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A Preview of “On the Frontlines of the Television War” by Tony Hirashiki

Hirashiki 1

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.

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