In WAR TORN: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam (Random House; August 27, 2002; $24.95), the women who made journalism history speak candidly about their professional and deeply personal experiences as young reporters and the defining moments that changed their lives forever.
About the Book:
While thousands of American women came of age during the Vietnam War, only a handful came of age in Vietnam itself. They were young, gutsy risk-takers who saw firsthand what most Americans knew only from their morning newspapers or the evening news. To get the story, they experienced both the adventure and devastation of the field -- walking point, facing enemy fire, witnessing the deaths of countless soldiers and friends -- and the decadent nightlife of Saigon.
They impacted everyone around them including, the soldiers they met and lived with in the field, the orphan children in the streets, and their fellow journalists and photographers. It was not only dangerous – one was wounded and one was captured by the North Vietnamese – but the emotional challenges they faced as they covered the biggest story of their generation were uniquely rewarding as well.
The women of WAR TORN who share their stories are:
TAD BARTIMUS: In "In-Country," Tad Bartimus recalls her days as an Associated Press reporter in Vietnam – reporting from the AP’s Phnom Penh office with Edie Lederer during a Khmer Rouge attack, covering an attack on a schoolyard in the Mekong Delta that killed twenty-three children, the life-long friendships forged in Vietnam ("Those first twenty-four hours in Saigon, I met people who became as important to me as any I would ever know."), the orphans she befriended and her devastating autoimmune disease contracted after exposure to toxic poisoning. "What I miss most about Vietnam is knowing the rules. In-country, I had a clear understanding of what I could or could not do. I learned fast that love, honor, and friendship were all that mattered. I lived in the moment because it was all I had.... Now I live in, but not of, a world that overwhelms me. I often turn away from its complexity, speed, and surfeit of information. Because I learned in Vietnam that the worth of a life isn't measured in money, power, possessions, or status, I am out of step with most of the people around me."
DENBY FAWCETT: Initially sent to the Honolulu Advertiser’s Saigon bureau to report colorful stories, Fawcett soon found herself the Advertiser’s chief Vietnam reporter at age twenty-four. In "Walking Point," she recalls the difficulty for women journalists to get to combat zones in the early days of the American military
escalation, reporting from the Rockpile, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the war, walking with the point squad, one of the most dangerous and exposed units on patrol, the forced village evacuations and her famous chance encounter with family acquaintance General Westmoreland that almost got women banned from overnight stays in the field. "Vietnam is where I walked through a field of dead soldiers always looking ahead. Vietnam is where I saw butterflies dance in the sun while soldiers tried to kill one another. In the fear of death, I felt most alive. Vietnam is everything brave about me and everything that still makes me uncertain. Vietnam is where I lost my sense that everything was going to be all right. I pray to leave Vietnam, but I never can."
JURATE KAZICKAS: In "These Hills Called Khe Sanh," Jurate Kazickas writes about being a freelance reporter covering some of the most dangerous battles -- marching on long-range patrol in the hills controlled by the North Vietnamese, her disturbing visit to Con Thien ("Con Thien was my first encounter with war at its most obscene. What shook me to the core was the devastating sight of so many dead marines who had been lying in the sun for three days – their bodies bloated, their faces black as if charred by fire."), taking action to help the wounded near Dak To and being wounded herself at Khe Sanh. "Even during the months of covering battles and witnessing the carnage of war, I had avoided tears. I had convinced myself that if I broke down, it would prove that women didn’t belong in war. Now, however, I reached the limit of my emotions….The repressed sadness and weariness that had filled my soul for the last year in Vietnam suddenly surfaced in a painful flow of vivid memories."
EDITH LEDERER: In "My First War," veteran foreign correspondent Edie Lederer recalls what it was like to be a young, cocky reporter covering her first war for the Associated Press. From feature stories on American combat pilots and villages hit by rocket fire to reporting on the flawed 1973 peace agreement and the release of the first U.S. prisoners of war, Lederer chronicles the camaraderie among reporters as well as the intense competition between news agencies. On the day she left Vietnam, she wrote to her family about the eight months that changed her life. "Professionally, it was the kind of challenge you dream about and fear at the same time. And I loved that about it. I loved the people and the places and my colleagues and that indescribable level of excitement that you live with day in and day out -- to the point that it becomes commonplace. Perhaps most of all, I proved to myself that I could compete in the so-called ‘big league.’"
ANN BRYAN MARIANO: In "Vietnam is Where I Found My Family," Ann Bryan writes about opening a Vietnam bureau of the Overseas Weekly, meeting her husband, adopting two Vietnamese children ("In the anguish of war, I found lasting love.") and about her dramatic return to Vietnam to evacuate friends ("Words can’t capture the intensity of the feelings, sadness, relief, and the overwhelming sense of loss. I was able to help Kien and Vuong, but what about the thousands of others."). After befriending Sister Robert Tron, who ran a Saigon orphanage, Ann assisted in the adoption of countless Vietnamese children and shares her emotional journey back to Vietnam with her adopted daughter Mai who struggles with her cultural identity. Mariano also writes candidly about her own struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. "Alzheimer’s disease blows through my memory like wind through a Buddhist sand painting. Vietnam is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen. But images once so fixed in my mid are now dancing ghosts."
ANNE MORRISSY MERICK: In "My Love Affair with Vietnam," veteran ABC News producer Anne Morrissy, who specialized in political coverage, reveals that she was not prepared for Saigon in 1967. She shares her memories of covering "Two Bits," one of the forward base camps, experiencing rocket and mortar attacks at Cu Chi, traveling with a long-range reconnaissance patrol (a small team of five men inserted into enemy territory for days gathering information on enemy movements), and fighting General Westmoreland’s edict that women could not cover the war from the field. She writes about meeting her husband and the difficulties of having a baby in a war zone. "She laughed at the rats that invaded our kitchen and were a continual challenge to the exterminators. She survived not having any baby food and thrived on pureed French and Vietnamese cuisine."
LAURA PALMER: In "Mystery is the Precinct Where I Found Peace," Laura Palmer writes about her naiveté during her early days in Saigon – mistaking bombings for thunder and the finger bowl for chilled soup -- where she ultimately found work in radio for both ABC and NBC and freelancing for Time and Rolling Stone. She shares her memories of covering the Christmas bombing of Hanoi, her disturbing interviews with some of the last combat soldiers in-country ("Those interviews plunged me into the coldest chambers of war’s sadistic heart. Until that afternoon, I never knew there was more than one way to die in Vietnam. You could die fast, or you could die slow. After endless nights, who can be blamed for finally befriending the dark?"), touring An Loc with South Vietnamese General Minh and the evacuation of Saigon. "Nothing was going to prevent me from getting on a helicopter. If people started fighting, I would fight, too. If people started killing, I would kill, too. I was prepared to do anything, except die."
KATE WEBB: In "Highpockets," Kate Webb, one of the finest combat correspondents of the Vietnam War, who was United Press International’s Cambodia bureau chief, writes of the emotional and psychological toll of seeing friends die, covering assignments that too often turned tragic, her harrowing ordeal as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese ("Every detail and smell of those nights and days – the nights walking from dusk to dawn and the days often crammed stifling in bunkers – is etched in my memory…. As strange as being a prisoner is, coming out, something I have not until now tried to write about, is traumatic."), and the devastation of the killing fields, as they came to be known. After Cambodia, she has covered India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia for AFP.
TRACY WOOD: In "Spies, Lovers and Prisoners of War," Tracy Wood recalls her tour of duty for United Press International– the wild helicopter ride taking fire over DMZ territory, the attack on Highway 1’s Ambush Alley ("I lost all sensation, including fear. I saw nothing of what the others in the jeep were doing. I felt nothing, not even the jarring crash of the jeep’s wheels slamming through potholes. I heard no sounds, not the rush of wind through the open jeep, not the racket of combat, not the shouts of my compatriots. Only curiosity remained. My eyes took in every detail of those mesmerizing puffs of dirt."), falling in love, the fierce competition between UPI and the AP, which even extended to stealing telephone mouthpieces, and being the only U.S. reporter with a visa to cover the release of American POWs. "They had no identity….These men weren’t men like I had ever known. This was primitive survival. If you’ve never seen humans like this, I hope you never do."
These women were witnesses to a war that changed them in ways that now at mid-life they finally understand. They were living full-tilt and knew it. For all it took from them in despair, anguish, and heartbreak, Vietnam gave back even more in achievement, love, and wisdom.
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About The Authors:
Tad Bartimus writes books and the weekly syndicated column "Among Friends" and is a radio commentator. She lives in Hawaii with her husband.
Denby Fawcett is a political reporter with KITV-TV news. She lives in Honolulu with her husband, former NBC news correspondent Bob Jones.
Jurate Kazickas, a former newspaper reporter in New York and Washington, has co-authored several books on women’s history, and is now a writer living in New York with her husband and three children.
Ann Bryan Mariano retired from The Washington Post as a reporter in 1996. A devoted grandmother, she and her husband, Bob McKay, live in Boston.
Edith Lederer, an award-winning reporter for the Associated Press, covered wars and political upheavals around the world for twenty-five years before returning to New York in 1998 to be the AP’s chief correspondent at the United Nations.
Anne Morrissy Merick worked in the Washington, DC area as a television producer of news and public affairs. She now divides her time between Naples, Florida and the western North Carolina mountains, with her husband Don Janicek, M.D.
Laura Palmer is the author of three books, including Shrapnel in the Heart, and is an independent television producer who works primarily for "Nightline" in New York City.
Kate Webb worked for UPI for ten years. She has written for The Economist and Business Week and for the last thirteen years was a correspondent for Agence France-Presse based in Southeast Asia. She retired from journalism in 2001.
Tracy Wood, the only woman ever elected president of the Association of Foreign Correspondents in Vietnam, later was an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times and investigations editor of the Orange County Register. She is currently editor in chief of Ms. magazine.
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