[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