||War Torn: Reviews
Up Close and Personal
WAR TORN: Stories of War From the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam
By James E. Caccavo
War is an equal opportunity abuser. It wounds or kills whomever it wants, whenever it wants, regardless of age or gender. But for women wanting to cover the war in Vietnam, the news media in the 1960s were not equal opportunity employers. Women covering the war were confronted with more than one adversary. Besides the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, women had to deal with discouraging attitudes from their employers and American military brass.
Wes Gallagher, managing editor of Associated Press, told reporter Tad Bartimus, "I will never send a woman to Vietnam," and United Press International foreign editor Bill Landry told reporter Tracy Wood, "I don't believe women should cover wars." AP's foreign editor, Ben Bassett wouldn't even allow women to work on the foreign desk in New York. But these women persevered, eventually changing these men's minds.
Foreign desk editors thought women in war zones would be too sensitive. They were right, but not in the way they expected. That sensitivity produced some of the most moving reports. Thanks to the determination and professionalism of a small group of female correspondents in the Vietnam War, women today have opportunities in journalism that were formally denied.
Denby Fawcett of the Honolulu Advertiser quit her job at the higher-paying Honolulu Star-Bulletin when that paper refused to send her to Vietnam. Fawcett had to pay her own way to Vietnam to freelance for the Advertiser. Of the nine contributors to "War Torn," five had to pay their own way over. The most novel was Jurate Kazickas' winning $500 on the TV game show "Password" to fund her one-way ticket to Vietnam in 1967. Laura Palmer followed a boyfriend doctor to Vietnam and got a job with ABC radio in 1972. Edith Lederer went to Vietnam first as a tourist in 1972, and AP bureau chief Richard Pyle later became instrumental in convincing Gallagher to assign Lederer there. When she showed up in Saigon for her first day, Lederer was wearing blue bedroom slippers because she broke a heel on one of her shoes boarding her flight to Saigon. "Not the image I had in mind," she reflected.
When Gen. William Westmoreland ran into Fawcett in the field, he was shocked to see the daughter of his Honolulu neighbors putting herself at such risk, and he promptly banned female correspondents from field operations by prohibiting them from staying overnight. It wasn't a matter of censorship but of safety both for the women and for the soldiers who would risk their lives to protect them.
But these young women, most in their 20s, threw political correctness and chauvinism out the door of a Huey chopper and banded together to change the directive. Anne Morrissy Merick, a producer for ABC News, and Ann Bryan Mariano of the Overseas Weekly successfully lobbied the Pentagon to retain women's right to battlefield access. Despite the lifting of the ban, the Marines--as before--continued to provide female correspondents with Marine escorts in an otherwise open and uncensored war. The last we would see.
I first met Ann Mariano in 1966 when I was working as a staff writer for the Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt, Germany. Reading her chapter, "Vietnam Is Where I Found My Family," in "War Torn" brought a rush of personal memories as she recalled, with poetic grace, the joys of meeting her future husband, Army officer and future ABC News correspondent Frank Mariano, and the adoption of their two Vietnamese daughters, Katey and Mai. Most moving, however, was the post-Vietnam tragedies that fell upon her family. Now she is struggling with Alzheimer's disease, which she describes as "blowing through my memory like wind through a Buddhist sand painting."
War is the most extreme of human experiences, and women confront their emotions differently than men. They may be more vulnerable and sensitive to human suffering around them, but they have the inherent discipline and courage to confront and deal with their own emotions. "War Torn" is honest, heart-wrenching and laced with self-deprecating humor. In "These Hills Called Khe Sanh," Kazickas writes: "I watched as Withers held his dying buddy in his arms. The moment was so intimate, so raw, so tender, it took my breath away. It was not the first time I had seen unabashed love the men showed one another on the battlefield. Soldiers in Vietnam were not afraid to express their deepest emotions. They hugged each other and sobbed openly in the aftermath of a firefight."
When Kazickas was wounded at Khe Sanh, she was brought into the bunker aid station where Marines went into a stir to provide her a bit of privacy with hung blankets.
Waiting in the bunker for further medical aid for her face, Kazickas wrote how, "In spite of myself, I began to cry--for the first time since I had come to Vietnam more than a year ago... Even during the months of covering battles and witnessing the carnage of war, I had avoided tears. I had convinced myself that if I broke down, it would prove that women didn't belong in war.... The repressed sadness and weariness that had filled my soul for the last year in Vietnam suddenly surfaced in a painful flow of memories. I thought of all the men I had seen die the loneliest and ugliest of deaths in muddy trenches or putrid jungles. It was all such a terrible waste."
Kate Webb of UPI wrote how "[m]ost of the wounded had their feet blown off by peanut-butter mines [small anti-personnel mine about the size of a C-ration can of peanut butter]. Gray faced, in shock, in morphine-blocked pain, they would yell for us to find their feet before they boarded [the medevac helicopter]--clinging to the grisly, severed boots and the hope that the surgeons could sew their feet back on again. This is a place where marines wear dogtags on their boots." Webb was captured, held by North Vietnamese for 23 days and mistakenly reported as dead before her release, which she also writes about in "War Torn."
But there is also humor here, and it surfaces at the most unexpected moments, just as it did in the war. Webb recalls: "Not that we didn't have our embarrassing times. As I marched out into leech-infested paddies one day, my turn came to pass a top sergeant handing out condoms. (Soldiers would use the powdered condoms to shield their genitals from the intruding leeches.) 'Jesus, Katie, I don't have a cork!' he said."
In the chain of essays, there is only one weak link that reads like a production schedule report, "My Love Affair With Vietnam," written by Morrissy Merick, who was, in fairness, not a writer. But the others reach up from the page and grab you by the heart, pulling you down into the experience and emotions of those days ... and the aftermath, which would affect all of these remarkable women in the years to come.
The only disappointment for me in the book was the little reference to Vietnamese women. It is ironic, considering that Gloria Emerson's introduction describes an American student who upset her at a college lecture: " ... A young woman came up to me and solemnly said: so glad a woman was there to see it.' Her remark so shocked me that I turned my back on her. It was as if she was dismissing all the Vietnamese women whose lives were deformed by the war, the many Vietnamese women in the South who risked torture and death in opposing the Americans and their Vietnamese allies; and the American nurses who cared for the wrecked soldiers."
Vietnamese women are among the strongest because of the generations of war they have survived. I saw these same qualities in the American women who came to Vietnam as nurses, Red Cross workers and as correspondents. But despite their obvious professionalism and courage under fire, they were still looked after by seasoned correspondents and military men. It's something men need to do.
The women in "War Torn" also write about their involvement with the people around them, from their love affairs to the children of the streets. Palmer wrote, "I never loved the way I did in Vietnam.... Like a jealous lover, Vietnam could be relentlessly demanding. But the mystery is like the heart of love itself, Vietnam gave back far more than it ever took from me."
Bartimus, who still suffers from "acute onset autoimmune disease" she suspects she got from defoliant exposure in the war, recalled a little street girl in Saigon who sold leis of jasmine blossoms: "In the beginning, I bought as many leis as she had left in the red dishpan at curfew. But soon she claimed me as a friend, lying in wait to leap out of the shadows and grab my arm. To her there were two kinds of people, customers and friends. By and by, friends didn't have to pay. One night, when I reached for my wallet out of reflex, her oval face crumpled and her doe eyes dulled. 'For you, from me,' she said touching her heart, then mine. 'Please.' "
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Women reporters put human face on Vietnam War
By Ian Stewart
Associated Press Writer
From bomb-riddled Baghdad and Tora Bora to harrowing jungle ambushes in Africa's Sierra Leone and the former Zaire, war reporting has come to represent the height of testosterone-driven, male journalism, replete with bravado and machismo.
Except for a few prominent female journalists, including CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Ashleigh Banfield of MSNBC and The Associated Press' Kathy Gannon, conflict reporting remains dominated by men.
But "War Torn" _ a collection of nine essays by women journalists who covered the Vietnam War _ offers compelling reasons why the news industry ought to encourage conflict reporting from both genders.
"Vietnam returns to me in snapshots," writes Tad Bartimus, who covered the war for The Associated Press.
And snapshots, be they tragic, offbeat, humorous, sad or compelling are what "War Torn" offers the reader.
A refreshingly honest book, the essays of "War Torn" move beyond the typical combat reporting of crackling gunfire and booming mortar exchanges. That's not to say the intrepid authors didn't see their share of combat; some did, but unlike many of their male counterparts, they report it with a rare level of compassion and humanity.
From the daily "five o'clock follies" military briefings to the siege of Khe Sanh and drinks on the rooftop of Saigon's Caravelle Hotel, these reporters prevailed beyond the usual rigors of daily journalism _ gruff editors, demanding deadlines and cutthroat industry competition.
Beyond that, the women who covered Vietnam also had to overcome sexual politics that in the 1960s and indeed today are so pervasive in the military. Some had to navigate obstacles from their own employers who often resisted their efforts to cover the war. They had to overcome the so-called "Westmoreland edict," in which the top U.S. commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, aimed to ban female reporters from combat zones.
"I paid my dues and earned my place in the field, but even so, as women, we still had to assert our right to cover the war in Southeast Asia," writes Ann Bryan Moriano, who reported from Vietnam for the Overseas Weekly and other publications.
Where the essays of "War Torn" shine is in their insight into what military analysts and consultants now call the collateral damage of war _ maimed civilian victims, emaciated refugees and orphans.
Kate Webb of United Press International writes with empathy and ,sadness about her and her colleagues' efforts to rehabilitate an 8-year-old Khmer Rouge boy, brainwashed to robotically blow up government buildings in Cambodia's war-shattered capital of Phnom Penh.
"Not once did the kid smile," Webb writes. "He showed us expertly how to wire detonators."
Of the writers' own experiences, Webb recalls her time as a POW at the hands of the North Vietnamese. She also lost several colleagues in Cambodia's Killing Fields.
Free-lance radio reporter Jurate Kazickas still carries shrapnel from a battle wound. And others suffered lifelong scars: Bartimus believes she was rendered sterile by the U.S. military's use of the defoliant Agent Orange. Edith Lederer begins her essay, "My first War," with her vivid and recurring dream of Vietnam.
All adventurers, each of the authors found her way to Vietnam for different reasons. Lederer, on vacation from her job as an AP reporter in San Francisco, went on a Pan American Airways world tour and stopped in Vietnam along the way. After a visit to the AP bureau in Saigon, she discovered a taste for war reporting and never looked back.
Some stayed for the story, or their careers, others for love of the country and people. And, based on each of their stories, it is clear that they haven't completely purged Vietnam from their lives.
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War Torn' -- A Book Bush Should Read
Female Reporters Tell Horrors Of Past American Wars
By Helen Thomas
The Boston Channel
WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush has said he was reading Eliot Cohen's "Supreme Command," which argues that political leaders should challenge cautious generals who are reluctant to wage war. I wish he would now read a book called "War Torn," written by nine female correspondents who covered the Vietnam with all its pain, suffering and futility.
Most of them wound up, like the thousands of troops trapped in the war, wondering why they were there. At home, so did most of us as the war went on and on.
I remember hoping that President Lyndon B. Johnson would declare victory and leave, but he could not bring himself to do that and instead listened to advisers who urged him to slog on deeper into the quagmire.
"War Torn," the authors, driven by curiosity and a willingness to take risks, describe civilians and soldiers on both sides coping with death and devastation.
One of them, Kate Webb of United Press International, was captured in 1971 by the North Vietnamese in Cambodia.
She recalls "every detail and smell of those nights and days -- the nights, walking from dusk to dawn, and the days often crammed stifling in bunkers. ... The first long interrogation came as we were lying in the dirt, trying to dig body crabs out of our skin after surviving an overnight march that I, at least, had doubted we would finish."
Jurate Kazickas of The Associated Press was wounded at Khe Sanh in an air attack and still carries a piece of shrapnel in her leg. She once wrote about a soldier who tried desperately to bandage the head of a seriously wounded buddy, then held him in his arms as the man died.
"To this day, Vietnam taunts, haunts, and still mystifies me," Kazickas said.
Denby Fawcett, who wrote for the Honolulu Advertiser, told of the capture of a "frail North Vietnamese who looked more like a 14-year-old boy than a grown man."
The prisoner, who hobbled on an injured leg, was "led through the jeering lines of battle-shocked American troops. 'Show him the bodies, show him the bodies,' a private, whose platoon leader had been killed, sobbed."
Fawcett observed: "The truth is, the human mind has an amazing ability to block out the full horror of war when it becomes too difficult to endure."
She noted that "Vietnam is where I walked through a field of dead soldiers always looking ahead. Vietnam is where I saw butterflies dance in the sun while soldiers tried to kill one another."
Ann Bryan Mariano, bureau chief of the Overseas Weekly in Saigon, recalled that her scrappy tabloid was banned in Saigon by the Pentagon and ultimately won a lawsuit in a U.S. appeals court to get the ban overturned.
Of the war, she said, "I had no doubt that America's involvement was tragic and doomed to fail."
Anne Morrissy Merick, an ABC News producer, told of having to fight an edict from Gen. William Westmoreland barring women reporters from accompanying troops to the front lines. After she pleaded with a visiting Pentagon official, he finally said the order would be lifted.
She said she had always thought the war "didn't have to end the way it did. The Vietnamese could have saved their own country. Their soldiers weren't cowards, but their leadership was riddled with corruption, and the price was the loss of their country."
Edith Lederer, the first woman assigned full-time to the AP's Saigon bureau, recalled a horribly burned boy named Diem selling model helicopters he had made from intravenous feeding tubes so he could earn enough money to buy himself a wheelchair.
She also wrote about a 23-year-old Vietnamese bar girl sadly describing the GI who fathered her two children and saying in broken English that now "he gone."
Lederer said, "Vietnam taught me a lot about war and peace, about life and death, about relationships -- and about myself."
Her successor at the AP bureau, Tad Bartimus, wrote, "I tasted real fear under fire in a ditch in the Mekong Delta. I witnessed courage in a Saigon prison cell while interviewing a condemned Viet Cong girl surrounded by her torturers. I trembled with fear as I faced down a tiger on a Laotian mountainside. Those life lessons helped me find my way."
Tracy Wood, a UPI reporter, learned from seeing people die that "fear disappeared, along with spirituality" in wartime. "Something hard inside took their place."
She added bitterly: "Stay human in war. A true oxymoron. The purpose of war is to kill, maim and dehumanize your opponent."
Laura Palmer, an ABC News radio reporter, concluded that "wars don't end. Every bullet in Vietnam left an exit wound... Lives stopped, dreams collapsed, futures imploded."
In writing the book's introduction, Gloria Emerson, herself a Vietnam correspondent for the New York Times, recalled death of a photographer named Dicky Chapelle, a woman of infinite courage who was covering a Marine operation when a land mine exploded.
Given the last rites by a Marine chaplain, her jacket covered with blood, she reportedly said: "I guess it was bound to happen."
Perhaps if the president gets around to reading this wonderful book, he will think twice about leaving the horror of another war as his legacy.
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Far Off the Women's Page
By Jack Dolan
Washington Post News Service
Stories hammered out in foxholes under falling mortars. Hard drinking and sex-for-escape between assignments. If these sound like chest-thumping tales told by generations of male war correspondents, maybe that's the triumph of "War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam."
More than anything, the nine women who contributed their personal stories went to Vietnam to assume their own place among the legends of war reporting. Like their predecessors, they had to overcome a healthy fear of death and dismemberment. But unlike their male counterparts, they also had to overcome the prevailing attitude among mostly male editors, and entirely male military brass, that a female journalist's place was on the women's page.
Maybe it's the combat experience they gained, but none of the essayists wastes precious energy trying to assault that hardened logic head-on. Instead, their stories show how they improvised and endured.
In the early stages of the war, 24-year-old Denby Fawcett of the Honolulu Advertiser went to a forward base near the Cambodian border to write about a Hawaiian unit that had just lost 64 me in a brutal, close-quarters fight with the North Vietnamese. While Fawcett was still on the scene - a photo from the era shows her in ponytails with an achingly innocent smile - Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, arrived to rally the troops.
As fate would have it, Westmoreland knew Fawcett. His wife played tennis with her mother in Honolulu. Startled to find young Denby alone among his battered (and mostly shirtless) troops at a scene of such carnage, Westmoreland asked the Pentagon to ban female reporters from spending nights in the field. That would have ended any hope of a woman's covering combat.
Veteran female correspondents from larger news outlets banded together to fight what became known as the "Westmoreland Edict." They won only after ABC reporter Ann Morrissey Merick drank an assistant deputy to the secretary of defense under the table at a Saigon hotel and extracted a promise that the ban would be lifted.
Kate Webb, a 23-year-old copy editor in Australia, went to Saigon on a one-way ticket, with precious little cash and no job lined up. One night in a hole during a mortar barrage, she overheard one soldier ask another, "I wonder what happened to that lady reporter?"
"I'm down here," she yelped, crawling out from under their boots.
Some of the essays, which focus on the personal experiences of the female reporters rather than the war itself, raise intriguing questions that remain unanswered. But on the whole, the stories satisfy the main question: What it was like for women to work and live in the most male environment of all, war?
Hell. But they wouldn't have missed it for the world.
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Female Reporters Tell Gritty Tales of War
By Harry Levins
Post-Dispatch Senior Writer
Gloria Emerson spent two years covering the Vietnam War for The New York Times. Since then, people have asked her what it was like to be a woman in Vietnam. For years, the question irked her. But then she mulled it over and decided that perhaps the woman journalists of the Vietnam War had a story to tell after all.
The result is "War Torn," in which nine of those women recall what they did and what it meant to them.
It's a better book than it should be.
After all, when Tracy Wood arrived in Vietnam as a UPI correspondent, she got some sage advice from an old hand: "We're only reporters. What happens to us, what we think, what we feel, what mwe experience, doesn't matter. We're here to cover the war. Anytime we get too scared, too sick of it, too tired, we can hop on a plane and go home. The military and civilians can't do that. They're stuck. They're the story, not us."
As a rule, reporters' personal accounts "war stories," in the jargon -- go down well over beer at the Missouri Bar & Grille. But they tend to lose a lot when they're set down in print for an audience that goes beyond other reporters.
Still, "War Torn" reads well largely, I suspect, because these war stories are being told three-plus decades after they happened. In the intervening years, a lot of maturity and musing took place. Most of the nine women who compiled this book now sit on the cusp of age 60. They're wise and reflective, and they're beyond beery one-upmanship at the Missouri Bar & Grille.
To be sure, some of these tales are of the wham-bam sort once told on the rooftop lounge at Saigon's Caravelle Hotel. The North Vietnamese captured UPI's Kate Webb and held her for a harrowing period. Radio free-lancer Jurate Kazickas still carries within her some shrapnel from the shell that wounded her.
But a more consistent theme is what Vietnam meant, and what it still means. The AP's Tad Bartimus says simply, "Vietnam is my phantom limb." ABC Radio's Laura Palmer writes: "Wars don't end. Every bullet in Vietnam left an exit wound as it soared back into unsuspecting hearts." Now that these women are in late middle age, Vietnam is in their bloodstream, just like the malaria that several of them picked up.
Many recall the odd sensation of covering a war by day and socializing frenetically in Saigon by night. They were young and far from home and free from inhibitions. As Bartimus puts it, "If I wanted sex, it followed me home." She notes:
"Within weeks of arriving in Saigon, I'd shed inhibitions I spent a lifetime acquiring. Nobody from my past was around to pass judgment or put brakes on my behavior, so held me back from my own impulses. That is one of the great intoxications of war - if you want something, you take it, consequences be damned, because you might not be there tomorrow."
You'll rarely hear that kind of candor at a newspaper bar.
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What Women Saw in the Vietnam War
Female journalists viewed it through a different lens
By Elaine Margolin,
San Francisco Chronicle
Women see things men don't; they suck everything in. And then they talk, they tell, to whoever will listen. Men make-believe they are afraid of women's power to seduce, but that's not what really scares them. Men fear what women know -- more important, what they're willing to admit.
Vietnam was where the nine female journalists of "War Torn" went, as war reporters for the New York Times, UPI, ABC News, Associated Press and other news organizations. It was the late 1960s, and these women were young and energetic, ready to take on the world. This was a first; they were an untested commodity.
Many believed it would not work. The women would go to Vietnam and return quickly, unable to endure the hardships of covering warfare. But as "War Torn" shows, they didn't come back. They stayed and lived and loved and worried and watched a country, and wrote about it. They told the stories that weren't being told. They spoke about the children. They spoke about the soldiers. They spoke about the utter destruction. They taught us about the people of Vietnam, their history, their customs. They talked of wayward sergeants, and the atrocities they committed, their arrogance fueled by the idea that nobody seemed to be watching.
They brought a different lens to the war, one that wasn't dominated by notions of winning or losing, or blind patriotism or the glorification of killing and death. Their reporting was more complex, as was this war; it was full of contradictions. Vietnam was ripe with deception. It was hard to know who to trust, or who to be afraid of, so in a sense, everyone was suspect. Right and wrong got all mixed up there. Yet, these women tenaciously dug in their heels, and that was what nobody counted on. They refused to look away and tried to tell their story.
It wasn't always easy. Village Voice reporter Judith Coburn remembers that her provocative stories so irritated the South Vietnamese and U.S. authorities that they refused to extend her visa Undaunted, she fled to Cambodia and began writing for the Far East Economic Review. New York Times correspondent Gloria Emerson recalls being warned repeatedly by the U.S. embassy in Vietnam about her reportage. Even her editor at the Times pressured her. While visiting her in Saigon, he told her sternly, "You've done some good writing on what is wrong with the war, now tell us what is working." Astonished, Emerson replied that she simply could not find anything "good" about this war to report.
Those of us who watched the Vietnam War on television still have trouble making sense of what we saw. The same images played over and over: Guns firing, boys coming home in bags, children dying. Denby Fawcett of the Honolulu remembers walking through Saigon's zoo in 1966 and being drawn to a group of U.S. soldiers. The men were watching a captive bear dancing on its hind legs, begging for candy. Suddenly, one of the soldiers tossed a lit cigarette into the bear's mouth and chuckled as he watched the bear try to choke it up.
Fawcett would eventually travel with the notorious Charlie Company, which was well-known for its mean-spirited village sweeps. "Much of the cruelty of war was senseless," she writes. "The subtle brutality of boredom. The result of infantry soldiers spending sweat-filled, tedious days on platoon patrols looking for the enemy in villages. Vietcong -- like ghosts -- appearing out of nowhere as deadly snipers, but usually invisible, blending seamlessly into village populations. Days when nothing happened, but you could never relax because there was always the possibility of getting shot to death or stepping on a mine. Hot days when soldiers were bored yet at the same time relieved not to find the elusive 'Charlie.' "
Covering the war was brutal on both mind and body. Inescapable heat and fear and uncertainty were constant companions. Exhausted, reporters would be sent to Saigon for a brief respite after time out in the field. The Associated Press' Tad Bartimus tells what it was like:
"Within weeks of arriving in Saigon, I'd shed inhibitions I'd spent a lifetime acquiring. Nobody from my past was around to pass judgment or put brakes my behavior, so nothing held me back from my own impulses. This is one of the great intoxications of war -- if you want something, you take it, consequences be damned, because you not be there tomorrow."
Saigon's night life was wild and impulsive, almost chaotic. Freelance Jurate Kazickas remembers letting loose:
"As the cassette player blasted the Door's anthem, 'Light My Fire,' over and over, we smoked Cambodian pot, drank too much, and danced in solitary ecstasy, obliterating the war and all its craziness, if only for a few hours."
But their relief would only be temporary. When they returned to the United States, each of these journalists brought her own ghosts. One of the contracted a serious illness over there that shadowed her for the next few decades. Another adopted a 6-week-old Vietnamese orphan, only to lose her a decade later to a serious brain illness.
All of the women struggled with feelings that they had seen too much; nothing had prepared them for the death and destruction they saw. Yet as the Vietnam War became progressively more decadent as lies were stockpiled upon other lies, these intensely personal stories of war chronicle ,their heroic efforts to uncover the truth.
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Vietnam Altered Journalists' Lives
By Susan Whitney
The Deseret News (Salt Lake City) staff writer
They were among the first female war correspondents, the journalists who covered Vietnam. For the most part, their editors didn't want to send women to cover combat. The generals were also reluctant.
But this was the most important story of their generation. And so they found their way to Vietnam, several dozen women -- free-lancers, some of them, and others on assignment. And as with many Americans who went to Vietnam, they didn't talk much about the war after it was over.
But then, in April 2000, at the invitation of the dean of the journalism school at West Virginia University, a group of these women got together to participate in a symposium. And they talked about the things they saw and the way Vietnam changed their lives.
After the symposium, the journalists, most of whom had not been friends during the war years, stayed in touch with each other by e-mail and telephone. Eventually, they decided to write a book. The result is a fascinating bit of history called "War Torn." In it, nine women each wrote one chapter.
Some of them did not go to the battles. Most did. They went out to the green hillsides in helicopters. They crouched in ditches. They saw young men die, in agony, in the mud. Then they went back to Saigon, to the parties and the liquor and the dope and the gourmet French food.
The contrast unnerved them. Wrote Tad Bartimus of Associated Press: "Cocktail conversation swirled around whether it was worth risking your life for another picture of another dead soldier, another story about an orphaned child."
In one chapter after another, their memories echo and build. The women recall love affairs, love made amazingly fierce because death was everywhere. And they recall the incredible brotherhood between the men who were fighting. It was a closeness that they, as noncombatants, had never known, and, they realized, that they would never know.
"The way men bonded in war fascinated me," writes Jurate Kazickas, who was a freelance reporter. "The comradeship, the sharing of these intense moments under fire, was unlike any other human experience."
Even as they lived through it, they knew Vietnam was changing them. Kate Webb of UPI wrote: "I couldn't face boiled eggs. They reminded me of how thin people's skulls were. Cars backfiring made me jump. On my first R&R (rest and recreation, a GI term that the journalists adopted), I found I couldn't run over grass for fear of mines. I also found that survivor's guilt is a fact of life."
Bartimus believes she was made sterile by Agent Orange. Webb was taken prisoner. Jurate Kazickas was wounded and was not the same afterward. She recalls, "When we were mortared, suddenly I found myself trembling. Lying flat on the ground, clawing the dirt, suddenly I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn't take pictures. I couldn't take notes. Getting wounded had jolted me to the inescapable truth that I was just as vulnerable as any of the thousands of GIs who were casualties of this war.
"It was time for me to leave. But it was not easy to disengage. . . .What story could possibly involve me so profoundly again? How could a normal life hold my interest after all this?"
The last chapter of "War Torn" is written by Laura Palmer of ABC News. It begins, "I never expected to go to Vietnam, but I did. I never expected to become a journalist, but I did. I never expected that a wretched war's greatest legacy to me would finally be one of love, but that's what it has been.
"Saigon feels like my hometown because it is where the rest of my life began. It's where I met friends I will cherish forever and loved with an intensity that has few parallels. . . . Vietnam defined my generation and shaped the woman I became . . . .
"Vietnam destroyed my fear of death and, ultimately, Vietnam brought me closer to God . . . ."
It took a long time for these women to tell their stories. No surprise about that. Journalists are trained not to tell their stories.
It is as Tracy Wood's UPI editor told her on her first day in Vietnam: "The most important rule, the one you can never forget, is this: We are only reporters. What happens to us, what we think, what we feel, what we experience, doesn't matter. We're here to cover the war. Any time we get too scared, too sick of it, too tired, we can hop on a plane and go home. The military and the civilians can't do that. They're stuck. They're the story. Not us."
Readers will be glad these reporters finally decided to probe their past. In "War Torn," Vietnam becomes real again, the way it was during the 1960s, when it was vivid and live every night on the news.
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Nine Female Correspondents Tell Their Vietnam War Stories
By Sara Melillo
The Plain Dealer, Staff Writer
Writing about war will never be like combat itself, but it does contain its own kind of land mines. Details become lost or forgotten, stories explode with sentimentality, and the possibility of falling into cliche is ever-present.
The nine women whose essays make up "War Torn" avoid these pitfalls while providing artful, compelling chronicles of their lives and work as reporters in Vietnam.
The pioneering women, who reported in nearly every medium, tell their stories honestly.
Their seamier experiences, including drug use and sexual flings, are described alongside their accomplishments. And though the women reflect upon how their gender influenced their lives in Vietnam, they avoid speaking as cheerleaders for women's rights. They recount their experiences to add another perspective on a key event of the 20th century.
"We asked no special favors and worked just as hard and under the same circumstances as our male colleagues," writes Anne Morrissy Merrick, who covered Vietnam for ABC News. "Perhaps the only difference we experienced was the loneliness many of us felt being such a minority. It was probably the first time I really missed the company of women."
The essayists experiment with structures and styles while including excerpts from diaries, poetry and letters to help reflect the complex emotions of the time. All came to Vietnam to cover the biggest story of their time.
Edith Lederer, an Associated Press correspondent who has covered several wars, describes the challenge of conveying such a profound event to millions of readers. "There is little doubt that the responsibility is awesome," she writes. "But despite the responsibility and the accompanying nerves and anguish, this is what most reporters live for: the chance to be there to cover that unforgettable moment in history."
As one would imagine, covering Vietnam profoundly affected nearly every essayist. The transition back to civilian life was difficult for many. Jurate Kazickas, who edited this collection, was a free-lance writer who traveled to Vietnam on her own. She poignantly describes her trip home in her essay "These Hills Called Khe Sanh."
"I could not see myself in an orderly world with predictable highs and lows," she writes. "I had become addicted to the surreal contrasts of a journalist's life in Vietnam - one day to be caught in a firefight in a rice paddy, the next to interview a Navy lifeguard surfing at China Beach."
These psychological descriptions add depth to "War Torn," a welcome new chapter in the ongoing story of the Vietnam War.
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Women Vividly Recall Reporting in Vietnam
By Shirley Ragsdale
The Des Moines Register, Staff
At a time when our nation is considering initiating a war with Iraq, a refresher course in the wages of war is timely.
"War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam," arrived in book stores this week to remind us of the suffering, hardship, death and destruction that can be expected when one nation does battle against another.
War as reported by women is also about doing one's duty, the bond between buddies, senses ,heightened by danger and courage. In the telling, these women war reporters -Tad Bartimus, Denby Fawcett, Jurate Kazickas, Edith Lederer, Ann Bryan Mariano, Anne Morrissy Merick, Laura Palmer, Kate Webb and Tracy Wood let us share the adventures they fought to experience.
The professional bias against women these gutsy risk-takers breached left openings so large that today, news organizations think nothing of sending women to report on the war in Afghanistan. The access they finagled on both sides of the conflict gave us an astonishing real-time report of the fighting, civilian casualties, U.S. withdrawal and peace process. Because they hitched ,rides on military vehicles and trudged in the footsteps of Marines, their stories were the likes of which we may never see, read or hear again if the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld have their way.
Vietnam War reporting was not an office job because the women wouldn't stay in the office, even when ordered to do so.
Jurate Kazickas witnessed the carnage of Con Thien in July 1967. "What shook me to the core was the devastating sight of so many dead Marines who had been lying in the sun for three days their bodies bloated, their faces black as if charred by fire. Trying to record the scene, I found myself caught in a swirl of emotions. I was horrified and achingly sad. At the same time, I felt the anger in me rise that anyone should have to die this way."
In the chapter titled "My First War," Edith Lederer relates a recurring dream. A kaleidoscope of her Vietnam experience culminates when "an explosion that sounds like a bomb going through the roof sends me bolting from bed, and that's how the dream usually ends, because the noise wakes me up.
"Nearly 30 years after leaving Vietnam, I still have this dream. It is a microcosm of my life there. Today, as then, it reminds me of those mad, crazy, sometimes dangerous days that I lived with an intensity only occasionally matched in the wars I went on to cover. Vietnam -in my dreams and in reality -was a place to work hard, play hard and try not to worry about tomorrow."
In the chapter "In-Country," Tad Bartimus tells of her arrival.
"Those first 24 hours in Saigon, I met people who became as important to me as any I would ever know," she writes. That night, exhausted and drenched in sweat in a riverfront hotel room with 15-foot ceilings, she "relived every minute of that inaugural day and knew, without a doubt, that I wasn't the same person who'd stepped off an airplane that morning. I was finally in the river, the current had me; it didn't matter where it took me."
Laura Palmer's chapter is "Mystery Is the Precinct Where I Found Peace," and in it she writes:
"Vietnam defined my generation and shaped the woman I became in distinct ways, but in the end Vietnam made me more of who I already was. Like a jealous lover, Vietnam could be relentlessly demanding. But the mystery is that like the heart of love itself, Vietnam gave back far more than it ever took from me. It destroyed my fear of death and ultimately brought me closer to God, although that did not happen until a decade after I left Vietnam in a helicopter as part of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon."
These indomitable women bucked convention to report the battles and body count. One was wounded and one was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese.
Like the men who fought the Vietnam War, the nine women who made journalism history did not share their stories with family, friends and colleagues when they returned home. Women who mounted heady careers on the power of their writing had no words to explain what they discovered there. Until now.
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"This is a wonderful book, exhilarating, poignant, tragic, heroic and above all full of courage. From the very first page I felt proud to follow in these women's footsteps."
- Christiane Amanpour, CNN War Correspondent
´"[A] superb gathering of talent whose work presents an overlooked perspective on the war
. [A] path-breaking collection of essays."
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This fascinating book chronicles the experiences of nine women reporters who covered the Vietnam War from 1966 until 1975
.All nine share vivid recollections of danger, loss, and anguish and relay how covering Vietnam changed their lives professionally and personally."