The fall of Saigon
A North Vietnamese tank rolls through the gate of the Presidential Palace in Saigon,
April 30, 1975, signifying the fall of South Vietnam.
From The Associated Press
Today is the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon - a signature event in the history of the United States and one of those events seared into our country's collective memory.
Newspapers and broadcast stations have been presenting numerous stories on the anniversary of the April 30, 1975, capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong). It marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period leading to the formal reunification of Vietnam into a socialist republic, governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Today's issue of Connecting doesn't attempt to match all the stories in the media about that eventful day, but instead brings you the recollections of Connecting members who responded to my call for their stories.
Enjoy, and remember, and be proud of your journalist colleagues who covered the war.
'A circuit to anywhere'
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This was excerpted from the book, "Breaking News: How the Associated Press has covered war, peace and everything else". Richard Pyle was AP's Saigon bureau chief from 1970-73 and is the last survivor of the seven who were Saigon bureau chiefs.)
By RICHARD PYLE
In the cluttered Associated Press bureau overlooking Saigon's main square, three newsmen were facing the crisis of their lives. After fifteen years of war, South Vietnam was disintegrating under enemy attack, and the risks for foreign journalists ranged from losing their communications to the outside world to becoming casualties themselves.
All military and government switchboards were dead, and AP's radio-teletype link to New York could fail momentarily. Bureau Chief George Esper, famous among colleagues for his prowess with Vietnam's erratic phone system, was desperately trying to keep a line open, "a circuit to anywhere," as he would later put it.
It was Wednesday, April 30, 1975, and Saigon was gripped by dread. The day before, a three-hour artillery attack battered Tan Son Nhut Airport, site of the former U.S. military headquarters called Pentagon East, triggering an emergency evacuation called "Operation Frequent Wind." Through the night, relays of U.S. Marine Corps helicopters had lifted thirteen hundred Americans and five thousand six hundred Vietnamese and "third country" citizens from the roof of the United States embassy to safety aboard U.S. warships in the South China Sea.
Top government officials had fled, and most foreign correspondents had joined the evacuation. Esper (left) and colleagues Peter Arnett and Matt Franjola were among a few staying behind to cover the end of the second Indochina war, known to the Vietnamese as the "American war," in which more than three million people died.
The Saigonese had always feared a bloodbath if the North won. Now, that moment was at hand, and the city was on the edge of chaos. As looters ransacked the deserted U.S. embassy a few blocks away, the first North Vietnamese troops crashed their Soviet-built tanks through the gates of the presidential palace and hoisted a victory flag. By midmorning, many residents had retreated indoors to await Hanoi's conquering army and an uncertain future.
Walking the tree-lined boulevards, Arnett and Franjola found a virtual flea market of military uniforms and boots, discarded by soldiers and policemen who had donned civilian garb or run off in their underwear. Meanwhile, Vietnamese families filled the dingy corridor outside AP's door in the thick-walled Eden Building. "They had mistaken our activity for authority, and believed we could provide them sanctuary," Arnett wrote later.
In deciding to stay, the journalists were banking on assurances by the National Liberation Front, the Viet Cong, that, barring a battle for Saigon, a Communist takeover would not endanger foreigners. "We assumed the worst that could happen to journalists would be interrogation and maybe house arrest," Esper recalled. Actually, most foreign reporters were expelled within a few days; Esper was ordered out after five weeks. In 1993, he opened AP's first postwar bureau in Hanoi.
But during those days the Communists were taking control of Saigon, there were no guarantees of safety from what the AP men considered a greater peril: embittered South Vietnamese seeking revenge for what they saw as an American betrayal. Near the war memorial in Lam Son Square, a distraught police colonel accosted Esper, shouting and waving his pistol. As Esper edged away, expecting a fatal bullet, the man cried "Fini! Fini!" saluted the statue, and shot himself in the head.
In New York, AP General Manager Wes Gallagher watched the Saigon situation with growing concern for the staff's safety. Eventually, he ordered everybody out except Esper and Arnett. "We knew others were leaving, and some probably thought we should leave, too, but Gallagher gave us the option of staying, and we took it,'' Esper would say later. "We had spent too many years in Indochina with the AP to just give it up.''
In a decade as an AP field reporter and main lead writer, Esper had scored a series of scoops and produced more than twice as many words as any other journalist in Vietnam, banging out daily war roundups that appeared in hundreds of papers.
New Zealand-born Arnett, who in thirteen years in Vietnam had earned a Pulitzer Prize and a reputation for tough-minded reporting, had rushed back to Saigon from New York when it became clear that South Vietnam was crumbling. Franjola had come to Saigon after fleeing the Khmer Rouge takeover of neighboring Cambodia, then volunteered to help cover the story, and insisted on remaining as the third man.
As the situation worsened, Esper helped expedite the departure of AP's staff and the Vietnamese employees who feared Communist retribution. An hour before the end on April 30, Gallagher messaged AP Saigon that yet one more helicopter evacuation was possible and asked: "Any of you want to leave if it works out?"
"Thanks for your offer," Esper replied. "We want to stay."
For years, it had been a wry joke among AP's Vietnam staffers that when the Communist forces captured Saigon, they would find George Esper on the telephone. On this turbulent day, that prophecy was fulfilled.
The last three staffers in the AP Saigon bureau-Matt Franjola, left, Peter Arnett, rear, and George Esper, bending over map - with two North Vietnamese soldiers and a member of the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975, the day the government of South Vietnam surrendered. One of the soldiers is showing Esper the route of his final advance into the city.
As Esper worked to open a line to any other AP bureau, three Vietnamese walked in. Two were armed and wore the khaki-green uniform of the North Vietnamese People's Liberation Army. Esper and Arnett recognized the third as Ky Nhan, a long-time AP photo stringer who now revealed that for many years, he also had been a Viet Cong agent, spying on Vietnamese and foreign journalists.
"I have guaranteed the safety of the AP office. You have no reason to be concerned," he declared. Nodding toward the soldiers, he continued: "I have told them about the AP, that you are all good people, and they come here to visit you as friends." (At a Saigon press reunion in April 2005, a former NVA soldier told AP staffers his mission in 1975 had been to assure the safety of foreign journalists.)
The soldiers in the AP office said nothing, but one unshouldered his AK-47 assault rifle and laid it on the wooden counter that divided the news desks from the public area. As if to match the peaceful gesture, Esper put down his phone and shook hands with the visitors. While Franjola chatted with them in Vietnamese, Esper brought out Coca-Colas and leftover pound cake from the office refrigerator. The soldiers accepted the offering, but, like honest cops on duty, declined Arnett's offer of a drink of cognac. They took family photos from their packs and showed them around. Then Esper turned to business, interviewing the two twenty-five-year-old sergeants. On a wall map, they helpfully traced the route their tank brigade had taken into Saigon that morning.
Esper began punching the story, the first interview with the conquerors of Saigon, into the transmitter. The soldiers, who probably had never seen a teletype machine, watched in silence as the story clacked off to New York. "For ten years, I had written about the faceless, nameless Communist troops," Esper wrote later. "Finally we were face to face. It struck me that they were no different from the South Vietnamese or, for that matter, my fellow Americans, all of whom had been killing each other."
The helicopter evacuation had been fraught with its own perils. By prearrangement, the broadcast of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" on U.S. Armed Forces Radio was the secret signal for foreigners to gather at designated pickup points for buses to take them to the airport. But there were delays--and no way that buses full of foreigners could avoid attracting attention.
Menaced by angry South Vietnamese soldiers and finding the airport unsafe, the buses detoured to the U.S. Embassy, where Marine guards pulled the passengers to safety over a back wall. Among them were two other AP staffers, Neal Ulevich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and Edwin Q. White, the Tokyo news editor who since 1962 had spent long periods on temporary assignments in Saigon. Having married a Vietnamese woman and all but put down roots, no one was more distressed at leaving than "Quigley" White. At the embassy, he encountered George McArthur, a former AP colleague then working for the Los Angeles Times. "White, I'm never going to war with you again. You're a loser," said McArthur, trying to bolster his old friend with a little gallows humor. White could see that McArthur was suffering his own private humiliation, having been delegated to take care of U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin's Yorkshire terrier.
As Marine guards kept a desperate crowd at bay, the evacuees sat in the corridors, listening to the rumble of helicopters on the roof and waiting for their numbers to be called. Years later, White recalled the moment of departure: "It was long after dark when we finally got aboard, and the flickering lights of a mostly darkened city fell away below."
Once aboard the Navy command ship USS Blue Ridge, White and Ulevich found rumors rampant. Japanese reporters asked whether it was true that press people who stayed behind had been "lined up at a wall near the Saigon market and shot."
White hadn't heard that; nor did he believe it. But he was relieved when the ship's communications officer managed to link a teleprinter to a radio signal, "and before long, in came a Saigon-datelined, George Esper-bylined piece, describing what was going on. That was good enough to break out the bottle of booze I had managed to get through the Navy shakedown and offer to all hands."
By midday of April 30, one vestige of the South Vietnamese government remained: Radio Saigon was still on the air, and at noon, it broadcast a terse announcement. From the translation, Esper wrote the bulletin:
"SAIGON (AP) - President Duong Van "Big" Minh of South Vietnam announced Wednesday an unconditional surrender to the forces of North Vietnam."
New York messaged Esper that AP's bulletin was five minutes ahead of UPI's. Arnett would later observe that wars, governments, and leaders come and go, but "the only important determinant in the news business is to be first with the story."
The AP bureau had had no contact with Saigon's new order since the two sergeants left. Just after 7 p.m. Arnett was in the wire room, punching out a first-person account:
In thirteen years of covering the Vietnam War, I never dreamed it would end the way it did at noon today.
Suddenly the transmitter hiccupped, then quit in mid-sentence. Long pauses were common because of atmospheric interference or other glitches in the communications system left over from the French days. This time, it did not resume, and Arnett knew why: The new masters of Vietnam had pulled the plug.
In New York, editor Larry Thorson was standing over the printer bringing copy from Saigon, watching Arnett's story arrive, when the machine suddenly went dead.
"We waited, but somehow we knew it wasn't going to start up again," Thorson remembers. "This time was different." Different, yet at the same time in the tradition of The Associated Press. For a hundred sixty years, when armies clash or governments fall, AP has been on the scene to report it.
Leaving Vietnam - an obligation to his Vietnamese family
Carl Robinson (right) met by AP Tokyo photo chief Max Desfor at Clark Air Base after fall of Saigon, in 1975.
By CARL ROBINSON (Email)
(Carl Robinson was a photographer and correspondent with the AP in Vietnam from 1968-75. This is an unpublished memoir from a book in progress on his life.)
(PREFACE: As Saigon was falling in late April 1975 and the city's helicopter evacuation eminent, AP NY ordered out all but two remaining staffers leaving only Bureau Chief George Esper and Peter Arnett, who'd covered South Vietnam since 1962 and a local stayer. (Cambodia correspondent Matt Franjola insisted on staying regardless.) Among the staffers who left that fateful day was Carl Robinson, who'd lived in South Vietnam since 1964 as an aid worker in the Mekong Delta and joined AP after Tet 1968, married his Vietnamese sweetheart and over next seven years worked his way up from photo editor to correspondent. After nearly a dozen years in Vietnam, which he loved deeply, he'd wanted desperately to stay to see the last act but what he calls his Confucian Obligations to his Vietnamese family ruled that out. With his wife and two children already evacuated to Bangkok, they'd waited too late to escape and now he took along a young brother-in-law and a niece. (His left-behind father-in-law would later suffer four & a half years in a re-education camp.)
Now that I was leaving, I might as well go out in style, I reckoned. I'd drive that old black Citroen - the car I just never got around to shipping back to the US as a Collector's Item - out to where the helicopters would be waiting. Then just like in that celebrated Bill Mauldin cartoon from World War II of the GI and his Jeep, I'd fire a bullet through the car's distinctive radiator grill like putting an injured horse out of its misery and then climb aboard. But the damned thing wouldn't start. I hopped on the motorbike with niece Phuong on the back and headed into the AP office where I told brother-in-law Vinh he was coming with me.
No ceremony attended my departure. I shook hands with George Esper and Peter Arnett. Matt Franjola was out somewhere. Ed White and Neal Ulevich would come later. With my two extra charges, I wanted a head start. In a flourish, I pulled the keys to my much-loved Kawasaki motorbike out of my pocket and tossed them to Huan, our darkroom technician. Here, keep it, I told him. The last thing on my mind were three metal lockers in the photo department of left-over negatives of everything I'd shot at AP over the past seven years. (And boy does that still hurt.) I also forgot to listen to the radio to see if Bing Crosby was singing that song. (I was told later he did.)
Joining me for the walk to the evacuation point was my long-time friend Rick Merron, one of those AP photographers let go before the 1972 Offensive. Our Evacuation Point was about three blocks away near the Grall Hospital. But walking out the Eden Building and into Lam Son Square with our bags, the Continental Hotel on one side and Caravelle on the other, there was no way we were going to keep our escape secret and just slip out of town.
What 24-hour curfew? Small clusters of Vietnamese on parked motorbikes watched our every movement. We were joined by other foreigners, mostly fellow journalists, out of downtown offices and hotels. Other bikes came and went. Talking. Pointing. Speeding off. They followed us to the Evacuation Point. The word was out. The Americans were leaving. The streets were filling up. And what'd happen now?
I wasn't worried about the Communists. They were still outside the city. But what if ordinary South Vietnamese turned on us? Or worse, disgruntled South Vietnamese soldiers pulling up and firing off a few rounds? Toss a grenade? I sure wouldn't blame them. And given my years-long bitterness towards American officialdom, I was embarrassed even standing there in the hot mid-day sun as the size of our group continued to grow, now with lots of ordinary Vietnamese, and curious others coming and going on motorbikes.
After an hour or so, an old military bus pulled up - a leftover from the earlier war years and a typical American school bus painted a US Navy grey with its windows covered with metal screens against grenade attacks. Surprisingly, the driver was a white American. Everyone surged forward and the bus filled in barely a couple minutes with many standing in the aisle. "Stay here, another bus is coming," the driver yelled.
As we drove off into the increasingly busy streets of Saigon, now followed by dozens of people and bags on motorbikes, it was soon obvious the poor bastard had not only never driven a bus before but didn't know his way around. No, Tan Son Nhut is that way! The blazing dry season sun and no breeze through the windows turned the inside of the bus into a simmering cauldron and way back on the left with the two kids I felt squeezed in and was sweating profusely drenching the Leica M5 around my neck.
At last, we were heading north towards the airport but tensions rose as we pulled up at civilian side's police and military check-point. Would they let this mixed bag of foreigners and Vietnamese through? And no wonder they were using an American driver who'd presumably make the entry easier. After several long minutes, we were finally waved through and leaving behind our outriders of panic-faced Vietnamese on motorbikes who followed us there.
I knew the road inside very well - today all crowded shops, homes and even a bowling alley - all quite open brown and dusty up to the now-deserted civilian terminal in the near distance. Our destination, the vast two-story light yellow metal-clad Defence Attache Office (DAO), built as war-time MACV's Pentagon East, was coming up to the right. And right across to the left, the familiar Air America terminal and its huge rusty-roofed hangar from my long-ago USAID days and just barely five weeks ago where my helicopter had landed after that high-altitude bug-out from Cambodia.
As we looped around a driveway up to DAO's main entrance, I glanced into the Air America terminal and saw one of its Huey choppers askew in what looked like a bomb crater, its main rotor blade flapping lazily around but no sign of any crew. What happened there? Then, a loud explosion. Close. Incoming. The bus lurched to a stop and driver fiddled with the opening mechanism for its single front door. Everyone wanted off the bus at once. Standing up and pushing with their bags. As panic gripped our mob, somebody yelled out, "Stop! Calm down. One at a time." It worked. We slowly disembarked and made out way into the DAO.
I hadn't been inside the building for years but the place was typically American Military with offices on the upper floor and the ground for amenities like cafeterias, a Post Exchange and even a barber shop. Saigon was falling and someone forgot to turn off the revolving lit-up red, white and blue barber's pole outside. Anyone want a haircut while we're waiting to flee?
We weren't the first busload of escapees and took our place along one side of the linoleum-covered fluorescent-lit hallway. Thank goodness, the air-conditioning was still working. We had no idea how long we'd be. Unspoken, we worried about the next explosion and if we'd be the target. But in the hallway everything was eerily quiet. And we didn't hear any helicopters.
I was sitting with Anne Mariano, a tall and casually elegant American with a 40's hairstyle who'd built up The Overseas Weekly into a semi-subversive thorn-in-the-side of the war-time US military establishment and popular publication with GI's, and whom I'd met a few times at the AP. Born Bryant, she'd fallen in love and married a handsome U.S. Army chopper pilot turned ABC television reporter Frank Mariano and now off somewhere. They'd adopted a couple Vietnamese girls and seeing Phuong offered to help whatever was coming next. I thanked her.
Time passed. But finally there was movement at the far end of the hallway. People were leaving. A U.S. officer came down the line shouting they were raising the number per chopper from 50 people to 65 with everyone now allowed only one carry-on. I scrambled through my bag of clothes, grabbed those pictures of my wife Kim-Dung, and dumped everything else behind with only my camera bag. Now standing, we moved fairly rapidly down the hallway and could now see an exit door ahead.
Then, in a blast of blinding light, the door opened as an officer counted us past and we ran out into the blazing hot sunshine and a baseball diamond coated in black diesel to keep down the dust. Lying flat on their stomachs in a wide circle around the field, fully-armed US Marines in flak jackets pointed their M-16's outwards.
Straight ahead with its back ramp down stood a huge chopper I'd never seen in real life before, a US Marine CH-53 Sea Stallion. Squat. Heavy-looking. Two huge jet engines and a single huge multi-prop rotor blade. That familiar pungent smell of burning kerosene, or JP-4, now mixed with the smell of diesel and dust. The sky was a Dry Season hazy white.
With Anne hold Phuong's hand and me Vinh's, we put our heads down and rushed to the chopper's back door, up the ramp and into web seats not far down its left side. More piled on behind us rapidly and filled up the centre floor. The chopper throbbed to the sound of the engine and then the props sharply changed pitch and - like popping a clutch - we soared up sharply into the air.
Out the open back door of the CH-53, I saw the entire panorama of Tan Son Nhut as we twisted away, its runways deserted and smoke rising here and there. And looking out even more keenly than me, a helmeted U.S. Marine crewman on the right was scanning the entire horizon with his flare pistol at the ready - and ready to fire and distract any shoulder-held SAM7's, those Soviet-made Dreaded Strellas, lifting off and heading our way.
Barely a half-hour after lifting off from Saigon, the chopper began its descent over the South China Sea. From inside the crowded helicopter, we couldn't see a thing, just glimpses of grey sky and now dark seas out its rear window and back cargo ramp. We shuddered to a stop on the small chopper pad at the stern of a U.S. Navy ship and as we disembarked were waved along the railing by sailors to the main part of the vessel.
Clutching my large camera bag - all I had left after forced to abandon my bag of clothes at the last-minute - with Vinh and Phuong trailing along behind, I gazed out at the massive flotilla of over 50 ships, including a couple aircraft carriers stripped of their war planes, further out to sea. Everywhere, I could see big choppers landing and taking off. And then in a deafening roar and whiff of burning jet fuel, ours took off for another run back up to Saigon and more evacuees. Under dark early rainy season skies, the air was full of the throbbing sounds of massive helicopters overhead.
We were on board the USS Mobile (LKA-115), an Attack Cargo Ship, at the top of the flotilla and closest to the South Vietnamese coast. Any landmarks, like those hills near Vung Tau southeast of Saigon, were no longer visible. On board our load of 65 were many foreign journalists - but none of them close acquaintances - and a few Vietnamese. But first up, we needed to be cleared and registered.
Wearing MP (Military Police) armbands, a detail of sailors ordered everyone to place their bags on the deck and open them for inspection. My camera bag easily passed but glancing behind me, I saw one of the MPs victoriously holding up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black he'd found in a journalist's bag. Okay, U.S. Navy ships are "dry" - we all knew that. But instead of just tossing it overboard, this officious fellow stood up, uncorked the bottle and slowly poured its contents into the South China Sea - and then the emptied bottle. The bastard! (And if there was ever a time when you really needed a drink, the Fall of Saigon certainly qualified.) I couldn't bear watching this sacrilege any further.
We must've been the first helicopter onto the USS Mobile - or official one anyway. But Navy officers quickly mentioned an earlier "unauthorised landing" by a VNAF, or South Vietnamese air force, UH-1D with five fleeing colonels on board which blocked the freighter's only landing pad. Fearing damage to the long antennas sticking out over the ship's stern if they pushed the "Huey" straight overboard, the Americans ripped off one of its doors, handed the Vietnamese pilot a life-vest and ordered him to fly off the deck and jump out just before the chopper crashed into the sea. A whaleboat would then pick him up. (Worked well for a couple times until one pilot almost broke his back and the USS Mobile, as on other ships, simply shoved the renegade choppers straight overboard - and providing one of the most enduring images of the Evacuation.)
While Vinh and Phuong joined other Vietnamese and I soon tracked down Ann Mariano who, as the only foreign woman on board, was given the captain's cabin with a separate lounge area that looked much more inviting than those sardine-tight bunks below. She'd also tracked down that we could file stories over the ship's communication system to the PAO (Public Affairs Office) aboard the fleet command ship, the USS Blue Ridge, for relay to Clark Airbase in the Philippines and our AP representative there. Grabbing a spare typewriter, we quickly sat down and compared mental notes as I hacked a two-page colour piece on our last day in Saigon and our landing on the USS Mobile. My story noted that we had 200 Vietnamese on board and more than 35 foreigners. At the end of my story, I included an urgent personal message for Bangkok to tell my wife I'd evacuated safely with Phuong and Vinh.
Saving a carbon copy, we handed over the story and messages to USS Mobile's communications centre. April 1975. That night, I crashed on a couch in the captain's quarters while Ann slept in his cabin. (He was reputedly a submariner who preferred a more confined sleeping space up on the bridge.)
On board the tiny USS Mobile, we were in a vacuum with no news. A couple more helicopters landed. But out on deck all through the night, we could see and hear them overhead and landing on larger vessels further down in the flotilla. (Most journalists ended up on the USS Okinawa, a helicopter carrier, and then transferred to the Blue Ridge.) At dawn on Wednesday, the 30th of April, everything was eerily quiet. I could still see the freighter where they'd taken away Vinh and Phuong's nearby. We had breakfast and wondered what the day would bring.
In the late morning, Ann broke the news. South Vietnam's President Duong van Minh, "Big Minh," whose inauguration I'd covered only a couple days before had gone on Radio Saigon and ordered a complete surrender. North Vietnamese troops were moving into Saigon. Everything was over. Choking back tears, I walked upstairs past the bridge and then outside as high as I could climb just below the mast and funnel. I tried making out the Long Hai Hills behind Vung Tau. A last glimpse of Vietnam. But nothing. Just grey everywhere. Slumping down on the rough metal stairs, I felt horribly alone. Lost. I broke down and cried.
Then as dusk settled over the evacuation flotilla, at least 25 South Vietnamese air force helicopters suddenly appeared out of bases in the Mekong Delta which, unlike Saigon, had not yet fallen to North Vietnamese troops. "Our president said not to fight anymore," one young U.S.-trained pilot told me aboard the USS Mobile. "So we threw away our guns and flew away." Some had time to pick up their families but others took off leaving them behind.
The flotilla was already cut back from the previous day to only a score and most of the VNAF choppers landed on the USS Midway, converted from a regular to helicopter carrier for the evacuation. The crews were disarmed and their aircraft tossed into the South China Sea. When a South Vietnamese helicopter gunship settled down onto the USS Mobile's landing pad, a flak-jacketed US Marine approached with shotgun upright on his shoulder. The crew simply smiled and handed over their weapons which, several minutes later, went over the side along with the helicopter and its expensive US-made mini-guns and rocket pods. Soon other airmen and families arrived from the Midway and after American-style Chop Suey & Rice before their transfer by landing craft the nearby freighter.'
I filed another story with another advisory to my wife with the heart-breaking words, "Greatly saddened no more of family could depart," I ended in wire service lingo, "as everything turned out so wrong and fast. Love, Robinson. Endit. AP."
I woke up the next morning overwhelmed by depression. I didn't want to talk to anyone. What was there to say? Eleven years and a whole life down the gurgler. And the USS Mobile wasn't going anywhere. For the next couple days, we lingered off the coast picking up the first "boat people" fleeing the communist take-over. Looking out from the back deck, the entire horizon was filled with vessels of all shapes and size, but mostly small fishing junks, making their way towards us where they were met by the Mobile's landing craft, scuttled and their passengers transferred onto now a half-dozen freighters a bit further away. The Task Force's radio net crackled with pleas for rescue and asylum, including a barge with 600 South Vietnamese paratroopers on board.
The journalists on-board the USS Mobile were becoming increasingly impatient and demanded a helicopter over to the fleet's command ship, the USS Blue Ridge. But with the Philippines still way out of chopper range and the carriers - with some journalists on board - already heading east, I couldn't understand the rush. But for a laugh and mild-mannered protest, Skip and others bought and distributed white t-shirts from the ship's on-board PX with the felt-tip slogan, "Free the Mobile 13!" Late on the Friday as the setting sun reflected bright orange off a soaring cumulus cloud to our north and a pod of dolphins skirted up incongruously alongside, we finally headed east leaving behind just a couple other US Navy ships to pick up more refugees.
In one last story from the USS Mobile, I described the past couple days off the coast and noted early estimates that 20,000 Vietnamese had fled and were now also on their way east. Finally, a helicopter arrived the next afternoon and transferred our handful of foreigners over to the Blue Ridge. But only a few of the fleeing journalists who'd crowded the ship - and monstered a totally dejected US Ambassador Graham Martin in a disastrous press conference a couple days before - were still on-board.
After cruising eastward through the night, the Blue Ridge was close enough to the Philippines by mid-day Sunday - or a full five days after I'd flown out of Saigon - to "launch" us back onto solid ground but, in another change, now into vast US-run Clark Air Base north of Manila. As we gathered on the command ship's rear deck for the CH-53's to arrive, the last American Ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, suddenly appeared along with the Task Force commander and began shaking hands and chatting with the waiting journalists. No way, I thought angrily, I'd rather throw the bastard overboard into the South China Sea. I moved away and parked myself glumly under the shade of an Air American "Huey" chopper until they'd moved along.
Finally, our CH-53 fluttered onto the deck and we boarded up for the hour or so run into Clark Air Base. My mind was a total blank. And then we were finally on the ground and I disembarked with my camera bag and a plastic bag of clothes and warmly embraced by Max Desfor, AP's Tokyo-based photo editor, and Peter O'Loughlin now based in Sydney, Australia. What a relief! All I wanted was a slice of apple pie a la mode.
But when I asked about those stories I'd filed from the USS Mobile, my colleagues said they'd never received them, much less forwarded them on to NY. And those all-important personal messages to my wife? Damn! For the past five days, she had absolutely no idea what happened to me - or her left-behind family.
On the last plane out of Vietnam
By LE LIEU BROWNE (Email)
When I have accepted to write about my experiences of the last week in Viet Nam, I thought it was simple. I did not realize that guilt, regret, memories, these emotions of the past suddenly surged up in me and nightmare once more haunts me.
In 1975, Malcolm (Le Lieu's husband, former AP Saigon bureau chief Malcolm Browne, pictured with her at right in 2012) was New York Times Eastern Europe bureau chief. We lived in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. When Malcolm heard that Kontum was run over by the guerillas, he turned to me and casually stated that Viet Nam soon would fall. He sent a telegram to New York bureau predicting that. The next day, he was expedited to Vietnam and I remained in Belgrade. Two weeks later, I received his telegram "Saigon is about to fall, I need your help in getting your family out." I could not believe that it was all that serious. Even when I boarded Air France from Paris where I first stopped to consult with my sister, I was still optimistic that the Vietnamese government would fight to the end with the help of our "friends", the Americans.
In mid way, Air France made a stop in Beirut and I was told to get off. The NYT Bureau Chief in Beirut intersected a telegram from Malcolm to the New York Bureau to stop me from getting to Saigon. It was clumsily explained to me that they misread his telegram. I was angry and at the same time panicked, fearing that I might never get there on time.
I went to see my family the next day of my arrival. The whole family gathered around my mother, 8 adults and 14 children ranging from 1 to 14 years old, all eyes fixed on me waiting for my verdict. I suddenly felt overpowered by responsibilities as well as terrified over the idea that their lives were in my hands. Everybody was eager to leave including my mother. "I'd kill myself rather than being taken by the Viet Cong," my youngest brother who worked at the Presidential Palace under Thieu's administration emotionally stated. "I have experience as barber," he showed me a pair of scissors that he bought recently. "I can make a living as barber."
Malcolm briefed me a day before that the foreign press had an evacuation plan in place to evacuate all their Vietnamese staff. It was supposed to be hush-hush for fear that the public might learn the plan and stormed their offices. We lived in a dicey situation and everything was planned in secrecy. Rumors ran amok. News circulated that a military general rather killed himself than let himself to be captured. Several Vietnamese civilians (probably those who worked for the American military or intelligence,) had committed suicide for fear of being captured by the Viet Cong.
I talked to many Vietnamese staff who was waiting, with grim faces, along with their children and bundles of clothes in the office for the evacuation. All of them expressed profound sadness and guilt to leave their loved ones behind while the future was still unsettled. At the last minute, some decided to forego the trip and stayed back.
By the end of the third week, I realized that the staff evacuation plan drew to the close. My family began to panic, thinking that I abandoned them. I myself was not so sure why Malcolm did not give my family priority. That, in turn, caused some friction between the two of us.
At last, on the 26th of April, Malcolm gave me order to take my family to the office. I was still torn between letting my mother go along with my brothers or to go later, possibly with me. She was very frail suffering years of tuberculosis. I was told that these clandestine flights were rough, chaotic, each one for his/her own safety. That day, my two twin-brothers did not show up. The one with 7 children went to work with a friend, I was told. The other decided not to go. I learned after that he was in love with some woman and kept it secret from all of us. A few months after Viet Nam fall, he surprised everybody including my mother that he was getting married.
My sister-in-law, a widow, with her 4 children, was somehow convinced that I might not take them along. She went back to her family in the Delta. She had several brothers who joined the Communist party in Hanoi and held some high-ranking position in the military. I felt that it was a good move for her. Four years later, I got the telegram from her letting me know that the Norwegian ship rescued their boat at sea and she was waiting for her sister in Missouri to sponsor her.
The parting that day looked more like a funeral than a farewell. Everybody cried, embracing my mother. She, in turn, hung on to her youngest son who never knew our father who was kidnapped and killed when he was only two.
Malcolm had warned me before that, because of the delicate and secret arrangement between the foreign press and the American military, my brothers should be ready at the last minute notice. They only were allowed to take along one overnight bag each. I took them to the office and we sat there in silence, nervous and terrified. The children sensing some gravity on their parents' faces behaved with restrain. Malcolm came and signaled for them to follow him. We went to the cars parking in the streets. Malcolm designated some in his car and others in the second car driven by Greenway of Boston Globe. They drove away and I went back to comfort my mother.
That night, I went out on the Caravelle Hotel balcony, looking up in the dark sky and tearfully waved good-bye to my brothers and other lucky refugees as airplanes droned passed by with its flashing lights. What fate did they expect in foreign land?
I looked down on the dark and empty broad boulevards that used to be the most elegant part of Saigon. Now the only sounds came out from below my balcony where Western television teams returned from their daily works, heaving their equipments and making a commotion. A lonely government vehicle with no lights blasted out through their loud speaker government propaganda and warning people to stay indoors. I felt so lonely and miserable wishing that somehow Saigon could be spared of humiliation and human tragedy.
During that week, I witnessed death and despair everywhere. Malcolm and I flew to Vung Tau to see with our own eyes, a fishing boat carrying some two hundred dead bodies. I saw a woman covering her baby in her arms lying on the wet floor. They looked asleep among rotten bodies. Nobody survived. Rumors were that so many fishing boats with hundreds of refugees fleeing the war zone in the North and perished at sea without any food or water. I saw groups of refugees fighting for loaf of bread. Seeing a toddler not older than 5 year-old trying to part a lump of legs to get in and fearing that he would be crushed at any moment, I went to his rescue by catching a loaf of bread randomly thrown to the crowd. His serious face lit up, grasped the bread and ran away. These images are with me forever, vivid and tormenting.
That week, Saigon was engrossed from 1 million to 3 million inhabitants, refugees from the North kept coming by all means. Rumors were that thousands of Northerners were fleeing by boats and died at sea. Crowds of concerned people gathered all over sidewalks listening to the radio or loudly debating among themselves. I noticed one young Chinese woman who was a friend of the New York Times sitting at the desk almost every day mulling over and over whether she should take advice from the Times who was willing to help her and her family to escape. At the last minute she declined the offer to leave, I was told.
That kind of dilemma was with every family including my own. My entire family included 22 members, 14 of whom were from 1 to 10 years old. With Malcolm's sole salary, there was no way for us to support them all. None of them spoke a word of English. What life could I possibly offer to them.
That week, despite artillery and cannon sounded very close days and nights, I could not help but remained optimistic that Saigon might still last longer. That week was full of rumors and counter rumors. Bad and good news came and went. There was some bright hope when General Minh (big Minh) was newly elected to replace Thieu who fled the country on the 25th. Some kind of negotiation was going on between Minh and the Viet Cong to spare Saigon or to delay the Viet Cong take over or to grant autonomy to Saigon. Nguyen Cao Ky, the glamorous ex-president even publicly declared that he was not going anywhere. I learned later in Hong Kong that as soon as the Viet Cong entered Saigon, Ky took off on his private airplane. Again that week, U.S. Ambassador Graham Anderson Martin still was seen walking around the Embassy with his entourage.
That week, Malcolm told me that he ran out of cash and wanted me to go to Hong Kong to get more money. He was convinced as many other newsmen that the Viet Cong would not attack Saigon because they feared that the growth of the population might hinder their advance, and inflict enormous casualties. I went to tell my mother reassuring her that I was going to Hong Kong just for two days and be back.
That Monday, April 28, Malcolm drove me to Tan Son Nhat airport and left me there while he rushed back to town. Air Vietnam was supposed to take off at 10am. Instead, I and other passengers had waited for over two hours. Each time we inquired about the delay and each time the answer was that they had not finished refueling. Sounds of cannon and crashing artilleries were heard around us and over our head. I called Malcolm to let him know that I was still at the airport. "I come to take you back, Tan Son Nhat is about to fall," he replied.
I went to the ticket counter to ask for reimbursement giving the reason that the airport was to be attacked. An Air Vietnam pilot happened to stand next to me, he immediately disappeared. A minute later, the loudspeaker announced the boarding for Hong Kong.
We landed in Hong Kong when darkness descended, Joe Lelyveld, NYT Asia bureau chief at that time, came and fetched me. He announced that it was the last plane out of Viet Nam.
Saigon was declared lost the next day although the Viet Cong did not parade in the streets until the 30th of April. During these two days I was clued on the television, waiting for news from Malcolm. I did not know whether Malcolm was still in Saigon, captured or killed by the communists. I remembered he had told me that the American Embassy had an evacuation plan for the American Press but I did not know what kind of plan. I watched the panic scene at the American Embassy and thinking of my mother and my other brothers.
In the middle of the night of May 2nd I received a telephone call from the New York Times to let me know that my brothers had arrived at camp Pendleton. They were safe and could wait while I stayed in Hong Kong waiting to hear from Malcolm. Later my brothers recounted how much they appreciated the support that the NYT reporters provided them with jobs and housing.
Malcolm turned up in Philippines after being evacuated along with other American Press, (I believe that AP reporters remained in Saigon,) by helicopter to a ship waiting at sea. We were reunited in Hong Kong. I never saw my mother again. She died a year and a half later, a few days after receiving the approval paper to immigrate to France.
After the fall - Operation New Life
By LINDA DEUTSCH (Email)
(Linda Deutsch retired recently as an AP special correspondent based in Los Angeles. Photo below right taken in 1976.)
The call came in late April, 1975. It was Bob Johnson, then assistant general manager of the AP under Lou Boccardi, giving me one of the most monumental assignments of my career. Bob said it appeared that Saigon was going to fall to the Communists within days and evacuations were already beginning to Guam. He asked if I could go there ASAP and cover the aftermath. I packed in a flash. The office arranged a one-way ticket to Guam and I headed out to an assignment that would alternately inspire and devastate me. I would meet some of the most incredible journalists in the AP and see people who had suffered upheaval from their homeland and yet maintained their dignity.
I was told when I left that I would be the only reporter there for AP (which I was for six weeks) and my mission was not just to cover the massive evacuation but to find 42 AP employees who had escaped aboard helicopters and ships in the final days and get them out. Talk about a challenge.
When I arrived, I received a brief handoff from Bob Barr, a staffer who was leaving. On my first day, I headed for the evolving tent city which would house 50,000 refugees. I found a dusty, wretched situation with not enough out-houses or cots for those who had already arrived. I interviewed the early escapees and got stories of their ordeal, then called the L.A. bureau and filed a story on the distressing scene that made headlines around the world. It also attracted the attention of U.S. Navy brass who were overseeing Operation New Life. They offered me a tour of the island to see the more positive efforts being made and I gladly accepted.
I was jet lagged and a bit disoriented so I welcomed time to get my bearings. A second story followed on babies being born to refugees at the local hospital and medical care being provided. I kept the name of the officer who was my tour guide and he would wind up being helpful later.
I realized I had to find our AP people. I wandered through the tent city asking other reporters if they had seen any AP evacuees. One Australian told me to go down a dirt road, turn right at a water pipe and "You can't miss them." I trudged past many tents and then I saw it: a large hand lettered sign that said, "AP TENT." I knocked on the tent and called out. A flap opened and I saw a young man's face. It was Nick Ut (in photo at right) whom I recognized as the AP's Pulitzer Prize winner for his picture of a girl running from a napalm attack, a picture that had become world famous.
Nick looked at me and grinned. "You look like Edie," he said and I had to laugh. Edie Lederer, my closest AP friend, had been a staffer in Vietnam. We were of similar stature and coloring and were often mistaken for each other. Nick took me from tent to tent introducing me to legends including Dang Van Phuoc, a photographer who lost his eye in Cambodia while producing prize winning pictures for AP. He and his family were typical of the AP evacuees. They were picked up by helicopter and then told to throw away their bags because the chopper was overloaded. They wound up throwing away their identity papers. Getting them off the island would be a challenge.
I remembered my friend the officer who took me on my first tour and appealed to him. I had seen men in uniform guiding refugees on to buses headed for the airport.
Somehow, I convinced him to walk our people onto buses. Eventually, they wound up at Camp Pendleton, California and some were not too happy about it.
They said Guam was warm, like Vietnam, and Pendleton was cold. But they were on their way to a true new life.
Then Saigon fell and the arrival of ships began. They would come in every night jammed with refugees carrying whatever possessions they had grabbed. A rice cooker. A moped. Coming down gangways under blazing lights, they resembled a scene from "Apocalypse Now." I went to meet the ships each night and found that I could stop anyone and ask, "How did you escape?" and I would get a story so dramatic and painful it brought tears to my eyes. I produced dozens of stories this way and one was more compelling than the next. I reported on a wedding of a refugee couple in the camp and on the celebration of Buddha's birthday in a makeshift temple.
Then I faced my greatest challenge. By now, photographer Sal Veder (who would win a Pulitzer Prize for a picture of released POWs) had arrived and brought word that the wife of an AP photographer, Carl Robinson, was on her way searching for two children who had escaped with Carl and were missing. Kim Dung Robinson arrived in great distress, emaciated and shaking with sobs. She and I would become close friends as we searched each day for the two young people who were her niece and nephew. Carl had been offloaded from a ship in the Philippines when he fell ill. We learned later that he had told the two youngsters that wherever they landed they should stay there. Guam seemed to be their destination, but we searched lists of arrivals for weeks and there was no sign of them.
Then, one day, as we sat in the Navy command center searching more lists, a man approached us and said, "You wouldn't be looking for two youngsters who refuse to leave here, would you?"
We raced to the tent city and he led us to the kids. It was them. Sal photographed the reunion and there were tears all around.
We could not immediately arrange for them to get out, but we offered to bring them food. What would they like, we asked. They broke into huge smiles and said, "Kentucky Fried Chicken!" It was delivered forthwith.
I remained on Guam longer than any other reporter and got to know the commander of the operation, Admiral George S. Morrison, whose own history was fascinating. He was the father of the late legendary rock singer Jim Morrison. He was a handsome man with a shock of white hair. An officer told me his hair had turned white after his son's death.
The admiral held daily news briefings and became familiar with my constant questions about why there were insufficient outhouses for the refugees who had to stand in long lines in the blistering sun. One day he opened the briefing with an announcement: "I wanted you all to know we have installed 20 new outhouses and they are dedicated to Ms. Deutsch." Everyone laughed and applauded. Admiral Morrison was a class act.
Once the story was cooling down, I left my home away from home at the Guam Hilton and headed back to Los Angeles. My new Vietnamese family, the Robinsons, had preceded me and came to my house where Kim cooked a full Vietnamese dinner. In subsequent years, we have all remained close. Nick worked with me in the Los Angeles bureau and Phuoc settled in Orange County.
A reunion of the Vietnam press corps a few years ago in Little Saigon brought us all together. And this year some of them are in Saigon for the 40th anniversary of the fall. Although I never got to Vietnam, former Saigon Bureau Chief Richard Pyle has declared me an honorary member of that legendary press corps.
Many years later, I asked Bob Johnson why he had chosen me for the assignment. He answered simply: "I thought you could do it."
Memories from colleagues
who were Vietnam veterans
Jim Carlson (Email) - I think I was like many draftees who did tours with the military in Vietnam and later tried to numb the experience away, as if it almost hadn't happened. After college graduation, I soon was drafted and went overseas in summer of 1969 as an Army infantryman trained as an APC driver. After a couple weeks in the field I was assigned as a stringer for my infantry battalion in the central Highlands, so I would go back and forth between our field companies and the headquarters, providing photos and stories for Army and hometown publications.
In our battalion, the troops knew what an awful waste this war was. We wouldn't have been there if not for the draft. The main goal was to do the time and get back home. I stayed an extra month, giving me 13 in country, so I would not have to do any stateside duty. If you had five months or less left on your two years of active duty, you did not have to be assigned stateside.
Back home, the job hunting was tough, and for months I stayed home, visited with friends, took a couple road trips, including a cross-country journey with three friends in a refurbished delivery truck. Then came a newspaper job and then joining the AP in June of 1971.
When the war finally ended, a fellow staffer said, hey, you're a vet, what's your reaction? I was still so numb to the whole experience that I didn't know what to tell him. It was no surprise to me. I knew it was bound to happen. It was such a huge waste of people and resources. Effects of our spraying the defoliant Agent Orange are still being felt today in illnesses among the Vietnamese and among our vets, not to mention those afflicted with PTSD.
And today Vietnam is a great U.S. trading partner and tourist destination! The big question - did we learn anything?
Jerry Harkavy (Email) - As an Army veteran who spent a year in Vietnam, I had mixed feelings about the fall of Saigon in 1975 that marked the final chapter in a war that had been lost years before.
Even in 1967-68, when I was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Americal Division, it was evident to me and many of the GI's I served with that we were making scant progress against an enemy whose resilience and determination far exceeded that of the government forces on whose behalf we were fighting. The defeat came as no surprise, but the scenes of the evacuations from the U.S. Embassy roof were still heart-rending.
My feelings centered, of course, on the soldiers I knew who were killed or wounded. One of our combat photographers in the 173rd was a KIA. A terrible loss, indeed. My thoughts also turned to the ARVN, especially the Vietnamese translator who worked with us for much of my tour, as well as the Montagnard children who we befriended and were not likely to get merciful treatment from the victorious North Vietnamese.
All things considered, it seemed in retrospect to be a terrible waste. But of course it was not quite that evident at the time.
On the other hand, I emerged from the war as a 26-year-old who got to see more of the world than I ever expected -- including a week of R&R in Australia -- and had the opportunity to cross paths with scores of top reporters and photographers from many countries. I also owe my 41-year-old AP career to a reporter I met there.
My stint with the 173rd took me to many parts of Vietnam, from Bien Hoa near Saigon, to Tuy Hoa along the central coast, and finally to the Pleiku area and Dak To. My time with the Americal was spent largely in Chu Lai, thankfully before the infamous My Lai massacre.
The 173rd drew plenty of media interest, especially during the encounters with North Vietnamese regulars in the Central Highlands.
There was never a shortage of press people at our tent at Brigade HQ, and it was a pleasure to get to know the reporters and photographers for whom we arranged chopper rides to the battalions most likely to see action. As I recall, the news outlet that had the largest representation was AP, although UPI was also a force at that time. The NY Times, the Washington Post, the news magazines and U.S. and foreign TV networks also passed through. I recall good conversations with many of these guests that lasted well into the night.
Knowing that I was "getting short" and preparing to rotate "back to the world," one reporter who had worked for AP in New England gave me the name of the Boston bureau chief, Jack Simms, and suggested that I might be interested in contacting him about a job. That reporter was Bob Stokes, who was in Vietnam for Newsweek and Overseas Weekly. As it turned out, I wrote to Simms, who lined up a test and interview in New York when I returned home at the end of my tour. (That was just days before the 1968 Tet Offensive, which played a critical role in the outcome of the war).
When I was hired and spoke to Simms, he said he had openings in Providence, R.I., and Portland, Maine. Maine sounded a bit more exotic -- and who doesn't like lobster? Short story: I fell in love with Maine and spent the next 41 years in the AP office, retiring during the big buyout in 2009.
I was very impressed with the professionalism of the AP people I met and worked with in Vietnam. Looking back, that made my decision to join AP an easy one.
Dick Lipsey (Email) - Recalling the fall of Saigon brings this to mind:
"Last Known Activity
1st Lt. Daryl R. Kunzler (pilot) and observer 1st Lt. Robert F. Wilcoxson were aboard their OH-6A (tail number 66-07935) checking out "moving" bushes south of Kontum, when their helicopter was brought down by a B-40 rocket, exploding in mid-air, and then exploding again on the ground."
Daryl Kunzler was a classmate in infantry OCS at Fort Benning, one of 200 who started out together in 1969-the summer of Woodstock to others-and of 140 or so who were commissioned as second lieutenants. (Lipsey third from left in photo below.)
I didn't know him before OCS, and I didn't know him afterward, but for six months he and I and a handful of others lived in intimate contact, 24 hours a day, learning the craft of the infantry while trying to become commissioned officers.
I think he was prior service and wanted to make the Army a career, I know he was married before he came to OCS, and I learned later that he went to flight school and then to Vietnam in August 1971.
From another source I learned that he and his observer who saw "moving" bushes on a routine air patrol had gone back for a closer look when they were shot down.
I was stationed at Fort Ord, California, on April 30, 1975, my 30th birthday and the day Saigon fell.
The collapse of the Saigon government was expected, and I don't remember that the news created much of a stir on post.
The Army had moved on, and what interest there was in Vietnam lay either in deriving tactical "lessons learned" or in forgetting it entirely and focusing on the Soviet threat in Europe.
Many of those who had carried much of the burden of the war-particularly aviators and special forces officers who didn't have a college degree-were gone by then, victims of the postwar reduction in force.
I solicited comments from several friends who served in Vietnam.
A retired Marine: "The 1975 fall of Saigon conjures up the video images of US Marine forces and helicopters evacuating personnel from the American embassy and the thousands of terrified Vietnamese nationals trying to escape the approaching NVA."
A retired Army buddy: "When I see the pictures and video from that time I think of the relief that no more Americans had to die; but I constantly think about those Vietnamese that were left behind that did not make it out. Bottom line is that I really do not like to commemorate this particular day."
And another: [When he enlisted...] "I was proud of what the country was doing and my support of the efforts, but with the passage of time ..., I am less sure that America's involvement was wise and worthy of the many lives lost and families affected."
Daryl was killed May 25, 1972, one of the last Americans to die in Vietnam.
I didn't learn of his death until about 10 years ago when I began an Internet search for old friends and buddies.
Since then, for me, the anniversary of the fall of Saigon brings to mind the loss of one particular brave soldier and good man.
Mike Tharp (Email) - When, 40 years ago, I watched the fall of Saigon in Dallas on CBS, my feelings were stirred, not shaken. By then, I'd been back from Nam as a soldier for five years, reporting for the WSJ in Dallas. Watched TV and saw the still photos--most of 'em from AP--as NVA tanks rolled down Highway 1. The Journal bureau had another Nam vet from Kansas, Dan Austin, who went on to illustrious news careers with Dow Jones and as director of VOA. We'd known each other three years by the time the U.S. lost the war--and that's how we both felt. Korea was a tie. Vietnam was an L.
Tharp in center of photo, by Steve Atkinson, 16th PID, II Force Vietnam
He had mentioned, in phrases and shrugs over time, an incident with a truck convoy that had happened to him as an enlisted man. It wasn't till just after the North took Saigon 40 years ago that he ever described what had gone down. Over beaucoup beers Dan told me, finally, like the "Snowden" scene in Catch 22, what had happened. It was bad.
Reflexively, our wives forgotten over after-dinner drinks, we looked at each other with new respect. And, in my case, even higher regard. Here was a fellow Jayhawk, his dad longtime publisher of the Salina Journal, spilling his guts. That's the way we do it. If we do it at all. He told someone who had slogged the red laterite, driven a jeep down roads maybe mined, run for bunkers when rockets and mortars arrived and pulled guard from 1200 to 0400. We could not and would not tell war stories to anybody else.
I was against the war before I got there--personal moral code--which the Supremes did not recognize till I'd been in-country several months. How did I get to a place and time when I could identify with what happened to Danforth W. Austin?
On Jan. 13, 1969, I was drafted into the Army. It could have been the Marines, but the drill sergeant counting us off at the recruiting station in Kansas City before dawn called me a "One" instead of a "Two." The Twos stepped forward and were sent to Parris Island, S.C. The rest of us went to Fort Bliss, Texas. After basic training and three months at Fort Meade, Md., I got orders for Vietnam. Landed there July 22. Wound up at II Field Force, "The Plantation," near Bien Hoa Airbase. Part of my tour I worked for a colonel who was adjutant general. I got to write his letters to the loved ones of KIAs.
Then I wrote for a monthly magazine, "Hurricane," which stressed hearts and minds over blood and guts. Tried and tried to get on with Stars & Stripes in Saigon. My old executive editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal, Lee Porter, was also an officer in a reserve unit that had been activated and sent to Nam. He was high up in MACV information, but even he couldn't get my colonel to let me transfer. So I wrote stories about the Montagnards, Cu Chi's airport (busiest in the world, if you counted helicopters and fixed wing), how the Army was fighting drugs (that story was spiked way up the line), awards and decorations announcements, hometown news releases and other bits. The 16th Public Information Detachment showcased some true journalistic talent, and the magazine was printed on glossy paper in Japan.
We were mostly REMFs (the first two initials stand for "Real Echelon"), but we got hit by rockets and mortars once or twice a month. But when I was on R&R in Sydney, some of the magazine staffers got to cover the invasion of Cambodia in late April.
I was a soldier first, and then a reporter, so I had to pull guard duty, stand in formation, salute and otherwise act like I'd been trained. Once while pulling guard in a tower on our front perimeter, I came under small arms fire. As the red tracer rounds whizzed overhead, I did not think the fire was small at all and peed my pants. Nothing worse happened.
The Freedom Bird ferrying us back to The World went wheels up from Tan Son Nhut Airbase Aug. 16, 1970. I got out as an E-5 with an honorable discharge and a Bronze Star. Did the war change me? In just about every way possible. I made four close friends for life. The 16th PID guys started having annual reunions last year, and I'm going to one of those. We call one another "brother." As a civilian reporter, I covered six more wars. My Vietnam experiences helped me tell those stories a lot better. And this month I helped out on a project for the AARP Magazine, "Vietnam: The War That Changed Everything." It was an honor to be a part of that. (http://www.aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-2015/vietnam.html).
Am I glad I went to Nam? Yes. Would I do it again? No.
AP plans story on plight of rural hospitals
AP members received this advisory:
The Associated Press will move a story on Friday about the financial plight of rural hospitals across America. More rural hospitals have closed during the last two years than during the previous decade, and hundreds more are considered to be in financial jeopardy.
Two sortable spreadsheets are accompanying the story for localization purposes, allowing you to tailor the package to your own audience. The first lists all hospitals, rural and urban, that have closed since 2010. The other shows the number of hospitals in each state that are challenged financially, although it does not list individual hospital names. Also included is whether the state chose to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The spreadsheets and a detailed explanation of the data can be found at the following link, which is not password-protected (if you have trouble when clicking on it, simply copy the URL and paste it into your browser):
Here is the budget line for the story package.
RURAL HOSPITALS-HARD TIMES
OSCEOLA, Mo. _After 45 years of providing health care in rural west-central Missouri, Sac-Osage Hospital is being sold piece by piece. It is one of a growing number of rural hospitals that have been closing across the U.S., victims of a complex combination of changing demographics, medical practices, management decisions and federal policies that have heightened the financial pressure on facilities that sometimes average only a few in-patients a day. There have been more such closures in the past two years than in the previous 10 years combined, but that could be just the beginning of what some health care analysts fear is a potential crisis. For people who live in rural America, the crisis can be one of life and death. By David A. Lieb. UPCOMING: 1,400 words. An abridged version of 750 words also is moving. AP Photos from Missouri and North Carolina.
_ BC-US--Rural Hospitals-Hard Times-Q&A. UPCOMING: 790 words.
_ State-by-state data showing hospitals that have closed and rural hospitals that are in financial jeopardy; available to AP members in advance of publication.
(Shared by Mark Mittelstadt)
Stories of interest
The Fall of Saigon: A Reporter's View
More than two decades of war in Vietnam, first involving the French and then the Americans, ended with the last days of April 1975. Peter Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of combat for The Associated Press and later gained fame as a CNN correspondent, has written a new memoir, "Saigon Has Fallen," about his dozen-plus years reporting on Vietnam.
Arnett has recounted this period before but approaches it with a fresh perspective for the 40th anniversary of the war's end. The book is published by RosettaBooks in partnership with The Associated Press.
This is an edited excerpt, focused on the war's final throes.
Artillery explosions sound a fearsome 4 a.m. wake-up call, but I'm already awake. The attackers waiting at the gates of a vanquished Saigon have been warning they would act, and now with each thump of the Soviet-made 130mm guns, sound waves rustle the curtains of my open seventh floor hotel window. As I reach for my water glass, it trembles, and me with it. The last full day of the Vietnam War is beginning.
Street lights shine below as I look out toward Tan Son Nhut airport, once described as the busiest in the world when America was waging war here. Now it is burning from one end to the other, the flames brilliantly lighting up the sky.
There will be two more hours of darkness, but this seems like a new dawn rising, an appropriate description, I think later, of the intentions of those wreaking havoc on the airport this morning, April 29, 1975. The commanders of North Vietnam's military juggernaut, pressing for victory after a 50-day rout of their South Vietnamese opponents, are pushing open the gates of the capital. They will force a new dawn on South Vietnam, America's once favored ally, as it loses its 20-year struggle to remain an independent, pro-western state.
After the earthquake in Nepal, one editor moved the newsroom to his living room (Poynter)
When Superstorm Sandy flooding sideswiped the New York Daily News (where I previously worked) in October 2012, editors relocated to a Jewish weekly and a Manhattan law firm before the newsroom was reestablished in the paper's New Jersey printing plant.
Now imagine what a prominent Nepalese newspaper editor did after Saturday's earthquake.
"With no electricity, we couldn't work, or sleep, in the office due to the aftershocks," Kunda Dixit said by phone late Wednesday. "So we moved the whole operation to my living room."
Dixit is a Nepal native and 1985 graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He's the much-respected editor of both a Nepalese magazine and English language paper, the Nepali Times.
And he's now, rather unequivocally, battle-tested under the most extreme of operational challenges.
The State of the News Media 2015 (Nieman) (Shared by Bob Daugherty)
As much as things change in the news business, things also seem to stay the same. Newspaper revenue drops; smartphone usage rises.
The annual State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center, just out today, tells that story of continuing trend lines. The top line is probably the ongoing march of mobile: As of January, a remarkable 39 of the 50 most popular news sites had more mobile than desktop visitors. Four of the top 50 had similar desktop and mobile traffic, and just seven sites had more desktop than mobile traffic, the report said, citing comScore data.
"While desktop visits are still valuable to publishers - especially when it comes to time spent on the site - the number of mobile visits now outpaces desktop visits for the majority of the top 50 sites and associated apps," the report says. That time-on-site difference is real: Visitors to 25 of the top 50 news sites spent at least 10% more time per visit than readers coming in through mobile or apps. There were just 10 sites where mobile users spent more time per visit than their desktop counterparts.
How Not to Report on an Earthquake (New York Times) (Shared by Andrew Selsky)
As of Tuesday morning, exactly three days have passed since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, killing thousands and leaving millions in need of help. In disaster response, the end of the first 72 hours is often considered an inflection point: the unofficial moment when the most acute phase passes, the odds of finding trapped survivors plunge and the relief effort tends to really pick up steam.
Three days into a crisis, roads and airports are often reopening, and outside responders and journalists are arriving in droves. The decisions made at this time can determine the course of the response. A misstep now can have ramifications lasting years, even decades.
I know this because I lived through a moment of just this sort five years ago, in Haiti. I was in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, when a powerful quake rippled outward from an epicenter 15 miles from the capital. In 40 seconds, the shock waves, according to some estimates, literally decimated the population, killing 100,000 to 316,000 people in an overcrowded, overbuilt metropolitan area that was home to more than three million. Governments and aid groups mobilized cargo planes and ships, deploying thousands of soldiers, search-and-rescue teams and medical responders. I was the lone correspondent in the country's lone full-time foreign news bureau when the quake hit, but I wasn't on my own for long. By the 72-hour mark, hundreds of reporters - if not more - had joined me in town, beaming images and accounts of the destruction around the world.
The Last Word
Tom Curley, left, then president of the AP, moderated a conversation with AP Saigon bureau veterans at New York headquarters on Monday, June 26, 2006. The panelists and some special guests gathered for this group photo in the 15th-floor Conference Center prior to the conversation. Left to right are, sitting, Curley, Seymour Topping, Peter Arnett, Hugh Mulligan, George Esper, Richard Pyle and Malcolm Browne. Standing, left to right, are Kelly Smith Tunney, Phuoc Van Dang, Mike Putzel, Matt Franjola, Edie Lederer, Barry Kramer and Nick Ut. Horst Faas was part of the conversation via a remote audio connection from Munich, Germany. (Photo by Bebeto Matthews) (Shared by Valerie Komor)
Today in History - April 30, 2015
By The Associated Press
Today is Thursday, April 30, the 120th day of 2015. There are 245 days left in the year.
Today's Highlight in History:
On April 30, 1945, as Soviet troops approached his Berlin bunker, Adolf Hitler committed suicide along with his wife of one day, Eva Braun.
On this date:
In 1789, George Washington took the oath of office in New York as the first president of the United States.
In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for 60 million francs, the equivalent of about $15 million.
In 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state of the Union.
In 1900, engineer John Luther "Casey" Jones of the Illinois Central Railroad died in a train wreck near Vaughan, Mississippi, after staying at the controls in a successful effort to save the passengers.
In 1939, the New York World's Fair officially opened with a ceremony that included an address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1945, the radio show "Queen for Today" (later "Queen for a Day") premiered on the Mutual Network.
In 1958, the American Association of Retired Persons (later simply AARP) was founded in Washington, D.C., by Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus.
In 1968, New York City police forcibly removed student demonstrators occupying five buildings at Columbia University.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon announced the resignations of top aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst and White House counsel John Dean, who was actually fired.
In 1975, the Vietnam War ended as the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to Communist forces.
In 1988, Gen. Manuel Noriega, waving a machete, vowed at a rally to keep fighting U.S. efforts to oust him as Panama's military ruler.
In 1990, hostage Frank Reed was released by his captives in Lebanon; he was the second American to be released in eight days.
Ten years ago: Missing Georgia woman Jennifer Wilbanks admitted to police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that she was a "runaway bride" after initially claiming to have been abducted; on what was supposed to have been her wedding day, she was escorted to the airport by officers for a flight home. Vietnam marked the 30th anniversary of the war's end. James Toney outpointed John Ruiz to win the WBA heavyweight title in New York.
Five years ago: Heavy winds and high tides complicated efforts to hold back oil from a blown-out BP-operated rig that threatened to coat bird and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico; President Barack Obama halted any new offshore projects pending safeguards to prevent more explosions like the one that unleashed the spill.
One year ago: Iraq voted in its first nationwide election since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. Police in Northern Ireland arrested Sinn Fein (shin fayn) party leader Gerry Adams over his alleged involvement in the Irish Republican Army's 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a 38-year-old Belfast widow, Jean McConville (Adams was released without charge). A lawyer for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said Ford would take a leave of absence to seek help for substance abuse.
Today's Birthdays: Actress Cloris Leachman is 89. Singer Willie Nelson is 82. Actor Burt Young is 75. Singer Bobby Vee is 72. Movie director Allan Arkush is 67. Actor Perry King is 67. Singer-musician Wayne Kramer is 67. Singer Merrill Osmond is 62. Movie director Jane Campion is 61. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is 56. Actor Paul Gross is 56. Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas is 54. Country musician Robert Reynolds is 53. Actor Adrian Pasdar is 50. Rock singer J.R. Richards (Dishwalla) is 48. Rapper Turbo B (Snap) is 48. Rock musician Clark Vogeler is 46. Rhythm-and-blues singer Chris "Choc" Dalyrimple (Soul For Real) is 44. Rock musician Chris Henderson (3 Doors Down) is 44. Country singer Carolyn Dawn Johnson is 44. Actress Lisa Dean Ryan is 43. Rhythm-and-blues singer Akon is 42. Rhythm-and-blues singer Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees) is 42. Actor Johnny Galecki is 40. Singer-musician Cole Deggs (Cole Deggs and the Lonesome) is 39. Actor Kunal Nayyar is 34. Rapper Lloyd Banks is 33. Actress Kirsten Dunst is 33. Country singer Tyler Wilkinson (The Wilkinsons) is 31. Actress Dianna Agron is 29.
Thought for Today: "The trouble with our age is all signposts and no destination." - Louis Kronenberger, American author (1904-1980).