Stan Opotowsky: Finding a Reporter’s Vanished Legacy

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Fighting Guns on Snapchat

Across the US today, Feb. 21, high school students have been organizing walkouts over gun control, a week after a gunman opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and teachers. Survivors have been outspoken on the issue of furthering gun control in the US after watching their…

via Watch teens organize against guns in their native language: Snapchat — Quartz

“Led by Children” The astonishing power of Stoneman Douglas students, in their own words.

In the seven short days since a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teenagers who survived the violence have emerged as America’s most powerful advocates for reforming gun-control laws. They have been speaking at rallies, confronting state legislators in Florida’s capital, and spurring students at high schools…

via The astonishing power of Stoneman Douglas students, in their own words — Quartz

Love that Musclebound Blog

via Vintage Pin Up: Edward Runci — The Müscleheaded Blog

Assault on the Embassy

The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later

On January 31, 1968, Viet Cong forces attacked the U.S. Embassy in Saigon as part of the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War. On the eve of the 50th anniversary, veteran war correspondent Don North takes us back to that momentous event.

By Don North

It was the eve of battle. Ngo Van Giang, known as Captain Ba Den to the Viet Cong troops he led, had spent weeks smuggling arms and ammunition into Saigon under boxes of tomatoes. Ba Den was about to lead 15 sappers, a section of the J-9 Special Action Unit, against an unknown target. Only eight of the unit were actually trained experts in explosives. The other seven were clerks and cooks who signed up for the dangerous mission mainly to escape the rigors of life in their jungle camp near Dau Tieng, 30 miles northwest of Saigon.

On the morning of January 30, 1968, Ba Den secretly met with U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker’s chauffeur, Nguyen Van De, an embassy driver who was in fact an agent for the Viet Cong. De drove Ba Den in circles around the Embassy compound in an American station wagon. De revealed that Ba Den’s mission was to attack the heavily fortified Embassy. Learning the identity of his target, Ba Den was overwhelmed by the realization that he would probably not survive the attack. Pondering his likely death, and since it was the eve of Tet, Ba Den wandered into the Saigon market, had a few Ba Muoi Ba beers and bought a string of firecrackers to light as he had done for every Tet celebration since he was a child.

Ba Den and his team were about to play a small but critical role in what we now call the Tet Offensive, the coordinated attack by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops against dozens of cities, towns and military bases across South Vietnam. When the bloody fighting ended after 24 days, the Communist troops had been driven from every target and the U.S. declared a military victory. However, the attackers scored a significant political and psychological victory by demonstrating an ability to launch devastating and coordinated attacks seemingly everywhere at once, and by showing that a U.S.-South Vietnamese victory was nowhere in sight. The attack on the U.S. Embassy was a potent symbol of that success.

I’ve thought a good deal about that attack on the Embassy over the last 50 years. I was there as a television journalist – lying in the gutter outside the Embassy as automatic fire buzzed above my head. Here is what I knew then and what I know now.

[For the rest of the story, go to Don North at Consortium News]

ABC Nightline Tribute to Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki

“Life With My Father ABC-TV Journalist Frank Mariano” By Tony Mariano


“On the Frontlines of the Television War” American Journalism Magazine Review

On the Frontlines of the Television War:
A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam

By Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki; Terry Irving, ed. 
Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2017, 365 pp. 

Reviewed by Eddith Dashiell Ohio University

Featured Image -- 12357

Previous histories about the media coverage of the Vietnam War have focused primarily on the print reporters, television correspondents, and still photographers. On the Frontlines of the Television War, however, is the story of Vietnam as seen through the eyes of a non-American, non-English-speaking television cameraman who filmed images that were watched by millions of Americans in the comfort and safety of their living rooms—images that made Vietnam the first “television war.”

Originally published in his native language of Japanese in 2008, “On the Frontlines” is the English version of Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s memoir of the ten years he spent in Vietnam working as a cameraman for ABC News. Editor Terry Irving points out that “On the Frontlines” is not designed to be a definitive record of what Hirashiki witnessed while in Vietnam, but instead an “extraordinarily observant man’s record of a very complicated period and the men and women who tried to present it honestly and truthfully” (Editor’s Note).

Hirashiki arrived in Vietnam from Japan in 1966 with his 16-mm camera, his Japanese-English dictionary, and no job. After working three months as a freelance cameraman, ABC hired him, and “Tony” soon became his battle nickname because it took too long for reporters to say “Yasutsune” during a firefight. Using his collection of reporters’ scripts, caption sheets, telexes, memos, and letters, along with archival photos and recollections from his war-correspondent colleagues, Hirashiki vividly describes the stories he covered as he, along with other photographers and reporters, crouched next to the American soldiers while under heavy machine-gun fire and exploding grenades. Hirashiki also worked with ABC correspondents as they searched for compelling stories that went beyond the “bang-bang” images and showed American soldiers as humans and not just “brave action heroes” (p. 65).

In addition to the obvious challenge of staying safe during enemy attacks, Hirashiki shares other obstacles that he faced as a Vietnam-era cameraman being unable to speak proper English (or Vietnamese); being so short that he had to practically run to keep up with troops on a march; keeping his camera dry when it rained; taking care of himself while out in the field because the soldiers were not there to babysit him, and choosing to put an extra roll of film in his backpack instead of an extra can of food. Hirashiki  describes himself as being a one-hundred-percent combat cameraman who did not  concern himself with the bigger picture of the Vietnam War:

“Focusing on doing my job well—capturing the images, watching thefocus and the exposure, worrying about how much film I had left, all of thiskept me distanced from the horror that surrounded me” (p. 62).

But that focus did not completely shield Hirashiki from the horrors of the war. His strongest and most compelling chapters recount the deaths of his ABC colleagues Sam Kai Faye and Terry Khoo, who were killed in a North Vietnamese ambush in July 1972, and the chaotic evacuation of the ABC bureau staff and their families during the fall of Saigon in 1975.

On the Frontlines also provides an informal history of ABC TV when its news division was still in its infancy. He writes about his professional relationships and friendships with various ABC news correspondents, such as Ken Gale, Roger Peterson, Drew Pearson, Ron Miller, Ken Kashiwahara, and Ted Koppel.

Because of Hirashiki’s limited English-language skills, it took him eight years to write the English version of On the Frontlines of the Television War. Even with Irving’s editing, certain aspects of Hirashiki’s account of his war experiences still get lost in translation, but those occasional language gaps do not detract from his sensitive, honest, and entertaining story about the soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam and the reporters and photographers who were on the frontlines with them to record their stories.

On the Frontlines would be a good addition to any historian’s bookshelf for research or as a supplemental text in a course. Most American journalists, photographers, and camera crews sent to Vietnam focused primarily on the winners or losers of a particular battle and daily body counts. Hirashiki takes a more humanistic approach to his personal account of the Vietnam War.

According to Ted Koppel, who wrote the foreword: “Tony was an Asian observer of the war and its victims, capable of viewing both with an objectivity and compassion that gave equal weight to the Vietnamese experience”

The Dangerous Business of Journalism

The Dangerous Business of Journalism

As information warfare becomes a hotter topic, journalists have become bigger targets for repression and even assassination, a troubling trend that is spreading across the globe, reports veteran war correspondent Don North.

By Don North

Amid a surge in violence against journalists, two Paris-based press-freedom organizations have launched a project aimed at securing information collected by endangered journalists and continuing their work if they are imprisoned or killed.

The Forbidden Stories project is the brainchild of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom Voices Network as a counter-strike against repressive regimes and other powerful forces that engage in intimidation of independent journalists.

The project is a response to a global surge in violence against journalists, with 42 reporters killed this year and another 183 journalists in prison. More than 800 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in the past ten years.

“This project will send a very clear message to oppressive governments that if they touch a journalist anywhere in the world, many others will be ready to support and follow up their story,” said Can Dundar, a Turkish journalist supporting Forbidden Stories.

“The goal of this initiative is to use journalism to defend journalism and to guarantee access to freely and independently reported information,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of RSF. “Through Forbidden Voices, we send a strong message to press freedom’s predators throughout the world.”

Under the project, journalists who feel threatened will be able to use encrypted communications to protect sensitive information and put their ongoing investigations in a safe place. Their stories will be secured and not published without their agreement. However, if something happens to them, Forbidden Stories will be in a position to finish their investigative stories in accordance with the journalists’ instructions and to disseminate the information widely thanks to a network of media committed to defend the freedom to inform. In other words, the Forbidden Stories project seeks to ensure that  reporters’ work will survive even if they do not.

Simultaneous to the launch of Forbidden Stories last week was the release of the “2017 Global Impunity Index” by the Committee to Protect Journalists, calculating the unsolved murders of journalists over the past decade. This year, new murders occurred in half the 12 countries on the index. Somalia leads the index list, which also includes Iraq, Syria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil, Russia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and India.


Edited Radio Interview with Tony Hirashiki on “The Future Will be Televised” with Simon Applebaum

Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki, Terry Irving, and Simon Applebaum’s discuss “On the Frontlines of the Television War”

An Excellent Review of Burn’s PBS Documentary by a Vietnam Veteran Journalist.

PBS’ ‘Vietnam War’ Tells Some Truths

By Don North

Former ABC News Reporter in Vietnam.
Note that Don will be appearing with Tony Hirashiki, the author of On the Frontlines of the Television War at the Frederick County Library on November 4th
and in the One More Page bookstore in Northern Virginia on November 5th.  )

(Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the PBS series did not address the issue of Nixon’s sabotage of Johnson’s 1968 peace talks. The topic is mentioned.)

Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen observed in his 2016 book, Nothing Ever Dies, that “All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” That is surely true of the Vietnam War, which – although it ended four decades ago – continues as a battle of memory, history and truth.

And, the stakes are still high since honest narratives about important past events can shape the future, even national destinies, and – perhaps most importantly – whether there will be more wars or possibly peace.

When PBS announced that it was broadcasting a 10-part, 18-hour series, entitled “The Vietnam War,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a network news correspondent who covered the war for five years through many of its bloodiest chapters, I have had mixed feelings about some of the other attempts to recount and explain the war.

Many of the previous efforts were colored by the political pressures of the moment, especially from policymakers and journalists who had career stakes in how assessments of the failed war would make them look. So, with some trepidation, I watched the entire 10-part series and read the companion book by writer Geoffrey C. Ward over the past week. To my pleasant surprise, I found many reasons to applaud the effort and my criticisms were relatively minor.

In my view, the PBS series, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, represents the most honest and thorough account available to the general public. Over those 18 hours, the series reveals so much duplicity and mendacity that this real history makes even the most cynical movies about the war, such as “Apocalypse Now,” and “The Deer Hunter,” look tame by comparison.

I think that all Americans and Vietnamese who experienced the years of that war will find watching the series at least an educational experience, at best an inspiring one, and for some of us – who witnessed, fought or protested the war – a profoundly emotional experience as well. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized the series may bring up such stressful memories for combat veterans that it has offered a crisis line for counseling at 1-800-273-8255.

A Clear Narrative

The cement that holds together the interviews of some 80 participants is a clear narration written by Ward and performed by Peter Coyote without the “voice of God” style used in so many documentaries. Ward’s prologue to the first program is a sort of mission statement for the series, which I would criticize mostly because it still contains a residue of the longstanding desire to put a well-meaning gloss on the war’s justifications even when the evidence points elsewhere:

“America’s involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended thirty years later in failure witnessed by the entire world. It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence, and cold war miscalculation. And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than to admit it had been caused by tragic decisions, made by five American presidents, belonging to both political parties … For those Americans who fought in it, and for those who fought against it back home – as well we those who merely glimpsed it on the nightly news – the Vietnam War was a decade of agony, the most divisive period since the Civil War.”

Yet, when you hear some of the secret telephone recordings of White House conversations by President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, you’re not left with the impression that there was so much “good faith” by “decent people.”

For instance, one phone conversation between Johnson and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy reflected how Johnson really felt about Vietnam, contrary to the optimistic assessments that he was selling to the public and belying his assurances that the blood and treasure were worth the cost.

Johnson: I don’t know what in hell … it looks like we’re getting into another Korea. I don’t think it’s worth fighting for and I don’t think we can get out. And it’s just the biggest damn mess.

Bundy: It is an awful mess.

Johnson: What in hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is it worth to the country?

[The rest of this article is on Consortium Press. Click here.]

Live Interview Friday August 25th

Tony Hirashiki on Blogtalkradio LIVE

Jack Smith: Battle of the Ia Drang Valley

(I’m including this because I truly believe that it’s the BEST account of a battle ever written. It was only weeks after the battle and Jack Smith already had an incredible ability to report accurately and with great emotional impact.)

The Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1967

Death in the Ia Drang Valley,

November 13-18, 1965

Pfc Jack P. Smith

By Private 1st Class Jack P. Smith

 1st Cavalry

The 1st Battalion had been fighting continuously for three or four days, and I had never seen such filthy troops. Some of them had blood on their faces from scratches and from other guys’ wounds. Some had long rips in their clothing where shrapnel and bullets had missed them. They all had that look of shock. They said little, just looked around with darting, nervous eyes.

Whenever I heard a shell coming close, I’d duck, but they’d keep standing. After three days of constant bombardment you get so you can tell from the sound how close a shell is going to land to within 50 to 75 feet. There were some wounded lying around, bandaged up with filthy shirts and bandages, Smoking cigarettes or lying in a coma with plasma bottles hanging above their stretcher.

Late that morning the Cong made a charge. About 100 of them jumped up and made for our lines, and all hell broke loose. The people in that sector opened up with everything they had. Then a couple of our Skyraiders came in. One of them dropped a lot of stuff that shimmered in the sun like green confetti. It looked like a ticker-tape parade, but when the things hit the ground, the little pieces exploded. They were antipersonnel charges Every one of the gooks was killed. Another group on the other side almost made it to the lines. There weren’t enough GI’s there, and they couldn’t shoot them down fast enough. A plane dropped some napalm bombs just in front of the line. I couldn’t see the gooks, but I could hear them scream as they burned. A hundred men dead, just like that.

My company, Charlie Company, took over its sector of the battalion perimeter and started to dig in. At three o’clock another attack came, but it never amounted to anything. 1 didn’t get any sleep that night. There was continuous firing from one until four and it was as bright as day with the flares lighting up the sky.

The next morning the order came for us to move out. I guess our commanders felt the battle was over. The three battalions of PAVN (People’s Army of Vietnam-the North Vietnamese) were destroyed. There must have been about 1,000rotting bodies out there, starting about 20 feet from us and surrounding the giant circle of foxholes. As we left the perimeter we walked by them. Some of them had been lying out there for four days.There are more ants in Vietnam than in any place I have ever seen.


We were being withdrawn to Landing Zone Albany, some six miles away, where we were to be picked up by helicopter. About noon the column stopped and everybody flopped on the ground. It turned out that our reconnaissance platoon had come upon four sleeping PAVN who had claimed they were deserters.They said that there were three or four snipers in the trees upahead-friends of theirs who did not want to surrender.

The head of the column formed by our battalion was already in the landing zone, which was actually only 30 yards to our left. But our company was still in the woods and elephant grass. I dropped my gear and my ax, which was standard equipment for supply clerks like me. We used them to cutdown trees to help make landing zones for our helicopters. The day had grown very hot. I was about one quarter through a smoke when a few shots cracked at the front of the column.


I flipped my cigarette butt, lay down and grabbed my M-16. The fire in front was still growing. Then a few shots were fired right behind me. They seemed to come from the trees. There was firing all over the place now, and I was getting scared. A bullet hit the dirt a foot to my side, and some started whistling over my head.

This wasn’t the three or four snipers we had been warned about. There were over 100 North Vietnamese snipers tied in the trees above us-so we learned later-way above us, in the top branches. The firing kept increasing.

Our executive officer (XO) jumped up and said, “Follow me, and let’s get the hell out of here.” I followed him, along with the rest of the headquarters section and the 1st Platoon. We crouched and ran to the right toward what we thought was the landing zone. But it was only a small clearing – the L.Z. was to our left. We were running deeper into the bush.

The fire was still increasing. We were all crouched as low as possible, but still keeping up a steady trot, looking from to side. I glanced back at Richards, one of the company’s radio operators. Just as I looked back, he moaned softly and fell to the ground. I knelt down and looked at him, and he shuddered and started to gurgle deep in his stomach. His eyes and tongue popped out, and he died. He had a hole straight through his heart.

I had been screaming for a medic. I stopped. I looked up. Everyone had stopped. All of a sudden all the snipers opened up with automatic weapons. There were PAVN with machine guns hidden behind every anthill. The noise was deafening Then the men started dropping. It was unbelievable. I knelt there staring as at least 20 men dropped within a few seconds. I still had not recovered from the shock of seeing Richards killed, but the jolt of seeing men die so quickly brought me back to life. I hit the dirt fast. The XO was to my left, and Wallace was to my right, with Burroughs to his right. We were touching each other lying therein the tall elephant grass. Men all around me were screaming. The fire was now a continuous roar. We were even being fired at by our own guys. No one knew where the fire was coming from, and so the men were shooting everywhere. Some were in shock and were blazing away at everything they saw or imagined they saw.


The XO let out a low moan, and his head sank. I felt a flash of panic. I had been assuming that he would get us out of this. Enlisted men may scoff at officers back in the billets but when the fighting begins, the men automatically become dependent upon them. Now I felt terribly alone.

The XO had been hit in the small of the back. I ripped off his shirt and there it was: a groove to the right of his spine. The bullet was still in there. He was in a great deal of pain, so a rifleman named Wilson and I removed his gear as best we could, and I bandaged his wound. It was not bleeding much on the outside, but he was very close to passing out.

Just then Wallace let out a “Huh!” A bullet had creased his upper arm and entered his side. He was bleeding in spurts. I ripped away his shirt with my knife and did him up. Then the XO screamed: A bullet had gone through his boot, taking all his toes with it. He was in agony and crying. Wallace was swearing and in shock. I was crying and holding on to the XO’s hand to keep from going crazy.

The grass in front of Wallace’s head began to fall as if a lawnmower were passing. It was a machine gun, and I could see the vague outline of the Cong’s head behind the foot or so of elephant grass. The noise of firing from all directions was so great that I couldn’t even hear a machine gun being fired three feet in front of me and one foot above my head.

As if in a dream I picked up my rifle put it on automatic, pushed the barrel into the Cong’s face and pulled the trigger. I saw his face disappear. I guess I blew his head off, but I never saw his body and did not look for it.

Wallace screamed. I had fired the burst pretty close to his ear, but I didn’t hit him. Bullets by the thousands were coming from the trees, from the L.Z., from the very ground, it seemed. There was a huge thump nearby. Burroughs rolled over and started a scream, though it sounded more like a growl. He had been lying on his side when a grenade went off about three or four feet from him. He looked as though someone had poured red paint over him from head to toe.

After that everything began getting hazy. I lay there for several minutes, and I think I was beginning to go into shock. I don’t remember much.

The amazing thing about all this was that from the time Richards was killed to the time Burroughs was hit, only a minute or two had elapsed. Hundreds of men had been hit all around us, and the sound of men screaming was almost as loud as the firing.

The XO was going fast. He told me his wife’s name was Carol. He told me that if he didn’t make it, I was to write her and tell her that he loved her. Then he somehow managed to crawl away, saying that he was going to organize the troops. It was his positive decision to do something, that reinforced my own will to go on.


Then our artillery and air strikes started to come in. They saved our lives. Just before they started, I could hear North Vietnamese voices on our right. ThePAVN battalion was moving in on us, into the woods. The Skyraiders were dropping napalm bombs a hundred feet in front of me on a PAVN machine-gun complex. I felt the hot blast and saw the elephant grass curling ahead of me. The victims were screaming – some of them were our own men who were trapped outside the wood line.

At an altitude of 200 feet it’s difficult to distinguish one soldier from another. It’s unfortunate and horrible, but most of the battalion’s casualties in the first hour or so were from our own men, firing at everything insight.

No matter what you did, you got hit. The snipers in the trees just waited for someone to move, then shot him. I could hear the North Vietnamese entering the woods from out right. They were creeping along, babbling and arguing among themselves, calling to each other when they found a live GI. Then they shot him.

I decided that it was time to move. I crawled off to my left a few feet, to where Sgt. Moore and Thompson were lying. Sgt. Moore had been hit in the chest three times. He was in pain and sinking fast. Thompson was hit only lightly in the leg. I asked the sergeant to hold my hand. He must have known then that he was dying, but he managed to assure me that everything would be all right.

I knew there wasn’t much chance of that. This was a massacre, and I was one of a handful not yet wounded. All around me, those who were not already dead were dying or severely wounded, most of them hit several times. I must have been talking a lot, but I have no idea what I was saying. I think it was, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” over and over. Then I would cry. To get closer to the ground, I had dumped my gear, including the ax I had been carrying, and I had lost my rifle, but that was no problem. There were weapons of every kind lying everywhere.

Sgt. Moore asked me if I thought he would make it. I squeezed his hand and told him sure. He said that he was in a lot of pain, and every now and then he would scream. He was obviously bleeding internally quite a bit. I was sure that he would die before the night. I had seen his wife and four kids at Fort Benning. He had made it through World War II and Korea, but this little war had got him.


I found a hand grenade and put it next to me. Then I pulled out my first-aid pack and opened it. I still was not wounded, but I knew I would be soon.

At that instant I heard a babble of Vietnamese voices close by. They sounded like little children, cruel children. The sound of those voices, of the enemy that close, was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced. Combat creates a mindless fear, but this was worse, naked panic.

A small group of PAVN was rapidly approaching. There was a heavy rustling of elephant grass and a constant babbling of high-pitched voices. I told Sgt. Moore to shut up and play dead. I was thinking of using my grenade, but I was scared that it wouldn’t get them all, and that they were so close that I would blow myself up too.

My mind was made up for me, because all of a sudden they were there. I stuck the grenade under my belly so that even if I was hit the grenade would not go off too easily, and if it did go off I would not feet pain. I willed myself to stop shaking, and I stopped breathing. There were about 10or 12 of them, I figure. They took me for dead, thank God. They lay down all around me, still babbling.

One of them lay down on top of me and started to set up his machine gun. He dropped his canister next to my side. His feet were by my head, and his head was between my feet. He was about six feet tall and pretty bony. He probably couldn’t feel me shaking because he was shaking so much himself. I thought I was gone. I was trying like hell to act dead, however the hell one does that.

The Cong opened up on our mortar platoon, which was setup around a big tree nearby. The platoon returned the fire, killing about half of the Cong, and miraculously not hitting me. All of a sudden a dozen loud “crumph”sounds went off all around me. Assuming that all the GI’s in front of them were dead, our mortar platoon had opened up with M-79 grenade launchers. The Cong jumped up off me, moaning with fear, and the other PAVN began to move around. They apparently knew the M-79. Then a second series of explosions went off, killing all the Cong as they got up to run. One grenade landed between Thompson’s head and Sgt. Moore’s chest. Sgt. Moore saved my life; he took most of the shrapnel in his side. A piece got me in the head.

It felt as if a white-hot sledge hammer had hit the right side of my face. Then something hot and stinging hit my left leg. I lost consciousness for a few seconds. I came out of it feeling intense pain in my leg and a numbness in my head. I didn’t dare feel my face: I thought the whole side of it had gone. Blood was pouring down my forehead and filling the hollow of my eyeglasses. It was also pouring out of my mouth. I slapped a bandage on the side of my face and tied it around my head. I was numbed, but I suddenly felt better. It had happened, and I was still alive.

ia drang 1

I decided it was time to get out. None of my buddies appeared able to move. The Cong obviously had the mortar platoon pegged, and they would try to overrun it again. I was going to be right in their path. I crawled over Sgt. Moore, who had half his chest gone, and Thompson, who had no head left. Wilson, who had helped me with the XO, had been hit badly, but I couldn’t tell where. All that moved was his eyes. He asked me for some water. I gave him one of the two canteens I had scrounged. I still had the hand grenade.

I crawled over many bodies, all still. The 1st Platoon just didn’t exist anymore. One guy had his arm blown off. There was only some shredded skin and a piece of bone sticking out of his sleeve. The sight didn’t bother me anymore. The artillery was still keeping up a steady barrage, as were the planes, and the noise was as loud as ever, but I didn’t hear it anymore. It was a miracle I didn’t get shot by the snipers in the trees while I was moving.

As I was crawling around looking for someone alive, I came across Sgt. Barker, who stuck a .45in my face. He thought I was a Cong and almost shot me. Apparently I was now close to the mortar platoon. Many other wounded men had crawled over there, including the medic Novak, who had run out of supplies after five minutes. Barker was hit in the legs. Caine was hurt badly too. There were many others, all in bad shape.

I lay there with the hand grenade under me, praying. The Cong made several more attacks, which the mortar platoon fought off with 79’s.

The Cong figured out that the mortar platoon was right by that tree, and three of their machine-gun crews crawled up and started to blaze away. It had taken them only a minute or so to find exactly where the platoon was; it took them half a minute to wipe it out. When they opened up, I heard a guy close by scream, then another, and another. Every few seconds someone would scream. Some got hit several times. In 30 seconds the platoon was virtually nonexistent. I heard Lt. Sheldon scream three times, but he lived. I think only five or six guys from the platoon were alive the next day.

It also seemed that most of them were hit in the belly. I don’t know why, but when a man is hit in the belly, he screams an unearthly scream. Something you cannot imagine; you actually have to hear it. When a man is hit in the chest or the belly, he keeps on screaming, sometimes until he dies. I just lay there, numb, listening to the bullets whining over me and the 15 or 20 men close to me screaming and screaming and screaming. They didn’t ever stop for breath. They kept on until they were hoarse, then they would bleed through their mouths and pass out. They would wake up and start screaming again. Then they would die.

I started crying. Sgt. Gale was lying near me. He had been hit badly in the stomach and was in great pain. He would lie very still for a while and then scream. He would scream for a doctor, then he would scream for a medic. He pleaded with anyone he saw to help him, for the love of God, to stop his pain or kill him. He would thrash around and scream some more, and then lie still for a while. He was bleeding a lot. Everyone was. No matter where you put your hand, the ground was sticky.

Sgt. Gale lay there for over six hours before he died. No one had any medical supplies, no one could move, and no one would shoot him.

Several guys shot themselves that day. Schiff, although he was not wounded, completely lost his head and killed himself with his own grenade. Two other men, both wounded, shot themselves with .45’s rather than let themselves be captured alive by the gooks. No one will ever know how many chose that way out, since all the dead had been hit over and over again.

All afternoon we could hear the PAVN, a whole battalion, running through the grass and trees. Hundreds of GI’s were scattered on the ground like salt. Sprinkled among them like pepper were the wounded and dead Cong. The GI’s who were wounded badly were screaming for medics. The Cong soon found them and killed them.

All afternoon there was smoke, artillery, screaming, moaning, fear, bullets, blood, and little yellow men running around screeching with glee when they found one of us alive, or screaming and moaning with fear when they ran into a grenade or a bullet. I suppose that all massacres in wars area bloody mess, but this one seemed bloodier to me because I was caught in it.

About dusk a few helicopters tried landing in the L.Z., about 40 yards over to the left, but whenever one came within 100 feet of the ground, so many machine guns would open up on him that it sounded like a training company at a machine gun range.

At dusk the North Vietnamese started to mortar us. Some of the mortars they used were ours that they had captured. Suddenly the ground behind me lifted up, and there was a tremendous noise. I knew something big had gone off right behind me. At the same time I felt something white-hot go into my right thigh. I started screaming and screaming. The pain was terrible. Then I said, “My legs. God, my legs,” over and over.

Still screaming, I ripped the bandage off my face and tied it around my thigh. It didn’t fit, so I held it as tight as I could with my fingers. I could feel the blood pouring out of the hole. I cried and moaned. It was hurting unbelievably. The realization came to me now, for the first time, that I was not going to live.

With hardly any light left, the Cong decided to infiltrate the woods thoroughly. They were running everywhere. There were no groupings of Americans left in the woods, just a GI here and there. The planes had left, but the artillery kept up the barrage.

Then the flares started up. As long as there was some light, the Cong wouldn’t try an all-out attack. I was lying there in a stupor, thirsty. God, I was thirsty. I had been all afternoon with no water, sweating like hell.

I decided to chance a cigarette. All my original equipment and weapons were gone, but somehow my cigarettes were still with me The ends were bloody. I tore off the ends and lit the middle part of a cigarette.

Cupping it and blowing away the smoke, I managed to escape detection. I knew I was a fool. But at this stage I didn’t really give a damn. By now the small-arms fire had stopped almost entirely. The woods were left to the dead, the wounded, and the artillery barrage.

At nightfall I had crawled across to where Barker, Caine and a few others were lying. I didn’t say a word. I just lay there on my back, listening to the swishing of grass, the sporadic fire and the constant artillery, which was coming pretty close. For over six hours now shells had been landing within a hundred yards of me.


I didn’t move, because I couldn’t. Reaching around, I found a canteen of water. The guy who had taken the last drink from it must have been hit in the face, because the water was about one third blood. I didn’t mind. I passed it around.

About an hour after dark there was a heavy concentration of small-arms fire all around us. It lasted about five minutes. It was repeated at intervals all night long. Battalion H.q.. was firing a protective fire, and we were right in the path of the bullets. Some of our men were getting hit by the rounds ricocheting through the woods.

I lay there shivering. At night in the highlands the temperature goes down to 50 or so. About midnight I heard the grass swishing. It was men, and a lot of them too. I took my hand grenade and straightened out the pin. I thought to myself that now at last they were going to come and kill all the wounded that were left. I was sure I was going to die and I really did not care anymore. I did not want them to take me alive. The others around me were either unconscious or didn’t care. They were just lying there. I think most of them had quietly died in the last few hours. I know one – I did not recognize him – wanted to be alone to die. When he felt himself going, he crawled over me (I don’t know how), and a few minutes later I heard him gurgle, and, I

Then suddenly I realized that the men were making little whistling noises. Maybe these weren’t the Cong. A few seconds later a patrol of GI’s came into view, about15 guys in line, looking for wounded. Everyone started pawing toward them and crying. It turned me into a babbling idiot. I grabbed one of the guys and wouldn’t let go. They had four stretchers with them, and they took the four worst wounded and all the walking wounded, about10 or so, from the company. I was desperate, and I told the leader I could walk, but when Peters helped me to my feet, I passed out cold.

When I regained consciousness, they had gone, but their medic was left behind, a few feet from me, by a tree. He hadn’t seen me, and had already used his meager supply of bandages on those guys who had crawled up around the tree. His patrol said they would be back in a few hours.

I clung to the hope, but I knew damn well they weren’t coming back. Novak, who was one of the walking wounded, had left me his .45. I lost one of the magazines, and the only other one had only three bullets in it. I still had the hand grenade.

I crawled up to the tree. There were about eight guys there, all badly wounded. Lt.Sheldon was there, and he had the only operational radio left in the company. I couldn’t hear him, but he was talking to the company commander, who had gotten separated from us. Lt. Sheldon had been wounded in the thighbone, the kneecap and the ankle.

Some time after midnight, in my half-conscious stupor, I heard a lot of rustling on both sides of the tree. I nudged the lieutenant, and then he heard it too. Slowly, everyone who could move started to arm himself. I don’t know who it was-it might even have been me-but someone made a noise with a weapon.

The swishing noise stopped immediately. Ten yards or so from us an excited babbling started. The gooks must have thought they had run into a pocket of resistance around the tree. Thank God they didn’t dare rush us, because we wouldn’t have lasted a second. Half of us were too weak to even cock our weapons. As a matter of fact, there were a couple who did not have fingers to cock with.


Reporter Joe Galloway who chronicled the Battle 

and then wrote “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” with Col Moore.

Then a clanking noise started: They were setting up a machine gun right next to us. I noticed that some artillery shells were landing close now, and every few seconds they seemed to creep closer to us, until one of the Cong screamed. Then the babbling grew louder. I heard the lieutenant on the radio; he was requesting a salvo to bracket us. A few seconds later there was a loud whistling in the air and shells were landing all around us, again and again. I heard the Cong run away. They left some of their wounded a couple of yards from us, moaning and screaming, but they died within a few minutes.

Every half hour or so the artillery would start all over again. It was a long night. Everytime, the shells came so close to our position that we could hear the shrapnel striking the tree a foot or. so above our heads, and could hear other pieces humming by just inches over us.

All night long the Cong had been moving around killing the wounded. Every few minutes I heard some guy start screaming, “No no no please,” and then a burst of bullets. When they found a guy who was wounded, they’d make an awful racket. They’d yell for their buddies and babble awhile, then turn the poor devil over and listen to him while they stuck a barrel in his face and squeezed.

About an hour before dawn the artillery stopped, except for an occasional shell. But the small-arms firing started up again, just as heavy as it had been the previous afternoon. The GI’s about a mile away were advancing and clearing the ground and trees of Cong (and a few Americans too).The snipers, all around the trees and in them, started firing back.

When a bullet is fired at you, it makes a distinctive, sharp, cracking sound. The firing by the GI’s was all cracks. I could hear thuds all around me from the bullets. I thought I was all dried out from bleeding and sweating,but now I started sweating all over again. I thought, how futile it would be to die now from an American bullet. I just barely managed to keep myself from screaming out loud. I think some guy near me got hit. He let out a long sigh and gurgled.

Soon the sky began to turn red and orange. There was complete silence everywhere now. Not even the birds started their usual singing. As the sun was coming up, everyone expected a human-wave charge by the PAVN, and then a total massacre We didn’t know that the few Cong left from the battle had pulled out just before dawn, leaving only their wounded an a few suicide squads behind.

When the light grew stronger, I could see all around me. The scene might have been the devil’s butcher shop. There were dead men all around the tree. I found that the dead body I had been resting my head on was that of Burgess, one of my buddies. I could hardly recognize him. He was a professional saxophone player with only two weeks left in the Army.

Right in front of me was Sgt. Delaney with both his legs blown off. I had been staring at him all night without knowing who he was. His eyes were open and covered with dirt. Sgt. Gale was dead too. Most of the dead were unrecognizable and were beginning to stink. There was blood and mess all over the place.

Half a dozen of the wounded were alive. Lord, who was full of shrapnel; Lt. Sheldon, with several bullet wounds; Morris, shot in the legs and arm; Sloan, with his fingers shot off; Olson, with his leg shot up and hands mutilated; and some guy from another company who was holding his guts from falling out.

Dead Cong were hanging out of the trees everywhere. The Americans had fired bursts that had blown some snipers right out of the trees. But these guys, they were just hanging and dangling there in silence.

We were all sprawled out in various stages of unconsciousness. My wounds had started bleeding again, and the heat was getting bad. The ants were getting to my legs.

Lt. Sheldon passed out, so I took over the radio. That whole morning is rather blurred in my memory. I remember talking for a long time with someone from Battalion H.q.. He kept telling me to keep calm, that they would have the medics and helicopters in there in no time. He asked me about the condition of the wounded. I told him that the few who were still alive wouldn’t last long. I listened for a long time on the radio to chitchat between MedEvac pilots, Air Force jet pilots and BattalionH.q.. Every now and then I would call up and ask when they were going to pick us up. I’m sure I said a lot of other things, but I don’t remember much about it.

I just couldn’t understand at first why the MedEvacs didn’t come in and get us.Finally I heard on the radio that they wouldn’t land because no one knew whether or not the area was secure. Some of the wounded guys were beginning to babble. It seemed like hours before anything happened.

Then a small Air Force spotter plane was buzzing overhead. It dropped a couple of flares in the L.Z. nearby, marking the spot for an airstrip. I thought, My God,the air strike is going to land on top of us. I got through to the old man, the company commander, who was up ahead, and he said that it wouldn’t come near us and for us not to worry. But I worried, and it landed pretty damn close.

There was silence for awhile, then they started hitting the L.Z. with artillery, a lot of it. This lasted for a half hour or so, and then the small arms started again, whistling and buzzing through the woods. I was terrified. I thought, My Lord, is this never going to end? If we’re going to die, let’s get it over with.

Finally the firing stopped, and there was a ghastly silence. Then the old man got on the radio again and talked to me. He called in a helicopter and told me to guide it over our area. I talked to the pilot, directing him, until he said he could see me. Some of the wounded saw the chopper and started yelling, “Medic, Medic.” Others were moaning feebly and struggling to wave at the chopper.

The old man saw the helicopter circling and said he was coming to help us. He asked me to throw a smoke grenade, which I pulled off Lt. Sheldon’s gear. It went off, and the old man saw it, because soon after that I heard the guys coming. They were shooting as they walked along. I screamed into the radio, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” but they called back and said they were just shooting PAVN.

 Then I saw them: The 1st sergeant, our captain and the two radio operators. The captain came up to me and asked me how I was. I said to him: “Sorry, Sir, I lost my – ax.” He said Don’t worry, Smitty we’ll get you another one.”

The medics at the L.Z.cut off my boots and put bandages on me. My wounds were in pretty bad shape. You know what happens when you take raw meat and throw it on the ground on a sunny day. We were out there for 24 hours, and Vietnam is nothing but one big anthill.

1986 Jack Smith NATCA Story

I was put in a MedEvac chopper and flown to Pleiku, where they changed dressings and stuck all sorts of tubes in my arms. At Pleiku I saw Gruber briefly. He was a clerk in the battalion, and my Army buddy. We talked until they put me in the plane. I learned that Stern and Deschamps, close friends, had been found dead together, shot in the backs of their heads, executed by the Cong. Gruber had identified their bodies. Everyonewas crying. Like most of the men in our battalion, I had lost all myArmy friends.

I heard the casualty figures a few days later. The North Vietnamese unit had been wipedout-over 500 dead. Out of some 500 men in our battalion alone, about 150 had been killed, and only 84 returned to base camp a few days later. In my company. which was right in the middle of the ambush, we had 93-percent casualties-one half dead one half wounded. Almost all the wounded were crippled for life . The company, in fact, was very nearly annihilated.

Our unit is part of the7th Cavalry, Custer’s old unit. That day in the Ia Drang Valley history repeated itself.

After a week in and out of field hospitals I ended up at Camp Zama in Japan. They have operated on me twice. They tell me that I’ll walk again, and that my legs are going to be fine. But no one can tell me when I will stop having nightmares.


This factual account of combat was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1967.


On assignment for ABC News,

Jack went back to Ia Drang,

found where he had fought

and made peace with some of his ghosts




Jack Smith, a great reporter and a great man, 

passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2004

Buddhist Rebellion – Da Nang 1966

(When it came to finding a publisher for

On the Frontlines of the Television War,”

we had to cut savagely into Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s original manuscript.

Here’s another of the book segments in the way we originally edited it.)


In South Vietnam, there was tension between the government, led by Generals Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, both Catholics, and the Buddhists, who made up the majority of Vietnamese especially in the big cities. Da Nang, on the central coast, is the second largest city in South Vietnam and, in 1966, it was the stronghold of the Buddhist-led “Struggle Movement.” At first, the opposition was peaceful with large demonstrations and boycotts but, when some of the Vietnamese soldiers from the ARVN I Corps, the force that controlled the surrounding region, joined with the Buddhists and erected defenses against government troops, the government sent in Vietnamese Marines and Rangers under the command of Nguyen Cao Ky. The American troops, who supported the Saigon government but didn’t see the Buddhists as a threat, were caught in the middle. The Tinh Hoi Pagoda, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Da Nang, became a fortress filled with armed soldiers and Buddhist refugees.

In the late afternoon of May 18th, 1966, I arrived in Da Nang for a completely different assignment, testing out 16-millimeter color film to see if it would hold up under the tough conditions of news coverage. The US TV networks were changing from black and white to color and, as more tv sets were in color, they wanted the news to be in color as well. I shot pictures of the other ABC News team as they covered the Buddhist demonstrations because the clothes of the monks and nuns were bright, warm oranges, yellows, and browns that would really show if the film was OK.

It was such an easy job that I figured that Jack O’Grady sent me as a reward for our much tougher assignment with the 1st Air Cavalry. I wrapped up the shooting by the next day, sent the film back, and began to work with Roger Peterson. He already had a sound camera crew so I was to be the second “cutaway” camera, shooting silent footage that could be worked into his stories. I wasn’t given a lot of instructions but allowed to go out and find news events, interesting people, and, in general, good pictures on my own.

The streets of Da Nang were totally chaotic, particularly around the pagodas. One reporter explained to me that the soldiers of I Corps who didn’t agree on the rebellion were fighting each other but not very hard. This changed when the elite troops led by General Nguyen Cao Ky arrived and the skirmishes between government and rebel troops became tougher and more common.

At one point, I was standing in at a small square and watched as a rebel soldier, a frightened, middle-aged guy, was escorted past me by government troops. Without warning, the South Vietnamese officer in charge simply took out a pistol and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. It happened only yards away from me and I was completely shocked. It was real, not like in the movies, and it shocked me deeply.

At first, I was frozen, unable to move or speak and completely forgetting to use my camera. Then I felt a hot anger inside and I wanted to shout, “It’s murder! You’re nothing but a murderer!” but my voice simply wouldn’t work. I just stood there and stared at the ARVN officer. I never did roll film in my camera and, as a result, had nothing for Roger that day.

The next day, reinforcements from Saigon had arrived with armored troop carriers and tanks and completely surrounded the Tinh Hoi Pagoda, which was the Buddhist headquarters in Da Nang. Inside the pagoda, the monks, soldiers, and civilians were ready to defend themselves against the Army. There were a lot more government troops and the rebel soldiers didn’t have any tanks or heavy weapons so I guessed that they had almost no chance of winning. Even so, they weren’t about to surrender.

All morning, I searched without any luck for a vantage point like a high-rise building or a hill where I could get a picture of the pagoda which was buried deeply in an old neighborhood of small streets and alleys. Roger and his crew were covering the government troops at the front gate of the pagoda.

A street kid about ten years old began to follow me as I walked around looking for a good shot. After a while, I got the idea to ask him to help me get near the pagoda. However, there was a big problem with this idea. I couldn’t speak Vietnamese and I figured he couldn’t speak English. I was completely sure he couldn’t speak Japanese. How could I give him an idea of what I wanted?

I took my camera and posed with it as if I were filming. OK, now he knows that I’m a journalist and not a spy. I only knew a few Vietnamese phrases but “Cho toi di” is what I was taught to say to a taxi driver in Saigon because it meant “take me with you.” means “let me go” according to Google How would I let him know where to take me? I didn’t know how to say “pagoda” in Vietnamese. So, I posed again, pantomiming monks putting their hands together in prayer, clapping, and chanting prayers. I kept saying “Nammaida, Nammaida.” which is a Japanese Buddhist chant and not all that different from the Vietnamese.

He was a very smart kid and instantly knew what I wanted! I must still have good luck left over from the Bong Son operation. The kid let me follow him as he quickly crossed through a small narrow street into someone’s courtyard, down several small lanes and alleys, and finally to the side entrance of the pagoda and there wasn’t a soldier in sight!

It was like magic; it took less than five minutes. Before I had a chance to say “Thanks,” the kid disappeared. I thought for a second that he might have been an angel sent to lead me right where I needed to go.

The courtyard of the Tinh Hoi Pagoda was jammed with people working, running, praying, and preparing to fight to defend against the government troops. Soldiers and civilians were digging bunkers and trenches, making sandbags, and piling them up. Young monks were answering questions and telling people where to go while the nuns and other women cooked food and delivered tea to the workers. Even kids were helping their parents.

I didn’t ask for permission and simply began to film everything around me. No one tried to stop me, in fact, some were eager to show what they were doing. Everyone was very friendly and I realized that I was the only journalist who was covering their side of the conflict. Everyone else was outside with the government troops.

After I filmed the activities in the courtyard, I went to the front gate and shot the rebel troops ready to stand off any attackers. I was behind sandbags in a machine gun nest and I could see all the other newsmen gathered with the government troops only 200 yards away. A lot of the camera crews were taking shots of the pagoda and so I took shots of them. I even recognized Roger because he was taller than everyone else but I couldn’t communicate anything.2016-09-16 14.10.57

The rebels began to move out in several lines along the wall of the pagoda and behind the trees along the road. I heard the loud and sharp “da, da, da, da” of machine gun fire and soldiers near me fell down wounded. The government hadn’t fired warning shots, they’d shot to kill.

It was a short attack but more than a dozen were killed or wounded, both soldiers and civilians. I can’t think of why I wasn’t hit except for another miracle. I got scenes of the advancing soldiers, Buddhists evacuating the wounded into the temple courtyard, and giving them medical care. I also filmed a woman who was just lying there with her baby crying next to her. I couldn’t’ tell if she was dead or alive.

baby pagoda

Yesterday, I hadn’t shot a single good frame of film but this morning, my camera was rolling almost continuously. The scenes were shocking, ugly, cruel, sad, and unreal. I could see more than twenty victims in the courtyard of the pagoda and the shooting had only lasted a minute. It there was a full-scale attack with the tanks and heavy guns that were lined up outside, I couldn’t imagine how many would be killed and wounded.

I thought that this was just a serious protest by the Buddhists and, even though some soldiers had taken their side, I never expected that it would come to killing each other. In Japan, I had covered many demonstrations and the police had only used tear gas against civilians. To my mind, this was political and not all-out war as it was with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. I didn’t think the Buddhists meant to overthrow the government, just get more rights.

As far as I could tell, the wounded soldiers and civilians in the courtyard and on the floor inside the pagoda couldn’t be evacuated to a hospital. In fact, everyone inside appeared to be trapped, including me. I had filmed everything that was happening in the pagoda and I needed to get my film to Roger so he could write a report that gave the story from both sides.

How was I going to get out and get Roger the film?

For the first time, I was worried about my own safety—I needed to get out of here before the government troops attacked again but I had no idea how to manage it. I put my camera down and sat on the stone steps of the pagoda to think. The rebels were busy again, making more sandbags and digging more bunkers with no lessening of their fighting spirit. Inside the pagoda, women were chanting and praying louder than ever in front of the main altar. It was a beautiful sound and very reminiscent of my home in Japan.

I don’t remember how long I sat on the steps. It might have been nearly an hour before a young monk approached and began to speak to me in clear and easily understood English. His head was completely shaven so I couldn’t tell how old he was but I guessed that he was one of the young Buddhist leaders. He had that air about him that simply marked him as a leader.

He said, “I need your help. We wish to have a press conference in here this afternoon. We are all thought of as rebels. We want to have a chance to explain our point of view and the situation we’re in. As you know, no journalists have been here so no one has heard our ideas. Could you bring your reporter and other international reporters here—as many as possible?”

It was a demanding request. Could I bring journalists into such a dangerous place? And if I could, should I? This was, after all, a war zone.

I told the monk that I’d come in by the side door with the help of a street kid and wasn’t sure how to get out, much less bring other journalists back in. He promised me that he would show me a way out and arrange a way back in.

I asked him how they could guarantee the safety of the journalists if they crossed the government lines. The young monk told me that he would order the rebel soldiers to hold their fire as soon as the newsmen reached the crossing point. The newsmen needed to wave white handkerchiefs or something else white and shout “Bao chi,” which is the Vietnamese word for journalist. I wrote it on a piece of paper.

I was surprised that he was giving such an important mission to a stranger like me, a newcomer to Vietnam and a Japanese no less, how could he trust me so much? It was blind faith.

I told him that I’d try my best to bring the newsmen to the pagoda—at least my reporter, but I couldn’t make any promises. It might have been a gamble for the young monk, but I don’t think he had any choice considering his situation. He gave me an escort and he led me out of Tin Hoi Pagoda and through a maze of alleys, lanes, and back roads. I concentrated on memorizing the way so I make my way back with Roger and any other journalists who wanted to come. My escort vanished as soon as we reached the main road.

When I returned to the press center, Roger was worried about where I had been. I told him that I had footage from inside the Tinh Hoi Pagoda. Roger simply couldn’t believe it, he thought I must have been confused and filmed some other smaller pagoda. After all, Tinh Hoi was completely surrounded by government forces who weren’t letting anyone through. I finally convinced him where I had gone and what I had shot.

Now it was Roger’s turn. He had to decide whether he and his friends and competitors in the press corps should go back to the besieged pagoda on the word of this Japanese cameraman he’d only met three weeks ago? I was completely honest, I even told him that there was no guarantee for our safety, particularly because the rebel troops were angry about this morning’s shooting.

Roger grilled me for more details about the situation inside the pagoda and then talked it over with the other reporters. Finally, about ten decided to follow me into the pagoda. The wire service reporters from Associated Press and United Press International, some still photographers, and Roger and the ABC sound crew. I’m fairly sure he didn’t offer the opportunity to anyone from CBS or NBS, we were competitors after all.

Before we left, I made sure that everyone had a white handkerchief, a towel, or a white shirt—something to show our peaceful intentions and I told them how to say “Bao Chi.” They all had to practice that because Vietnamese is a notoriously difficult language for a foreigner. We also agreed that we wouldn’t run no matter what. We might walk a lot faster but we wouldn’t run because all soldiers will shoot at someone running just by reflex.

We crossed the dividing line in the gathering darkness and followed the route I had memorized. As we twisted and turned through the maze of streets, the newsmen were tense but followed me without questions.

When we arrived at the pagoda, it was time to show our good intentions. As we walked up to the rebel lines, we waved our white handkerchiefs and polo shirts, and loudly repeated “Bao Chi. Bao Chi.”

Rebel soldiers were cautious at first, peering at us from behind their sandbag barricades. Then they waved us forward. This was the most frightening moment but the young monk’s word was good, no one stopped us or even raised their weapons and we all walked into the pagoda.

The young monk who had given me this mission welcomed us and led all the journalists inside the temple. He made eye contact with me but there was no time to greet each other.

For the next hour or so, he answered the newsman’s questions. Roger had his own camera crew, so I just filmed shots from the side or close shots or pencils writing on pads, or tight shots of Roger listening—all the usual cutaways. I felt good about keeping my promise because the Buddhists got to give their side of the story openly and completely and face the questions of real journalists. I felt like I gave something back in return for when an innocent kid took me to the pagoda early that morning.

I decided that Roger Peterson was a great guy to work with. After all, he’d had the guts to trust me and he’d gotten a great story.

When we made it back to the Da Nang press center, several reporters shook my hand in appreciation for getting them into the pagoda and said that getting the other side made their reporting a lot better. Roger thanked me as well and shook my hand with his powerful grip even though I tried to tell him that I should be thanking him for trusting me in such a dangerous situation.

It truly was dangerous as was proven the next night. The standoff at the pagoda continued all day and a messenger came to the press center with a note saying that the Buddhists were going to hold another press conference, a very important one. Once again, we were asked to come to the pagoda. Even though it was dangerous, a dozen newsmen went to the Tinh Hoi Pagoda because the note had promised important news.

It turned out not to be important but was just a photo opportunity for them to show us all the wounded and, especially, the little baby crying beside its mother. That was an impressive and dramatic picture but several journalists worried that it might be staged. I didn’t because I had seen the baby crying the day before and no one had even pointed them out to me. I was told later that NBC correspondent Ron Nessen was so suspicious that he told his camera crew not even to take their picture but it was distributed by both AP and UPI as a legitimate and honest photograph

After the journalists had finished taking pictures, we left. I was with one of the first groups to leave, shouting “Bao Chi” as we were crossing towards the government side.

Rifle shots rang out and firing seemed to come from behind us so we thought the rebels were shooting but, if reality, the shots could have come from anywhere. The group I was with ran and jumped inside the nearest house. An M-79 grenade was fired by someone and exploded when it hit a nearby tree. An AP reporter and two photographers were injured, Tim Page of UPI receiving a serious wound in his head from shrapnel. I was nearby but had rolled under a table as soon as we ran into the house and didn’t get even a scratch.

From midnight on, it poured. I couldn’t sleep, partially because of the thunder of the rain on the tin roof of the press center and partially because I kept thinking of the Buddhists, wet and cold at their positions behind walls of sandbags or in inches of water at the bottom of bunkers and trenches. The government announced that they would launch a full-out attack if the pagoda wasn’t surrendered by dawn.

In the morning, we heard that all the Buddhist civilians and rebel soldiers had vanished from the Tinh Hoi Pagoda. All of them just gone!

I imagined that everyone, including the young monk, had used the cover of the rain to disappear one by one into the maze of lanes and alleys. I was relieved, at least no one died—not at this time and not at this place.

I knew that not taking one side over another was Rule Number One for a good journalist but in the time I’d spent with them, I had become sympathetic toward the Buddhists and the rebel soldiers. Perhaps I was impressed by people who would fight for their cause even when they knew that defeat was only a matter of time.

“Only ABC News had pictures of both sides and other nets did not.”

Telex from ABC New York to Roger Peterson May 23rd, 1966.

Exactly one month since I left Osaka, Japan and, already, my fourth “herogram.”

After I returned from Da Nang, ABC continued to hire me almost every day through May and June and into the beginning of July. Finally, with only 40 dollars in my pocket, I asked Jack O’Grady when ABC was planning to pay me. I hadn’t every asked before because in Japan it would have been impolite. A worker shouldn’t demand his pay but wait until the company got around to it.

Jack was so surprised, he scolded me, asking why I hadn’t just asked for my money. He said I had every right to it and I shouldn’t be too shy to demand it. He ordered me to sit down right then and write up the details, how many days, what assignments, and then add up the total. As soon as I handed that in, he wrote me out a check for almost two thousand dollars.

Being raised to be thrifty, I paid some bills, opened a savings account, and deposited most of the money.

A couple of days later, Jack invited me into his office and told me that I was going to Hong Kong the following week—no more assignments in Saigon. It was an unexpected and shocking announcement. I saw that my time at ABC was at an end. The news from Vietnam had quieted down and Jack was leaving for the States with a new bureau chief, Elliot Bernstein, already on his way to replace him.

So, I decided to be a man about it and thank him for being so kind and for taking care of me and teaching me so much over the last two months.

“Jack-san, you have been very great about helping me and you gave me a lot of chances. And I enjoyed working with you and ABC News. Thank you for your help. And I wish that someday I will work with you and ABC again!” Then I made a deep bow, showing my respect in the traditional Japanese manner. It was an honest and sincere speech and it was completely in English! I was proud of my “Sayonara” speech.

I couldn’t understand why Jack looked so confused and puzzled.

Then he burst out laughing and said, “You’re crazy! You’re not fired! You’re going to Hong Kong for a vacation, or ‘R & R’ as we call it. In fact, you’ve been officially hired as a full-time staff cameraman for ABC News. From now on, you’ll work three months without vacation, and at the end of that, you get 10 days of R&R in either Hong Kong or Bangkok with your round-trip ticket, hotel, and meals all paid by the company. If you want, you can even go back to Japan but you’ll have to pay the extra airfare. Either way, be back in ten days and not a second later.” Then he gave me a vigorous handshake and said, “Congratulations! You’ve been hired!”

I was happy, stunned, and embarrassed all at the same time. I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many different strong emotions at the same time. I wasn’t being fired! I was hired, my weekly salary was $125 plus a living allowance, and I was being sent on my first vacation. Later, I found out that ABC had made the decision to put me on staff quite a while ago—like with my pay, maybe they’d just forgotten to tell me.

In July, Jack O’Grady sent a letter to Sadao Mazaki, who had been my boss in Japan. Jack thanked Mr. Mazaki giving ABC the chance to hire an excellent cameraman like Mr. Hirashiki. This O’Grady guy, who I’d thought at first was mean and mustachioed had turned out to be a classy boss who’d made sure I learned from the right people, gave me the time to prove myself, and, in reality, gave me my start as a war cameraman.

When I returned from Hong Kong, I was told to learn how to operate the “Auricon,” which was the big sound camera that the number one cameraman carried. Ron Headford, the Australian I’d met when he was working with Roger Peterson, was known as the “artist of the Auricon” and he taught me all the techniques and tricks himself. When I’d mastered the big camera, I found out that Roger Peterson had specifically asked for me to work on his team.

There were moments when I didn’t believe it but the letter that Jack Bush, the big boss of all cameramen in New York, had written to me in Osaka had come true.

“If you go to Vietnam, you will be given a chance.”

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(When it came to finding a publisher for

On the Frontlines of the Television War,

we had to cut savagely into

Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s

original 175,000-word manuscript.

Here’s another book segment

the way we originally edited it.)

Time: 10am

Date: April 27, 1966

Place: ABC News bureau on the 6th floor of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon.

“How do you do, sir? I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Yasutsune Hirashiki—just arrived from Japan.”

Well, my initial greeting went very well. I shouldn’t have been surprised—after all I’d been practicing it for days.

The man with the mustache gave me a smile and a handshake. His name was Jack O’Grady, the bureau chief for ABC News Saigon. He wasn’t all that tall, just a bit taller than an average Japanese.

“Welcome to Vietnam! New York told me you were coming. They said you were a damn good cameraman.”

He went on to tell me that he’d screened the demo reel of film clips that I’d sent to New York weeks ago and that he was struck by the creativeness of my photography.

That sounded good.

“I’m ready to work, sir. When shall I start?” I said.

“Well, this week is very quiet, so why don’t you check with us next week?” He replied.

What? I hadn’t expected that. Did he just say that I didn’t have a job this week but I might have a job next week. But only if it was busy?

I was sure he was mistaken. I had a letter from Jack Bush, the executive in New York who hired camera crews around the world for ABC. He had very clearly said that I should quit my job at a Japanese local TV station and fly to Vietnam where a job was waiting for me.

This is what I’d wanted for years. I quit the news cameraman job where I’d spent the past ten years, packed up everything I owned, and came to Saigon to join ABC News—one of the mighty American News Networks.

Clearly, this O’Grady fellow hadn’t gotten the message.

I hadn’t practiced this speech but I believe my English was very clear. “Mr. O’ Grady, I was hired by New York as Saigon bureau cameraman. According to New York’s instructions, I quit my job at a Japanese TV station, and come here to work.” I said.

Mr. O’Grady patiently listened to my terrible English and said, “Show me the letter.”

I gave it to him. He read it, smiled, and said, “Look at this line.”

He then ran his finger along the line of incomprehensible English words as he carefully read them to me. “It says that you will have a chance if you go to Saigon but there the word ‘hired’ isn’t in here. We will give you a chance. Come back and check next week. If it’s busy and we need a cameraman, we’ll send you on an assignment and you’ll have a chance to show us your work.”

I was in shock. He was right! Being Japanese, I had translated the letter with a dictionary and only paid attention to what I thought was the important parts of the letter.

Quit. Go to Saigon. Have a chance.

I truly thought that “have a chance” was the same as “you’ll be hired.” What else could it mean? Did New York really think I would leave a good job, say goodbye to everyone I knew, and go off to a war zone with no guarantee of a steady job?

Well, apparently, that was exactly what they’d thought.

Why shouldn’t they? It’s exactly what I did.

I began to berate myself. “Yasutsune, your parents and teachers are right. You are hasty, impetuous, and absentminded and that’s why you always make big mistakes in your life! You don’t take the time to be sure of things! Now you’ve really gone and done it. All you have is $700 and a 16-millimeter film camera. No return ticket. No other job. No place to stay. What are you going to do?”

First, I thanked Jack O’Grady and said I would check in next week. I tried to make sure that he couldn’t tell how much trouble I was in. I walked out of the hotel in a daze and stood on the sidewalk trying to figure out what to do. If I was very careful, I could live in Vietnam for three months without a job. After that, I would have to sell the camera I’d saved so long to buy, and that would give me enough to buy a ticket home.

My boss at the Japanese TV station had told me I could come back if it didn’t work out. What a nice boss I’d had, compared to this mustachioed American guy!

Even so, I couldn’t just go back to my old job. I’d told everyone what a big job I was getting and everyone was jealous of my being able to cover the biggest story there was—the War in Vietnam. They’d even given me a big farewell party! People came to the airport to see me off! I couldn’t just give up and go back. I’d never live it down.

I really didn’t have a choice so I decided to give it a try. I figured that there wasn’t all that much difference between a freelancer and a staffer. If I was really good, I’d get as many assignments as a staff cameraman.

OK, right at that moment, I didn’t feel like it but I had to hold tight to the knowledge that I really was a good shooter. I had done well at the local TV station in Osaka, Japan. My boss there once told me that I would become a good cameraman and, even better, a good journalist in the near future if I kept working as hard as I was.

In the ten years, I worked there, I had learned about “news.” I learned, for example, that when a dog bites a man it’s not “news,” but when a man bites a dog, that’s “news.” I was lucky to start in 1956, right at the dawn of the era of television news, and my teachers were old newsreel cameramen and former newspaper reporters who, from the beginning, drilled into me how to shoot and, more importantly, what to shoot. When I was an assistant and usually only allowed to carry a tripod or a stepladder, not a camera, one of my teachers suggested to me that I should go to the movie theater to watch newsreels like “Movietone News” or “Warner-Pathe News.” So that’s what I did, and American newsreels became my teachers as well. I believed that the Japanese way of covering news was pretty much the same as the American way since Japan was increasingly becoming influenced by American culture and this included keeping tabs on the broadcasting business and technology in the States.

We began using camera gear and film made in the US and we were so excited the first time that my company had bought the US made Ampex video tape machines. I also remember when my former company, the Mainichi Broadcasting company (MBS), had its first test satellite broadcast between the US and Japan, and we anxiously waited for the first test picture to come via satellite between New York and Osaka, from ABC News to our station. The first pictures and news had shocked us—it was the news of President Kennedy’s assassination—No reporter was currently in New York except for our representative, Jiro Maeda, who was based there as a bureau representative. The other Japanese reporters were all either following the President’s campaign or based in Washington D.C. Jiro Maeda had worked as an announcer before so he quickly pounced on the situation and reported the tragedy through the first test satellite broadcasting. It was an exclusive and everyone in Japan watched the biggest news of the century through the first satellite broadcast.

Of course, actually joining one of the American networks was a big jump. I wasn’t completely certain that I would make it but I had to try at the very least. I had the chance and, I told myself, I was good enough to meet the challenge.

All good words but deep inside I felt like my stomach was tied in knots.

It was one of the worst days I’ve ever had but I finally calmed down and got to work. I rented a tiny room from one of the managers of a Japanese company for $50 a month and got something to eat. I was determined to make it.

The next day and every day after that, I dropped by the ABC bureau at least once just to say “Hello” as if I were a sales person. I thought it was important to have people remember my face. I’m sure that many of the people in the bureau were puzzled by the sight of me coming in without any real reason, just bowing, smiling and saying “Hello, here I am!”

Perhaps they did think I was ridiculous, I didn’t really mind because, after five mornings of silly visits and five of the world’s longest afternoons waiting for a phone call, I got my first assignment from ABC News.

I was told to go and cover the 1st Cavalry Division which was based in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. I was to go there by myself, learn how things worked, figure out who to talk to, and then wait for a story. When there was a story, I was to film it, write up how it should be used, and send it to ABC News. I wouldn’t have a reporter—it was going to just be me, my camera, and my terrible English.

OK, it was clearly a tough test, not only of how far I could march or how I held my camera but of my creativity, journalism, and mental resilience. Fine, I was going in there and, by the end, they would know that I was one of the best combat cameramen anywhere.

So, it was a very important assignment for me. Besides, I couldn’t say “No.” If a freelancer turned down an assignment, it was a pretty good bet that he wasn’t going to get another.

Early one morning in the beginning of May, I set out for one of the 1st Cavalry’s base camp at An Khe. I was flying in on a military airplane out of Pleiku. To my surprise, Jack O’Grady himself woke up at 4 am to drive me to the Military Air Terminal.

I thought, do I have to change my mind about him? I thought he was just a tough and mean guy who wouldn’t give a kid a chance. Was it possible he was actually a nice guy? I decided to think about that later. After all this was my first assignment.

I had butterflies in my stomach like a baseball player getting his first chance at the Major Leagues.

An Khe, the headquarters of the 1st Air Cavalry, was located about midway between the coastal city of Quy Nhon and the highland city of Pleiku. It was a tiny village, but controlled a strategic portion of Vietnam’s Highway One9, one of the key east-west roads. When I arrived at Camp Radcliff, where the An Khe airfield was located, I was met by the Public Information Officer of the 1st Air Cavalry, Captain First Name? Hitchcock. I had wondered if he was related to the famous movie director, Alfred Hitchcock. Sadly, he was very tall and skinny—totally different in appearance compared to the director—so I guessed (without asking him) that he wasn’t related.

Captain Hitchcock led me into an enormous press tent and told me that, six months ago, the entire tent was packed with journalists during the Battle of Ia Drang—the first time that American forces went head-to-head with North Vietnamese Regular soldiers rather than local Viet Cong militia. The 1st Cavalry was the Army’s first air assault division—using helicopters of all sizes to move directly into contact with an enemy. You might have read the book about the brutal battle of Ia Drang, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, or seen the movie. Most soldiers called their unit the 1st Air Cavalry but their official name was the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile.)

The past few weeks, the 1st Cavalry hadn’t been making a lot of news so there were very few reporters in the press tent. To be precise, counting myself, there were only two. I asked the captain if I could go out on an operation if one was scheduled. He said that there was a small operation going on and I could go along with the other reporter if I liked.


He introduced me to Charles Black, a veteran newspaper reporter working for the Columbus Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia. He had a special interest because Fort Benning, the home base of the 1st Cavalry was in Columbus. Black, who was about 15 years older than I was, had been in the Marine Corps and fought in both World War II and Korea. Now, he was a respected war reporter who, armed with a typewriter, followed the “First Team” wherever they went. He was a well-known and popular reporter among soldiers because his articles were filled with their names, hometowns, details of their lives, and close attention to their time in combat. Back in the States, anxious families of 1st Cavalry soldiers read his reports word by word to be sure that their sons were all right. Some said that Charlie Black was the “Ernie Pyle” of the Vietnam War, referring to the legendary combat reporter who chronicled the ordinary soldiers of World War II until he was killed by enemy fire on Okinawa.

Captain Hitchcock was certainly correct when he said that this was a small operation. More accurately, it was planned to be little more than a jungle patrol. Helicopters would drop troops into the middle of the jungle one day and pick them up the next. It was perfect for a beginner like me.

So, the most-experienced war reporter went into the field side-by-side with the most-inexperienced television news cameraman. We came in on the helicopters and followed this small unit of the 1st Cavalry for two days—two days without a single sign of an enemy soldier.

Even without combat, I managed to learn the tricks of my trade. For one thing, it’s a good idea to bring something waterproof so you—and more importantly, your camera, can stay dry when it rains all night. I was soaking wet and desperately trying to keep my camera dry with a tiny piece of plastic when Black kindly let me sleep underneath his hammock, which was covered by a nice big poncho.

I thought that it was “dry season” in Vietnam. I learned very soon that we were operating in true rain forest with high trees and thick undergrowth. It rained all year around.

The next morning, when we had some spare time, Charles Black began to give me tips on how to cover a war. You could call it, “A Beginner’s Class for the Rookie War Reporter.” First off, I was wearing a bright white polo shirt which might as well have been a sign telling anyone with a rifle, “Shoot Here.” Everything else was green or brown and, not only would I be a perfect target, but I was putting everyone near me in danger as well. The proper clothes were green or khaki in color, and camouflage wasn’t the worst idea. I didn’t have to wear a military uniform but white or any other bright colors were out. The last thing that soldiers needed was some dumb journalist broadcasting their presence to the world.

Second, we were going to be walking through fields, jungle, and rice paddies so my running shoes were out. The soles didn’t have enough traction so I’d be skidding and falling in the mud. In addition, the trails were naturally covered with sharp sticks and branches and that didn’t even count the “punji stick” booby traps where the enemy would sharpen stakes, set them under leaves or other cover, and wait for stupid cameramen to step on them. Black told me that there were very nice sturdy army boots on the black market of any big town or city. As a matter of fact, if I shopped for boots, I’d find canteens, ponchos, blankets, knapsacks, and everything else I really needed.

Unwritten Law Number Three was that I had to take care of myself when I was in the field. The soldiers weren’t there to play nursemaid for a reporter, I was a barely-welcome guest at best and a pain at worst. I shouldn’t ask for food, water, or even a cigarette. The soldiers were carrying their own supplies and so should I.

Finally, one of the crucial aspects of combat reporting, according to Charles Black, was, “The coverage of war is a waiting game. It needs a lot of patience.”

I felt that I was incredibly lucky to have a legendary reporter take the time to teach me the ropes. I found out later from other reporters that Black would often teach newbies the rules and etiquette of war reporting and those newbies were considered very fortunate to get the advice. If you think about it, it’s not just a matter or safety but simple manners to treat soldiers as the professionals they are and not act like some whiney kid who expects to be taken care of. For one thing, the better you treated them, the better they’d treat you and you might get a story that a rude reporter wouldn’t even know about.

This time, there was no story for anyone and we got back to An Khe in the early afternoon of the second day. I had filmed a few scenes but nothing of interest so I didn’t send anything to Saigon.

After returning to the base, I was beat so I went to take a nap on a foldout cot in the press tent. Captain Hitchcock came by and told me about a big operation that was going to kick off the next day. It was called “OPERATION DAVY CROCKETT” and it would take place in the Bong Son Valley in the Binh Dinh province near the ocean in Central Vietnam. The staging area was a long way off, about 112 miles, and he warned me to be careful if I drove there because there had been ambushes along that stretch of road.

I double and triple-checked the spelling of the Operation. I knew that “Davy Crockett” was the name of a hero in Western Movies and, again, this shows how skillful Americans are with nicknames. When I was young, and the Americans were still occupying Japan, I can remember when they began giving the typhoons women’s names like Kitty or Jane.

To my surprise, the captain handed me a pair of tough military boots, a military uniform, and a poncho. Amazingly, they fit me because they were made for Vietnamese soldiers and so were slimmer and smaller than the average American uniform. I was grateful for these but a little confused because I hadn’t asked for anything. I think that Charles Black told the captain that this crazy, green Japanese cameraman needed a hand. However it came about, I was very thankful.

Yasutsune "Tony" Hirashiki circa 1967 with Auricon Camera and faux fatigues.

The next morning, May 3, 1966, I hitched a ride in Captain Hitchcock’s jeep and we drove to Bong Son with a convoy of tents, cots, desks, phones, and typewriters, all of which would be used for a press center at the staging area. If I had any doubt that this was going to be a big operation, an entire military convoy of supplies just for the reporters who were going to show up proved it.

We drove to the east coast on Highway One9, turned up to the north on Highway One, and reached the Bong Son valley. The journey took all day, military convoys don’t go all that fast, but fortunately there were no ambushes, in fact, no problems at all.

When we arrived at the assembly area, the captain immediate began to set up all the equipment for the press. He didn’t have anyone to help him so I helped erect the tents and set up the beds and we finished the press center before dark. As a reward, I got the bed nearest to the entrance which was the best place to sleep—if anything happened outside, you were the first out either to start filming or start running depending on what was going on.

It didn’t much matter because there wasn’t any competition for beds since I was the only journalist there. Charles Black had flown in on a helicopter with the 1st Cavalry and then followed them off to the front lines so, I was alone in the large press tent. I went to bed early because the captain had arranged for me to go with one of the units first thing in the morning—and “first thing” meant well before dawn.

I could hear the reverberation of big guns, and sometimes the sound of bombing. When it was so loud and long that I could feel the ground shaking as if we were having small earthquakes, I knew it was an ARC-LIGHT, the military term for a B-52 raid. As I drifted off to sleep, my last thoughts were that this certainly appeared to be one big search and destroy campaign.

The next day, I set off with the soldiers of the second battalion who were to cover the north flank of the tactical zone in Bong Son Valley. The Binh Dinh province had long been known as a stronghold of the National Liberation Front, or, as Westerners called them, the Viet Cong. In fact, Viet Cong was a quick way of saying “Viet Nam Communist” or “Communist Traitor to Vietnam” but most soldiers called any local militia Viet Cong or “VC” and called trained soldiers from North Vietnam either the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) or the PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam.)

The soldiers of the 1st Cavalry wore uniforms with an embroidered patch on their sleeve that was yellow with a silhouette of a black horse on with the torso of a black horse. This was to remind them that, when the unit was initially formed in 1923, they rode horses although the horses were history by the time they served in the Pacific during World War II and Korea. By the time they arrived in Vietnam, they were “Airmobile” and used helicopters to carry troops to the battlefield, bring in weapons and artillery, carry out the wounded and attack the enemy from the sky. Just to make things more confusing for someone with as little English as I do, the 1st Air Cavalry Division was also made up of the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 12th Calvary regiments. I hope that veterans will excuse me if my confusion at the time and my memory all these years later brings mistakes—no offense is meant.

Horses or helicopters, the first day they were walking. We crossed rice paddies and footpaths, and climbed up and down hills. The fields were beautiful, with tiny white and yellow flowers looking like stars in the sky. I filmed low angle shots of the soldier’s boots against the flowers.

I was taught a new word that day. “Contact” means to run into the enemy and, almost inevitably, to fight with them. If there was heavy fighting, it was “heavy contact.” If there was only a skirmish, it was “light contact.”

Today, there was “no contact.”

That night, we camped on a high hill. I found a large rock and set up my little camp behind it so it would shelter me if something happened. It was a cool and comfortable night with a clear sky so all the stars shone as if we were in a planetarium and not in the middle of a war. There wasn’t a moon so I went to sleep looking at the stars.

Somewhere around midnight, I was awakened by the crack and nasty zing of small arms fire. The enemy was firing from the bottom of the hill and I could see the red streaks of tracer bullets. I stayed behind my stone as several shots passed so close that I could hear their sound—like a mechanical and very angry bee. The Americans set off parachute flares and it was bright as day all around us. They immediately began to to pour rifle fire towards the bottom of the hill.

I wasn’t a soldier, I was a cameraman and all I could think was that it was like a beautiful movie scene with fireworks. I tried filming when the flares ignited but, even then, I knew it was too dark to capture any detail on the film. Eventually, I lay down behind my rock and watched the sky where the stars had been joined by stray bullets and flares. I began to question why I was here, lying and watching flying bullets. I thought about my friends and family back in Japan, and felt a some regret about leaving all that and coming to Vietnam. I thought and I watched the stars and the fireworks of war and I fell asleep. In the morning, one of the soldiers told me that the fighting had gone on all night but I’d slept right through it. It’s strange but I guess you can get used to anything—even a pitched battle.

The second day was quite a different story. The fighting had begun early in the morning as the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry surrounded a village (I believe it was Binh De) which their intelligence had said was a VC base. I could see as soldiers began to approach the village and heavy weapons fire erupted. The soldiers immediately called in air support, American jets began to bomb Binh De, and soon we could see heavy black smoke and then flames and the village burned.

COMBINED plates_On_the_Frontlines

An agitated and frightened water buffalo came running out of the village very fast and heading right for us. I followed it with my camera, and filmed as the buffalo was shot just before it reached our position. Moments later, refugees came running from the village—old men, women, and children. An old grandmother pointed back at the burning village and angrily berated the American soldiers. I would have liked to know what she was saying but I suppose it was pretty clear. My unit was ordered to move into the village but all the enemy soldiers were gone. In fact, they might well have left before the air strikes began. No one in the unit I was with could tell me.

I had plenty of action footage for the first day’s report on OPERATION DAVY CROCKETT so I got on a helicopter and flew back to the base camp in the early afternoon. The press center at base camp was filled with newsmen who had come in from Saigon. There were not enough beds, but mine was still reserved, even thought there were famous journalists looking to claim it. Captain Hitchcock was an extremely fair guy.

Beds were fine but the primary reason for a press center is telephones. The military telephone circuit was called the “tiger line.” If you were lucky, you could get through to the ABC office in Saigon and, if you were extremely lucky, you’d get through in minutes instead of hours. That day, I was extremely lucky and reached Jack O’Grady in less than ten minutes.

“Where have you been? Why didn’t you contact us?” He was shouting and angry. I could only guess that it was because I hadn’t contacted him for four days. I hadn’t tried to get through because I didn’t think I should bother him when I didn’t have anything to ship and the rest of the time I was in the field.

I tried to explain, “I’m here at Bong Son, sir! I followed a new operation, ‘Davy Crockett’. I filmed some action. Shall we send it, sir?”

O’Grady didn’t seem to believe what I was saying although the possibility is that he just couldn’t understand what I was saying. Finally, Captain Hitchcock took the phone and explain that not only was I unable to call Saigon because I was too busy shooting the operation but that I was the only cameraman out there shooting an extremely big military operation.

When I got back on the phone, Mr. O’Grady’s voice was gentle and his mood seemed to be much improved. Apparently, the Saigon press corps had only been told about OPERATION DAVY CROCKETT at last night’s press briefing and correspondent Roger Peterson had left to cover the story with a camera crew this morning. He told me to give my film to Roger and then head back to Saigon.

While I was waiting for Roger and his crew, I borrowed a typewriter from the Captain and typed up a list in English of all the pictures I’d shot during today’s action. I believe I spelled most things correctly but “Davy Crockett” wasn’t in my Japanese-English dictionary. Roger didn’t seem to mind when he arrived in the mid-afternoon with Ron Headford, an Australian cameraman. He was very happy with my list and said it would really help in his first report on the battles.

It wasn’t an “exclusive” because Charles Black was also reporting but I did have the only camera footage. I hoped to see Black again but I was told that when he was out with the troops, he never came back to the base camp. I regret that I didn’t get the chance to see him again. but I know I was really lucky to meet and learn from this great war correspondent, especially on my first assignment in Vietnam.

When I got back to Saigon, I found that the bureau chief and the New York executives were actually quite happy with how I’d done on my first time out and I got another assignment for the next day.

I was a real war cameraman!

After one day’s rest, I went back to Bong Son to continue covering OPERATION DAVY CROCKETT. This time, I wasn’t alone but working with the bureau chief, Jack O’Grady. As soon as we went out with an Airborne unit, I realized that this was his first time covering the war in the field. He was having a hard time keeping up with the soldiers, so I paid attention to be sure that he didn’t fall behind and, at one point, I even carried his knapsack.

I thought, well, he had already given me a chance and a job, so why not pay him back with a little help in a tough situation? Other journalists on the march, friends of his from the Saigon press corps, were making fun of how weak he was, and saying he’d spent too long behind a desk. That didn’t seem fair, everyone had trouble on their first assignment to a battlefield. Some people might have thought I was just trying to impress the bureau chief but, in fact, I was worried that he would get heat stroke under the blazing sun. I would have helped anyone in that situation and often did.

I’ve noticed over the years that difficult situations often bring people closer. In the afternoon of the second day, during a break at the field, we were all sitting on the ground and Mr. O’Grady turned to me and quite seriously told me not to stop calling him “Mr. O’Grady.” “Jack” would be just fine. This was a bit of problem for me because it’s this is a violation of manners Japanese children are taught all their lives. We don’t call our boss, or any older man, by their first name. I offered to compromise and call him “Jack-san” out of respect. He said he was OK with that and that’s what I did for the rest of our time in Vietnam.

Jack then gave me an assignment, speaking English at all times and all places—even in conversations with Japanese friends. I knew he was trying to make me learn the language, which isn’t easy, and I tried my best from then on. In fact, later on that same story, I met a very brave Japanese war photographer named Bunyo Ishikawa who had been covering the war as a freelancer since 1965 and would become a good friend. That first conversation however, I think that Ishikawa thought I’d been touched by the sun or driven a little crazy by the stress because he would talk to me in Japanese and I would answer in pidgin English. The real reason was that I knew Jack was watching and listening to me nearby.

Later, when Jack had walked away, I quickly explained in Japanese why I could only speak to him in English. He was relieved that I wasn’t crazy and said, in Japanese, that it was a good way to learn English.

During the assignment, Jack and I had a chance to ride in an observer plane—a very small, old propeller airplane, probably a Cessna. It was the same kind that I used to use when I’d be assigned to film aerial scenes back in Japan with my backup camera, the Bell and Howell 16mm. It was a good choice for filming aerial scenes because it had the ability to change the shutter speed to slow motion which would minimize the shakiness of the vibrating airplane. It was a truly excellent camera and I loved using it, I’d even covered the first run of a Japanese bullet train with it long before I came to Vietnam.

The observation plane would fly very low and slow over the jungle, searching for enemy positions, and mark the location for attack jets who would then make a bombing run. Their pilots were brave but not stupid, they’d find the enemy, and then move away and let the big planes come in. This way I got a great platform to film an aerial battle—Phantom jets and propeller-driven Skyraiders diving and bombing their targets with both explosive and napalm bombs. It was vivid and dramatic, but also frightening and very bumpy as the small plane dove in and out to plant smoke bombs on the targets. Jack and I both almost got airsick but managed to keep our food in our stomachs until we were back on the ground.

New York was impressed with our unusual footage, and sent a complimentary telex to Jack O’Grady. The way it worked was that, if you did a good job, got fresh material, and, most importantly, beat the other networks, New York would send a nice telex that was known as a “herogram” or an “attaboy.” Of course, if the film was shaky or out of focus and especially if the other networks had something we didn’t get, the telex was quite nasty. These were known as “rockets” and came out of New York a lot more often than “herograms.” Jack was pleased because he’d gotten praise for his first field assignment. I was very happy that, in less than two weeks on the job, I already had two “herograms” without a single “rocket.” With any luck, it would help move me from freelancer to full-time staff.

Jack left for Saigon that evening but I stayed until the operation was over. When I got back to the press center at An Khe, I called Saigon through the “tiger line.” This time, I got Bob Lukeman who was the assistant bureau chief and assignment manager.

He started out sounding like I was in trouble, “What are you doing there? The operation is over. Come back to Saigon as soon as possible!” and then switched to praise, “By the way, you did a very nice job!”

I was a little confused by this combination of praise and criticism but I soon got used to it. It’s just part of the way desk people always talk.

When I got back to Saigon and reported to the bureau, Jack gave me a firm handshake and showed me the telex he’d gotten from New York. It wasn’t very long but it was nice to read:

O’Grady’s operation report was excellent.

The next day, I received my own “herogram.” It was a bit longer:

“Mr. Hirashiki’s pictures were excellent; had good composition, good close ups, and captured exciting scenes.

ABC Telex May 17 1966

It was from Jack Bush, the same man who had suggested that if I quit my job in Japan and simply went to Vietnam, I would have a “chance” at a job. I was extremely happy at the compliments and then I became depressed as I read the rest of the message because he added that I needed to improve my technical proficiency because some of the picture were over-exposed. Wow, those guys in New York were tough!

Both Jack O’Grady and Bob Lukeman laughed and told me that NY telexes always found something to complain about. On the other hand, they said that the telegram was a good sign for my future, and told me to keep up the good work.

Now my position was firmer than before. I was, at least, consistently getting freelance jobs from ABC News. I’d only been in Saigon for three weeks and I’d already earned over five hundred dollars. I’d almost doubled my tiny savings so, with my frugal lifestyle, this meant that, even without another assignment, I could stay another six months.

I’d passed the first test.


“On the Frontlines of the Television War.”

I put together the real video and the stills we had made into one video.

Click on the cover.


Featured Image -- 12357

Tony Hirashiki’s Chapter on Anne Morrissy Merick

[We had to cut “On the Frontlines of the Television War” almost in half to find a publisher so I’ve been posting the chapters we cut on this website. I thought that today with the passing of Anne Morrissy Merick, I’d post this chapter about a train journey through Viet Cong-held Vietnam and a very sweet return to Saigon. Terry Irving]

Another attempt to cover the “other side” was when I was sent to film a mountain railway that still operated between Dalat and the coast by way of Phan Rang to Nha Trang—cutting across areas controlled by both the South Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Vietnamese would take the train but foreigners were discouraged from boarding because Communist political units would often appear on the train and give speeches about their cause and the reasons for their fight. They would also collect taxes of course. There was one newly arrived correspondent who was willing to take the journey, Ann Morrisey, the first female TV correspondent for ABC News in Vietnam. She had been a producer and then volunteered to come to Vietnam as a correspondent or at least that’s what I was told.

She was quite brave and very curious so she decided to take this train ride. For one thing, it was the last train still operating in South Vietnam and she wanted to film a Viet Cong unit if they showed up on the train. She spoke French so she thought she could communicate well enough to do an interview. Again, Saigon thought sending a Western crew was a bad idea and even sending a South Vietnamese soundman was risky so I went by myself.

The train ride itself was fun. It went through beautiful scenery and at every stop, there would be locals selling souvenirs. You could also buy food: fruit, tea, or coffee. The coffee was a very famous product of this region before the war. At times, it seemed as if the train was just going from market to market but the food was delicious and I was soon stuffed.

But the Viet Cong never showed up so it was more like a tourist film than a war story. In “War Torn,” the excellent book about women reporters in Vietnam, she said that the train ride was the most picturesque story she did in Vietnam and her favorite.

We were out of touch for 3 days and Bureau Chief Elliot Bernstein and the Assignment Desk was worried we’d been captured. As it happened, Wendel “Bud” Merick, the US News and World Report correspondent was also quite concerned and wrote her a letter every day. When Ann returned, she found a pile of what were really love letters from him. They were married at the Caravelle Hotel.

–from ‘On the Frontlines of the Television War” by Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki



Anne Morrissy Merick, a Pioneer From Yale to Vietnam, Dies at 83


In 1954, Anne Morrissy, the first woman to be named sports editor of The Cornell Daily Sun, became the first woman admitted to the press box of the Yale Bowl.

Anne Morrissy Merick, who as a television field producer persuaded the Pentagon to overturn an edict that prevented women in the press corps from covering combat during the Vietnam War, died on May 2 in Naples, Fla. She was 83.

Her daughter, Katherine Anne Engelke, said the cause was complications of dementia.

Even as a college student, Ms. Morrissy Merick began blazing trails for women. She was the first woman to be named sports editor of The Cornell Daily Sun and the first woman admitted to the press box at the Yale Bowl.

In Vietnam, Ms. Morrissy Merick was working in Saigon for ABC News in 1967 when Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the United States commander there, was horrified to encounter Denby Fawcett, a 24-year-old reporter for The Honolulu Advertiser, embedded with American troops on a dangerous mission in the Central Highlands. Ms. Fawcett’s mother was a friend of the general’s wife.

Fearing for their safety, General Westmoreland barred female journalists from remaining overnight on the battlefield.

In effect, his order handicapped them from covering combat, because in a guerrilla war, the front could materialize suddenly anywhere and there was no assurance that journalists could be evacuated quickly.

(As it turned out, Ms. Morrissy Merick’s only war wound was a monkey bite, inflicted by a soldier’s mascot.)

In response to the Westmoreland order, Ms. Morrissy Merick and Ann Bryan Mariano, an editor of Overseas Weekly, organized the half-dozen other women covering the war to join them in meeting with Phil G. Goulding, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who was in Saigon, the South Vietnam capital (now Ho Chi Minh City).


Ms. Morrissy Merick as a reporter in Vietnam. She helped get a restriction against women covering the war there reversed.

After an inconclusive meeting, he and Ms. Morrissy Merick adjourned for drinks in her hotel room, where she persuaded him to have Westmoreland’s edict reversed. (“And if you’re wondering if I slept with him, the answer is no!” she wrote in “War Torn: The Personal Experiences of Women Reporters in the Vietnam War,” a collection of remembrances published in 2002.)

Ms. Morrissy Merick argued that giving her access to the battlefield would enable her to produce the kind of in-depth reporting that she found lacking in daily television coverage, in which “the war was just chopped into little pieces of bang-bang every night for dinner entertainment,” as she was quoted saying in Joyce Hoffmann’s book “On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam” (2008).

“My objective was to get ‘the story behind the story, not only what these men did but how they felt about it,’” Ms. Morrissy Merick said.

The Westmoreland order and its reversal were not widely reported at the time, but the journalistic precedents she set as a student at Cornell University in 1954 did make headlines across the country.

As Anne Morrissy, she defeated three male students that spring to be elected the first female sports editor in the history of The Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper, which was founded in 1880. (Its editor in chief at the time was Dick Schaap, who would become an accomplished sportswriter.)

On Oct. 16, 1954, after having been admitted to the press box at Cornell’s football stadium, she overturned another hoary tradition. Traveling to New Haven for a Big Red away game, she became the first woman credentialed to sit in the press box at the Yale Bowl.

She was seated next to Allison Danzig of The New York Times, and her photograph appeared in The Times the next day with his article on the undefeated Elis’ 47-21 victory.

For the most part, her milestone at The Sun and her giant step for womankind in integrating the Yale football press box were greeted with condescension by the male-dominated profession.

Misspelling her surname, the syndicated columnist Red Smith wrote in The New York Herald Tribune, “Miss Morrisy is a slick little chick whose name probably will be linked in history with those of other crusading cupcakes such as Lady Godiva, Susan B. Anthony, Lydia Pinkham and Mrs. Amelia Bloomer.”

He continued, “The first sportswriting doll to thrust her shapely foot through the door of an Ivy League press coop, she has breached the last bastion of masculinity left standing this side of the shower room.”

In an editorial, The Chicago Tribune wrote that Ms. Morrissy might bring a fresh viewpoint to sports coverage, as a woman and as a philosophy major.


Ms. Morrissy Merick, above, “was happy to play up her cute, attractive spunkiness in order to get a foot in the door, and then she walloped them with her knowledge and ability to ask good questions,” her daughter said.

“She can explain Cornell’s victories and defeats in terms of the categorical imperative, the Platonic doctrine of ideas, or the pessimism of Schopenhauer, holding that the will is an irrational form in conflict with the intellect,” the Tribune said. “Or she can write a fashion review, giving a description of the costuming in Dartmouth green or Harvard Crimson, and what accessories the athletes carried.”

She had earlier covered varsity crew, swimming and even intramural horseshoes for The Sun, agreeing to take sports assignments that her male colleagues had spurned. That left her at a disadvantage when, as The Sun’s sports editor, she entered the Yale Bowl press box.

“In my excitement over the opportunity to sit in the press box,” she wrote in The Boston Globe. “I had forgotten to learn anything about football.”“To me, the hardest part of covering football is being able to keep your eye on the ball,” she added, “and I consistently found myself watching the wrong person.”

Anne Louise Morrissy was born on Oct. 28, 1933, in Manhattan to John Morrissy, an advertising executive with Time Life, and the former Katherine Harriett McKay, who had been an actress.

After graduating from Cornell in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, she toured Europe and became sports editor of the Paris edition of The New York Herald Tribune. She was on assignment in Syria for an Israeli newspaper when she was arrested as a spy and deported.

Hired by ABC as a producer in 1961, she covered the civil rights movement, presidential primaries and spaceflights. Posted to Vietnam later in the ’60s, she remained there until 1973.

By then, she had married Wendell S. Merick, a U.S. News and World Report correspondent whom she had met in Vietnam, and had a daughter with him. The family moved when the magazine closed its Saigon bureau. He died in 1988.

She later married Dr. Don S. Janicek, a physician, who died in 2016. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a sister, Katherine Hemion; four stepchildren, Larry, Steve and Nancy Janicek and Julie Janicek-Wilkey; four granddaughters; and 13 step-grandchildren.

“From the many articles I have read about her,” her daughter, Ms. Engelke, wrote of her 5-foot-2 mother in an email, “it sounds like she was happy to play up her cute, attractive spunkiness in order to get a foot in the door, and then she walloped them with her knowledge and ability to ask good questions.”

It is unclear why Yale relented and allowed Ms. Morrissy Merick into the press box that day in 1954 (perhaps because of her imprimatur not only as a reporter but also as an editor), and its decision was not immediately transformative: A few weeks later, Faye Loyd of United Press was barred, and in succeeding years, few women were assigned or chose to cover sports.

But for Ms. Morrissy Merick, it may have been an epiphany.

“I think the whole Yale press box thing was a big deal,” Ms. Engelke said. “That really set her up to not be afraid to do the job of a man.”

An Asian in Vietnam

(This is another section that had to be trimmed from “On the Frontlines of the Television War” before it could be published.]

An Asian in Vietnam

One day, I was in a taxi in Saigon and the young driver started to talk to me in what turned out to be quite good English. He explained that he was only driving a cab temporarily while he prepared to go to college. After he learned that I was from Japan, he said, “If there were three people in a competition, an American, a Japanese, and a Vietnamese, the Vietnamese would have an equal chance of winning. Now, if the competition was between teams: three Japanese, three Americans, and three Vietnamese, the Vietnamese wouldn’t have a chance.”

I asked, “Why?”

He explained that his personal opinion was that the basic nature of the Vietnamese people will always prevent them from success. The country is essentially divided into three parts, inhabited by three very different types of people, and they have never gotten along. Even without the Americans or the Chinese or the French, the Vietnamese would fight among themselves, and it was impossible for them to cooperate.

Other Vietnamese friends said that it was the French who understood this essential division of the Vietnamese and used it in a “divide and conquer” strategy to keep them a colony. They’d run the nation as three provinces: Tonkin in the North, Annam in the Center, and Cochinchina in the South. There was continuous competition and feuding between the regions, different religions, and different customs. So long as the Vietnamese continued to quarrel among themselves, the French didn’t have to worry about them uniting to throw them out. It worked for about 100 years until Ho Chi Minh created a united front after the Second World War.

However, the Vietnamese have kept these divisions alive long after the French departed. The people in the North saw the Southerners as lazy and too easy-going and in turn, the people around Saigon thought those ruled by Hanoi were smart but greedy. The people of the Center thought they were clearly the smartest and, if not, the beautiful city of Huế, for a long time the imperial capital of Vietnam, had the most beautiful women. In private—or in anger—they called each other names based on the food they consumed which made sense since the entire nation loved food and were known as the gourmet people. Northerners loved to eat a particular vegetable, a type of spinach named Rau mồng tơi, and so, that’s what they were called. Of course, it was also one of the few things that very poor Vietnamese could buy so it also meant “dirt poor.” People from the Central region cooked with a very hot pepper called “ớt hiếm” which means “dangerous” or “rare” chili so the were known as “ớt,” and in the Southern Delta, people love bean sprouts or “giá đậu” so they are known as “giá.” This can also mean “price” or “haggle.” Most of these names weren’t serious insults, just the sort of thing you’d say in jest like an American might call someone a “city slicker.” In Saigon, there were so many people that all types ended up mixed together.

No one who has ever been in Vietnam, or at least in Vietnam and not on a frontline, can forget the wonderful rice noodle soup from the North that’s called “Phở Bo” when it’s made with beef and “Phở Ga” when it has chunks of chicken. Interestingly, it’s a street food that was only invented around 1925 but the Vietnamese have now spread it around the world. In the Central region, people make a spicy and yeasty rice vermicelli soup with beef & pork together and named after the old capital “bún bò Huế. ” The Southerner have their own noodle dishes, some with lots of seafood, another called “hủ tiếu” which has different types of meat all mixed on top of flat noodles and has spread to Cambodia, Singapore, and even Thailand. Even if they might not like each other all that much, Vietnamese all enjoy food, no matter where it came from originally

The Vietnamese might all look and sound alike to foreigners but they can easily recognize each other by the way they talk because each area has a different dialect and accents. Oddly, no matter where they are, singers always perform with a Northern accent unless they are doing traditional folk songs. I asked my friends why but they just shrugged and said it had always been that way. I guess the Northern accent just is better for singing and broadcasting much like in America where I’ve noticed that very few reporters or anchors have a strong Southern accent.

All Vietnamese have one thing in common: they love to gamble, a feeling shared by most other Asians. Whether they are from the North, South, or Center of the country, both men and woman like to gamble and they really don’t like losing. When my Vietnamese co-workers found out that I loved to gamble as well, they began to let me into their society. Of course, they might just have wanted my money but it didn’t always turn out that way.

When we had spare time, we would usually play cards but it seemed for a long time that I could never win. They played a game called “Russian Poker” where each player was dealt thirteen cards and then you would create three poker hands and place them face down: a back hand with five cards, a middle hand with five cards and a front hand with three. The back hand must be better than the middle hand and the front hand must be the weakest of all. When everyone is ready, you show your hands and if two out of three of your hands are the best, you win. The problem was that a loser could call “Challenge” and that meant that you had to play a “winner takes all” hand for the whole pot. Even if I was winning in the three hands on the table and didn’t think I would get good cards, I always took a challenge bet because I didn’t want to lose their respect, both as a gambler and as a man, unfortunately, I often lost on the challenge hand. It’s as tough to beat the Vietnamese because they were determined fighters in psychological warfare—in gambling and in real war. The Chinese had a long history of being beaten back when they tried to conquer this country, the French lost, and now even the Americans are struggling.

The Vietnamese might compete against other Vietnamese but they will all combine against foreigners. Americans are considered to be chumps at gambling and they are the joke of many conversations that, of course, the Americans can’t understand. The Vietnamese don’t hate Americans, but they don’t have a lot of respect for them and they certainly don’t feel thankful that American GIs are fighting to save their country.

It was different when the French were in charge. Sure, the French exploited Vietnam and stole everything they could but the Vietnamese appear to like them better because, as the Bureau Manager, Mr. Lam told me, the French allowed Vietnamese into their society. The French learned how to speak Vietnamese but the Americans forced everyone to learn English. Why can’t the Americans learn Vietnamese?

He went on to say that, even if the Americans brought aid and assistance instead of exploiting the country, one of the most un-popular practices was the ceremony of giving aid to Vietnamese. For instance, in the local villages, the American administrators would ask villagers to gather in the square and make them watch as their head man took the money, often with a band playing. Then the people of the village would have to cheer. It was as if the Americans were really saying, ” Pay attention! We’re giving you a lot of aid. Now, thank us for our generosity!”

Lam wondered why Americans couldn’t give aid quietly and without a big ceremony? Even though they were suffering and dying in a war, the Vietnamese are a proud people and don’t want to feel that they are now just beggars. Lam explained to me that Americans were too straightforward and they didn’t understand the complexity of life in Vietnam with all of its different cultures and long history. In addition, he said, many Vietnamese are now living in France as French citizens but the Americans, while they don’t steal and indeed bring in all sorts of aid and assistance, never let the Vietnamese into American society.

(Of course after the war, millions of Vietnamese refugees settled in the States—including Mr. Lam—and became American citizens.)

I was a bit angry and said that it wasn’t fair that young American soldiers were being wounded and killed fighting for Vietnam and they weren’t being appreciated by the people they called friends.

Another Vietnamese friend explained it to me by telling me a story. He said that the leader of North, Ho Chi Minh and leader of South, Ngo Dinh Diem met one day.

Ho Chi Minh asked Ngo Dinh Diem, “Why are you making friends with America? They’re all the way around the world from you?”

Ngo Dinh Diem answered Ho Chi Minh. “Don’t you see? History shows that our next-door neighbor, China, has attacked, invaded and occupied our land for centuries. It’s much safer to choose a friend who lives far way from Vietnam. If I were you, I’d watch out for China.”

He said it was just a metaphor but I responded that it might just be a metaphor but it’s not a fair metaphor for America!”

Review of the Memoir ‘On the Frontlines of the Television War’

Poetic Parfait

The book “On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam” is so different than almost every other read of mine lately and has such an important subject matter that I feel I must review it here. True, I have read of war before, but not from this angle. I admit I did not realize the risks that video journalists, such as the author Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki, took in wartime. Now I know better.

The Vietnam War & The Journalists

Tony and so many other cameramen and camerawomen were capturing the events of the Vietnam War for ABC News and other news stations. Of course, I knew there were people doing so, but I certainly didn’t take into account the immense danger they put themselves in to film a story of the day’s “bang bang” events, as they were known.

Being close to gunfire while filming…

View original post 326 more words

On the March with Roger Peterson 1967

(When it came down to finding a publisher, we had to cut savagely into Tony Hirashiki’s manuscript. Here’s another segment that got trashed in the in process.)

Marines generally marched at a steady pace with twenty minutes of walking followed by a five minute break. Those breaks were sheer joy because I could rest my camera on the ground and sit down. Sometimes, during those breaks, Roger would take a can of fruit from his knapsack and we would all share it. My favorite was peaches in syrup in a can.

Roger Peterson in the 1980s when he was a General Assignment Correspondent in Washington DC.

Roger Peterson in the 1980s when he was a General Assignment Correspondent in Washington DC.

Roger’s knapsack was the biggest size that the US Army had and it was so heavy that I couldn’t even lift it. But even the largest knapsack looked small and rather light on Roger’s big shoulders. He used it to carry just about everything I could imagine. I would watch awestruck when he set up camp for the night. It was like a magician pulling endless stream of odd object from a tiny hat. First would be a neatly folded rubber mattress which he would blow up in less than five minutes—something that would have left most of us gasping for breath on the ground. It was really big! At least seven long and three feet wide.

Next, Roger would unstrap the shovel from the side of the knapsack and dig foot-wide ditches along the sides of the mattress to keep the heavy rain that would usually fall in the night from flooding his bed. Then, using a large knife, he cut down tree branches for tent poles. With these, he supported his big poncho over the mattress and there would be a tent as comfortable as you could ask for. If we were in deep jungle or heavy woods, he wouldn’t use the mattress but just hang a hammock and a mosquito net between two trees. He had a blanket for the cool nights that happened even in Vietnam’s hot climate. No matter the weather, he was usually pretty comfortable.


Here are a few of the other things in his knapsack: a towel, soap, a toiletry kit, a shaving kit, a portable radio with spare batteries, a flashlight, anti-malaria pills, a bottle of salt tablets, pills to sterilize water, powder for athlete’s foot, insect spray, aspirin, anti-diarrhea medicine, various tools, a can opener, a coffee pot, portable fuel, socks and underwear for three days, several notebooks, a writing kit, paperback books, a picture of his wife, letters from his wife, a corn cob pipe, pipe tobacco, a cleaning kit for the pipe, and at the bottom there was a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey wrapped in extra clothes to make sure that it wouldn’t get broken. I know that there were even more useful items in there that I can’t remember. It always seemed magical to me—no matter what was needed, it would be in there somewhere.

My knapsack was tiny and light compared to Roger’s. I couldn’t carry a lot of things because my first priority was the camera which weighed between 30 and 40 pounds. Anything else I carried was very carefully chosen. First, I had to carry cans of unexposed film and extra magazines to hold the film on the camera and a number of other camera tools and accessories. Basically, when I had all this loaded, my knapsack was full but it wasn’t all I needed to carry.

The rubber-coated, hooded poncho is essential in a war zone. It was a raincoat, the roof of a tent, and a carpet to sleep on. Folded in half with poles on each side, it was an emergency stretcher strong enough to carry a wounded man. Sadly, it had one more use—as a final shroud for the dead. Vietnamese troops would say that someone was “coming back by poncho,” meaning that he’d been killed in action.

Don Farmer and Terry Khoo

There was “no war” in Laos. Everyone knew that–including the soldiers that were fighting it and the reporters who were covering it.\]

Since I didn’t have any space for a mattress, hammock, or mosquito net, I made do with a military surplus nylon blanket which was lightweight but enough to keep me warm at night. When I knew that we were going out for a long period, I would pack a toiletry kit, first aid supplies, aspirin, diarrhea medicine, underwear and socks, cans of food, dry food, and candy for quick energy.

In the end, it always came down to a choice between film and food. A 400-foot roll of 16mm film weighs twice as much as a can of food but I knew that, once we got to the front lines, I might be able to get food supplies but there was no way to get more unexposed film. I would always end up carrying more film and leaving the canned food behind.

I also had a canteen of clean water hanging on my waist which was quite heavy but totally essential. Roger always carried two canteens and I knew that one was filled with water and the other with Jack Daniels. Roger loved to drink, especially Jack Daniels. At the end of a long day in the field, when he had finished writing the script for that day’s story or arranging to get our film back to Saigon, Roger would relax, open one of the canteens, and, with a gentle smile, sip from it while smoking his pipe. I know this was one of his favorite times and with that corn cob pipe in his mouth, I often imagined that he looked like General McArthur.


Yasutsune "Tony" Hirashiki circa 1967 with Auricon Camera and faux fatigues.Tony Hirashiki around 1967


The Battle for Hill 875

(This chapter was cut down severely in the second draft of Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s “On the Frontlines of the Television War.” Here is the first draft.)

In early November of 1967, the US military command became aware of an enemy plan to launch a major assault in the Dak To region and sent over 16,000 troops from the Fourth Division, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 1st Cavalry along with several South Vietnamese battalions. More Americans would die taking Hill 875 than any other specific piece of land in the entire war.

The bloodiest battle occurred from November 19th to the 23rd. Several hundred soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry moved up the slopes of Hill 875. Just as the lead elements were hit with rockets, recoilless rifles, grenades, and small arms from the North Vietnamese who were hidden in well-built bunkers and trenches at the top of the hill, the company at the rear of the column was attacked by a battalion of the enemy—the American soldiers were caught in a trap. They retreated up the mountain with the enemy in close pursuit and, according to reports, only managed to avoid being overrun by soldiers who stayed behind and died holding off the North Vietnamese. They managed to link up but were still trapped on the mountain slopes with no water and no hope of resupply: six helicopters were shot down on the first afternoon as they tried to reach the beleaguered soldiers.

Air support was called in to bombard the top of Hill 875 but two bombs went astray and landed in the middle of the American position, right on the commanders, the wounded and the medics. The scene commander was killed along with 42 other soldiers. The next day, November 20th, three companies of the 4th Battalion of the 503rd were sent in to reinforce their comrades but it took most of the day for them to fight their way through heavy sniper and mortar fire from the North Vietnamese.

On the 21st, both battalions assaulted the crest of the hill but were forced to retreat with serious losses. At midnight, the 1st Battalion of the 4th Division redeployed to Dak To and on the 23rd of November, all three forces assaulted the mountain and took the crest, only to find that the enemy had abandoned the position. It was five days of horrific hand-to-hand combat, artillery, and air strikes. and in the end, the Vietnamese withdrew into Cambodia, leaving the Americans with almost 400 dead and over 1400 wounded. General William Westmoreland in Saigon declared the battle a victory but, if it was a victory, it was a certainly a bitter one for the soldiers on the front lines.

ABC News had gotten news of the battle late and so I flew with Dick Harris and correspondent Ed Needham into Dak To on the evening of the 24th. My competitive spirit made me hate arriving at a story late but sometimes it was simply beyond our control. On the day we arrived to cover the battle, there was already a large group of press standing not far from the runway of Dak To airfield near the special forces camp that was now a Press Center.

Once again, my soundman was Dick Harris but my correspondent was a new guy named Edward Needham, a veteran print reporter who had worked for several magazines but had only recently joined ABC. He was older and appeared to be a calm, gentle, and experienced reporter but it was the first time we had worked together. What we were told was that only Peter Arnett of Associated Press and two others had made it to the top of the hill and they had made it by winning seats in a chopper through a lottery. The military authorities thought it was still too dangerous to bring in the media. I could only comfort myself with the thought that the other two networks were stuck down in Dak To with me.

We were waiting for a helicopter which could take us to the top of Hill 875 when the soldiers began to come down from the battle. The Press Officer put up a rope along the edge of the path and told us not to badger the troops with questions. Some people think that the press is just a ruthless mob but that’s really not true, especially when the story is as tragic and serious as Hill 875. The network crews, reporters, and photographers all agreed to go along and we stood in a line along the rope. My camera was loaded with a full roll of film and I’d checked the microphone with Dick Harris.

When the first wave of helicopters landed about a hundred yards away, there was silence in the press corps as dozens of black plastic body bags were unloaded along with others who were only wrapped in their own green ponchos. As the choppers continued to shuttle between the hilltop and the base, we saw the wounded come in and then the first Airborne survivors. They were walking past only fifty feet away and no one in the press said a word. We all filmed and took pictures but after a look at their faces, the reporters were silent.

4-7 112868 Hill 875, wounded1

Their faces were filthy and unshaven, their uniforms stiff with a mixture of mud and blood and, in their eyes, you could see their anger and frustration. The walking wounded were covered with blood-soaked bandages that had turned a dark red that was almost brown. Their feet were dragging, and they walk past in complete silence. It was anything but a victory march by these brave, elite American soldiers.

When the second group came past, a reporter finally called out, “What happened at the front?” and another asked, “Tell us what happened on Hill 875.”

The soldiers just kept walking past without the slightest reaction and didn’t say a word. We were surprised when a few turned around and walked back to where we were standing. They faced the cameras and the massed microphones and began to tell us what had happened.

It was an eruption of anger, frustration, and sorrow at the hell they had gone through for the past days. In the beginning, the soldiers spoke one by one but soon they began to talk over each other, shouting and even weeping as the terrible memories poured out. I had covered these units before and I knew that they were some of the toughest troops the Americans had. It was a scene of raw emotion.

The military press officials tried to stop the men from speaking by pulling them away from the press but the soldiers ignored them and continued to tell us their stories of hell. We all stayed behind the rope but the soldiers came closer and their stories became more intimate. Everything they said was a testimony to the shocking, brutal, bitter and cruel nature of the fighting on that hill. They were so angry that curse words and slang came pouring out; i knew we couldn’t broadcast that sort of language back in those days but they were speaking from the heart and they were probably the only words that could begin to express their feeling. It was the reality of war being told in a truer way than I had seen in all the time I’d been in Vietnam.

4-11 112868 wounded hill 875

It was not victory. Yes, they had taken the hill on Thanksgiving Day but, even with my imperfect English, I could understand how rough it had been up there. The tunnels and trenches that the North Vietnamese had built all across the battlefield had made a single, almost unbreakable fortress. The soldiers said that when they got close, the enemy set off smoke grenades that confused the Marine and Air Force bombers and led to the catastrophic bombing. If anything, they were angriest about the “friendly fire,” which had slammed high explosives and even napalm into the medics as they frantically worked to save the wounded.

This was going to be our first report and we had to ship it to Saigon as soon as possible. We knew that the next vital scenes would be from the wreckage on top of Hill 875. The other networks had two crews but ABC, as usual, only could send one so we decided to split up. Dick took one sound camera and went with Ed to finish the story at the bottom of the hill while I took my faithful Bell & Howell silent camera and followed the reinforcements from the 4th Infantry as they moved up to replace the battered remnants of the 503rd Airborne.

All three of us would then meet at the top of the hill when the press was allowed to be taken there. Although it would be a pretty serious march, I figured I could reach the top of the hill faster by following these replacements than by waiting what I was told would be hours for helicopters to be available.

While Ed was busy somewhere else, Dick told me to wait with the other crews—it was still too dangerous to climb through that hellish battlefield.

“I’ll be OK.” I answered, “Now, after you record the narration and ship the film, just make sure you guys get to the top to pick me up. I’ll wait there until you come. If you arrive before me, please wait for me.”

Of course, I actually was a little scared to go alone, but ABC was behind our competitors so we absolutely needed these pictures of the hill where all the action had taken place. As I’ve said before, I had a very competitive spirit.

We split up and I followed the reinforcements. These soldiers were fresh and strong so they moved at a fast pace. I was lucky I was carrying the small camera and not the heavy Auricon because it made it possible to keep up with them. The troops moved in a single column as we went up the mountain trails, but split up when we reached the edge of the fortifications at the top. Then they very slowly and carefully climbed towards the top of the hill. Just days ago, North Vietnamese soldiers had charged down on the struggling Airborne troops in a human wave attack and completely wiped out a whole platoon.

I filmed the soldiers but since they were trying to maintain silence, I worried that the sound of my camera was too loud. The soundproof case is what adds all the weight to the Auricon camera and the Bell & Howell didn’t have it so I tried to keep my filming to the minimum. As we got closer to the top, I could see the fierceness of the battle in the blasted and uprooted trees and the smoke that was still rising from those that had burned.

Once in a while, US Air Force jets passed overhead and each time, the men on the ground looked up nervously and swore at the pilot who had killed so many of the Airborne troops. In the end, the last yards to the top of the hill was bare earth from the constant bombardment: enormous pits in the red earth and all the trees and bushes torn away and burned.

When we finally reached the top, I could see the deep bunkers and sandbagged trenches that the enemy had built. Some of them were ten feet deep and had tunnels so soldiers could fire from one spot and reappear at another. While I was filming, an Airborne soldier who was standing next to me said emotionally, “When we took those bunkers, the US. Air Force jet dropped bombs. It was Napalm! Look how the bodies of American and Vietnamese soldiers are all together. They died in the same bunkers when the bombs hit.”

The view from the top of the hill was stunning. I could see for miles in all directions and picked out the low ground where Dak To stood. Militarily, I guess this view was the goal that to many soldiers fought and died to hole. For a hilltop base, 875 was quite spacious, about as big as two tennis courts. Helicopters were coming in and out with dead and wounded. In one corner of the base, there was a pile of canteens, knapsacks, helmets, boots and all the other personal items that had been collected from the slopes where so many had died. From the sheer size of the pile, you could guess how many had fallen.

It was about 3 pm when I reached the base after three hours of marching. I filmed all around the battered fortifications and was finished in about an hour. I was a bit concerned that a press helicopter hadn’t arrived because I really wasn’t all that interested in spending a night where so many night assaults had happened. Now, I know that the North Vietnamese, who had been badly hurt as well, were already across the border in Cambodia, but at the time, I had no idea if we’d simply be attacked again.

Just after 4, helicopters landed with a general and other command-level officers and, to my relief, Ed Needham and Dick Harris. There was going to be a memorial service for the soldiers who given their lives for this scrap of land. I was told that it would be a tradition.

The rifles of the dead soldiers had their bayonets attached and rammed point first into the ground and the men’s helmets placed on top. In front of each rifle, a pair of newly-shined boots were carefully placed. It struck me that the long line of rifles, helmets, and boots looked as lot as if the soldiers themselves were lined up at attention. w

Behind this sad formation, the surviving Airborne soldiers lined up to honor the fallen. There were no flowers, no candles, no photos, and no eulogies—it was a simple and short ceremony, but a very emotional one all the same. A chaplain gave a short prayer and a soldier played Taps on his trumpet. The sad tune of the trumpet echoed across the mountain and down to the valley below. The Airborne soldiers stood motionless but I could see tears flowing down their cheeks. I had trouble focusing because I was crying as well.

I didn’t know why I was crying, it wasn’t my war. These weren’t my people.

Perhaps Taps, which is played at the end of every day in an Army camp, was simply too sad.

Perhaps. But even I don’t believe that.

In A Companion to the Vietnam War (2008), Chester Pach described Ed’s report:

“ABC Correspondent Ed Needham’s wrap-up report after the North Vietnamese had abandoned Hill 875 was filled with “unhappy scenes,” since Dak To had claimed more US lives than any previous battle in the war. “It was a hard fight,” Needham concluded as the film showed a helmet on the ground with a hole ripped through it. “It hardly seems worth it.”

4-9 112868 needham hill 8751a

In Rare Reversal, Vietnam Lifts Days-old Ban on Beloved Songwriter’s Work

April 18, 2017

In Rare Reversal, Vietnam Lifts Days-old

Ban on Beloved Songwriter’s Work

(This singer was featured in news pieces by Craig Spence back in 1968. It’s in Tony Hirashiki’s new memoir, “On the Frontlines of the Television War.”)

Trinh Con Son wrote, "The Great Circle of Vietnam," which envisions people holding hands in a circle large enough to encompass his nation.

Trinh Con Son wrote, “The Great Circle of Vietnam,” which envisions people
holding hands in a circle large enough to encompass his nation.

By Khanh An

Over the weekend, news filtered out that Vietnam had lifted a days-old ban on a beloved song by Trinh Con Son, who irritated the South and infuriated the North during years of fighting.

On April 11, Vietnam’s ruling Communist government decreed that “Noi vong tay lon” (“The Great Circle of Vietnam”) could no longer be broadcast or played in public.

The decision came in response to a request from Trinh’s family, who wanted to mount a tribute on April 21 at the Huế College of Medicine and Pharmacy.

Trinh wrote anti-war songs that each side felt sapped the fighting will of their soldiers, who, with their civilian counterparts, memorized the lyrics of his love songs as soon as they were released.

Song envisions people holding hands

The ruling Communist Party in the North banned Trinh’s music, which nonetheless provided the soundtrack to years of tumult.

Of all the hundreds of songs Trinh wrote, “The Great Circle of Vietnam,” which envisions people holding hands in a circle large enough to encompass his nation, may be the most significant. Within hours of the fall of Saigon in 1975, he sang it live from the city on the official radio station of the victorious north.

Popular during the war, the anti-war song overnight became a call for both sides to unite, a transformation engineered, in part by the Communist Party head in Ho Chi Minh City, Vo Van Kiet, who went on to become prime minister from 1991 to 1997, and then an outspoken critic of the party.

“Even though “Noi vong tay lon” is very popular, and has been played in many meetings and entertainment programs, in fact everyone sings it without permission,” Nguyen Dang Chuong, head of the Department of Performance Arts, told local media when issuing the ban.

Five other love songs banned

Pham Cong Ut, a Saigon lawyer, told VOA he found the government’s “without permission” argument disingenuous. “I think they’re more concerned with the song’s point of view more than the law.”

The ban came soon after the government had squelched five other love songs popular in the South during the war. But banning “The Great Circle of Vietnam” may have been a step too far.

Trinh’s sister, the singer Trinh Vinh Trinh, told local media the family was surprised at the government’s response. So were his fans, judging from the outcry on social media.

Although Trinh died on April 1, 2001, he remains huge throughout the Vietnamese diaspora as well as in Vietnam, which served as his muse.

Vietnam’s Bob Dylan

Trinh’s lyrics and attitude earned the title of “Vietnam’s Bob Dylan.” They also earned him several years of post-unification “re-education” despite Hanoi’s embrace of “Noi vong tay lon.”

“This song, I see nothing to be banned,” Phu Quang, a songwriter whose music is closely identified with Hanoi — the city, not the government — told VOA. “This is one of the anti-war songs of Trinh Con Son, and it is a good song. For a long time, we’ve talked about reconciliation, so why is this song seen as a song of the opposition?”

The reconciliation Phu Quang mentions refers to rapprochement between the North and South, and the people of Vietnam with those who have left the country.

People proved stronger than law

“Vo Van Kiet, he allowed this song to be popular,” Bui Chi VInh, a Ho Chi Minh City poet, told VOA when the song was banned. “So now, there’s a review of the song, which shows the inconsistency of the government and the different factions.”

“There is a power stronger than the law — the people,” said Phu Quang at the time of the ban. “Anything [the government does] that is unreasonable, they will not let it stand.”

And on April 12, Vietnamese media reported that Nguyen of the Department for Performing Arts said the ban was lifted because the song has “good content.

Screaming Eagles and The Battle for Mother’s Day Hill

[This battle is Chapter One in Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s book, “On the Frontlines of the Television War.” Tony’s version doesn’t link up exactly with the soldiers who fought on May 12 through 14, 1967 but I think that’s expected in the “fog of war” and Tony’s lack of English.]


“At CARENTAN on the morning of May 11, 1967, the men of the 1st Battalion each weighed down by their individual combat load, waddled to and mounted up the 176th Helicopter Assault Company slick-ships to kick-off the beginning phase of Operation MALHEUR.  Air-lifted in a matter of minutes and deposited at their arty-prepped and gunship-saturated LZ at the bottom of Song Ve Valley river basin, the companies began to spread-out like groping fingers to locate their designated search-and-destroy coordinates.  Accompanied by a three-man ABC reporter and camera crew, Alpha was further augmented by a scout dog handler from 42nd Infantry Platoon and a 320th Artillery forward observer (FO) team.  Operating well within the arc of the artillery fan, the 2nd BN (ABN), 320th Artillery employed in a direct support role for the entire brigade, was prepared to deliver 105mm fire upon immediate request.

Although only 10 kilometers from the coast, the targeted vicinity still touched upon the Central Highlands mountainous terrain of steeply plunging and rolling hills covered by a dense jungle canopy and heavy vegetation.  Both the Song Ve and Song Tra Cau Valleys featured a hostile local populace and a deeply embedded VC infrastructure.  According to brigade S-2 intelligence, the enemy facing the ABU troopers during this opening phase of the operation was the 2nd VC Regiment.  Characterized by one participant as ‘hard-core Viet-Cong’, all three VC battalions were active in Base Area 124, Alpha’s operating sector.  Both valleys, a major food source for the local Viet Cong forces had several of its rice fields under defoliation consideration once the indigenous population was evacuated and resettled at the nearby detainee and relocation center during Phase-II.  The gradual absence of local inhabitants also had the additional effect of permitting large four by six mile area swathes declared as free-fire zones throughout the lower valley regions.  Daytime highs in the blistering upper 90’s with a punishing relative humidity pushing 60 to 90%, this was the malevolent slice of Vietnam Michael Peterson and the men of Alpha Company entered.


Mother’s Day in 1967 Vietnam fell on May 14th.  The bone-weary men pulled themselves off the jungle floor and reluctantly greeted the morning with a palpable tingling of doom and danger.  They tried to shake off the nervous stiffness by focusing their mental effort and energy on readying themselves and their gear for the day’s final push.  The men popped malaria pills, policed the immediate area, readjusted rucksack loads, locked and loaded weapons, and shared a last cigarette or swig of precious water with their squad-mates.  While the captain reviewed plans for the day’s track with his inner command circle, both the acting 4th platoon leader, a senior NCO, and the 2nd platoon lieutenant vociferously ‘suggested’ to the Old Man the inadvisability of continuing the route’s direction.  The NCO, a seasoned infantryman with plenty of ‘field-time’, realized they could only walk into an inevitable ‘world of hurt’ the closer the hilltop.  Ignoring the advice, the Captain’s only concern was meeting the projected supply drop as he once again set the order of the march.  The 4th platoon point squad with anxiety and tension clearly etched on their faces, started-off the column into the thick jungle gloom.

It was not even mid-morning when a fork in the trail was reached.  After being advised of this, the Captain split the column ordering 2nd platoon to take the right branch while keeping his command element intact with 4th platoon, veered off to the left angle.  It was perhaps within a few minutes as both platoons moving somewhat abreast entered the kill zone.  The point squad of 2nd platoon had stumbled onto a bunker complex off the side of their trail and while the platoon LT was radioing the Captain of this new development, the jaws of ambush snapped shut.

The enemy’s opening salvo was a tremendous fusillade of automatic weapons fire unleashed simultaneously at both platoons.  Within seconds, the air was filled with flying lead, shredding and chopping the surrounding jungle foliage into bits of green confetti.  A shower of Chicom grenades soon followed, peppering the men with hot metal fragments and blowing several of the troopers back down the hill.  The initial contact killed the 4th platoon point-man, SP4 Pat Phillips and the scout dog handler, CPL. Michael Bost, and wounded several others.  Reacting like muscle memory, the troopers shed their rucks, unlimbered weapons and began to lay down a base of return fire adding to the incredible noise and exploding violence.  Snapping small arms fire whipped inches off the ground, muzzle flashes blazed in the dark undergrowth, endless bursts of enemy machine-gun fire hosed down the area as the incoming rounds found, smacked and thudded into the bodies of the troopers desperately clawing for available cover.  When the call went out for ‘guns up’, 4th platoon M-60 gunner, CPL. Benito Gonzalez, a Mexican-American from Texas, charged forward like a linebacker carrying the ‘Pig’ with its needed suppressive firepower, caught a bullet to his head killing him immediately.  Without hesitation, the platoon medics along with the senior company aid-man, scuttled forward like land crabs low-crawling directly into the firestorm to retrieve and assist the wounded.



At the time we had an ABC news man and a two man crew of Koreans carrying the large film camera they used. Most of the time that group was attached to the command group, the CO, his RTO, an FO and his RTO.

After about the third day I think, we got orders to start up a high hill with the plan to rendezvous with the choppers for resupply on the other side. My squad Sgt., I can’t remember his name, but he was a great guy, was to get on the chopper to go to the rear. He was going to go to Hawaii to meet his fianc and get married. She was already there, expecting to meet him in a couple of days.

As we started up the trail leading up the hill, it was clear it would be a hard climb. The trail was very steep, windy and narrow, with heavy jungle on all sides and above. I was in the last squad in my platoon. There were two platoons, 4th and 2nd, and the command group in between.

With a total number of about 55 or so men, spaced 5 meters apart, the entire column was perhaps 250-300 meters long. Those of us in the rear were nearly the length of a foot ball field away from the lead elements. With the jungle as it was, the only people we could see were all within about 15 meters forward and back. As a consequence, those of us in the rear really had no idea what was going on at the lead, other then what we could hear.

On the 13th of May, about noon we stopped for lunch break, each one of us sitting on the trail facing in opposite directions, leaning back on our rucks and eating C’s, smoking and talking quietly. All of a sudden, the guy sitting next to me, ( can’t remember who) jumped up and opened fire into the foliage just to our right. He fired one round then his 16 jammed. (not uncommon no matter how often you cleaned it). We went into the woods where he had fired and found a VC in his black pjs with a grenade in his hand. The one shot had hit him right in the heart. We had been seeing signs of enemy emplacements, commo wire and phones, ammo bags etc. as we had been going up the hill and this made it clear that we were entering Indian territory.

My memory gets hazy here but I think our CO decided to cap up and head up the hill right then.



“For My Friend Snow”

Airborne and ABU,
Mike “Doc” Ainsworth
9/66 to 5/14/67

Early in the morning we started up the trail,
Pat was point man in this green hell of hells.

As we headed towards the ridge line everything
was quite and still…

In a few minutes men would be laying all over the hill…

Most of them wounded and some would be dead…

I can still the cries for medic and the
muzzle blast that rang in my head.

As I moved from man to man, not one did cry…

I remember Michael, Pat and Snow with death in their eyes…

We fought like hell to get out of that mess…

Now, for you in the street and behind that big desk…
In Vietnam we gave Americas best!

From Vietnam!
How many returned to face a life of ruin…?

Those of us that made it, a new life begins, dealing with bigots
and people we used to call a friend.


I’ve heard some of those people laugh…
Most of the time behind my back.

But, if they went to war today, tomorrow there would
be no last laugh.

(I first wrote this in 1968. Crawford Snow one of my very best friends
died on this day May 14, 1967, I trained in jump school with him. He
was 100% American Indian, a warrior and a brother and son.)

Mike “Doc” Ainsworth







A Brief Note From Sam Donaldson

(It seems a bit vain to post this but, frankly, I don’t think I’ve received higher praise in my entire career.  So, there you go and here it is.


Tony & Terry – I have read the book from cover to cover and tell you that the collaboration has produced the most extraordinary, factual and interesting story of what it was like for all sides in the dark time in Vietnam.

Tony’s matter of fact but still quietly emotional recollections of life there then, of doing his job but with feelings, of hardships suffered but endured from the early deadly operation with Ken Gale to the terrible circumstances of Terry Khoo and Sam Kai Faye’s deaths has really brought home in one brief book the true story of Vietnam for Americans.

A special word for Terry Irving. The story is Tony’s but the telling of the story for an English audience in such a powerful way, a way that drives home to the heart not just the head is yours.  Terry, you have done Tony and the rest of us a great service; my thanks

Sam Donaldson

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