 Mar-20-2009: We Were There and We Cared - By Perry Deane Young for Salem-News.com
 Jun-10-2008 :Why Did the FBI Let Roxanna M. Brown Die? - Tim King Salem-News.com
 March-29-2010 Remains of Errol Flynn's son, Sean, 'discovered' in Cambodia
Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format was launched in December, 2005.
Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.
Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: email@example.com. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)
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