On the Frontlines of the Television War by Yasutsune Hirashiki

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In On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam (Casemate, 304 pp., $32.95; $9.99, Kindle), Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki describes his experience in the Vietnam War from 1966 to the communist takeover in 1975 working behind the camera for ABC News. The eyewitness accounts of the many phases of the war in this memoir bring events to life as if they had happened yesterday.

In his quest “to become as good as [the famed photojournalist] Robert Capa,” Hirashiki chose to cover the most dangerous assignments in the war. “Many of us dreamed that war reporting would find us fame and recognition within our profession,” he says. For Hirashiki, the dream materialized in the form of a forty-year career with ABC News.

The uncertainty of survival loomed as the primary obstacle to fulfilling that wish. “In many ways, we all felt that we were pushing our luck every time we tried to cover a story,” Hirashiki says. He talks about correspondents who died or disappeared in the war, particularly freelancers.

Hirashiki worked with many famous correspondents. The list includes Sam Donaldson, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel (who wrote the book’s Introduction), and Drew Pearson. Without a school for combat photography, Hirashiki mastered his skills on the job. Reporters normally operated as a three-man team—photographer, sound man, and correspondent. Hirashiki tells dramatic stories that involve a long list of teammates. He frequently cites these men as teachers and heroes who taught him the finer points of journalism.

His stories are interesting because Hirashiki complements his views with observations by other people who were involved in each incident. Often, this comes from post-war letters that deepen the significance of an event. The acute details of his recollections of a battle in Happy Valley and the chaos leading to the war’s end—which open and close the book—provide highly informative and enjoyable reading.

Following the 1973 ceasefire in Vietnam, Hirashiki temporarily moved to Phnom Penh. He describes the Khmer Rouge assault on that city’s civilians as “scenes from hell.” This gave me the impression that this action was more horrendous than what Hirashiki had seen in Vietnam.

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Tony Hirashiki filming ABC News correspondent Don North during Operation Junction City in 1967

The book’s importance lies in its neutrality. Many people have criticized Vietnam War correspondents, especially television reporters, for promoting antiwar sentiments. On the Frontlines of the Television War, which was edited by Terry Irving, contradicts that opinion by telling the story of a closely knit group of professionals who strove to report what they saw as accurately as possible.

In other words, any distortion in television reporting did not originate in the field.

—Henry Zeybel

 

Foreign Correspondent by Patricia L. Mosure and Stephen G. Patten

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Foreign Correspondent: A Journalist’s True Story by Patricia L. Mosure and Stephen G. Patten (Lee and Grant International, 401 pp., $17.95, paper) focuses on Patten’s experiences over a forty-year period. He served as a Captain in the Marine Corps from 1962-68, including a short tour (three weeks) in Vietnam in 1967. He then was a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, the Far East, and Central America. The authors also devote one chapter to the current war on terror.

Steve Patten and  co-author Mosure also recount their meeting a Catholic nun, Sister Linh, who was running an orphanage in South Vietnam. She told Patten that “if the Communists come, they will kill me.” In 1975, with the fall of South Vietnam imminent, Patten flew there to try and rescue Sister Lihn. The mission failed and he never saw her again.

That incident spurred Patten’s interest in the POW-MIA issue. Several chapters are devoted to discussing the 83,120 who remain missing from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Cold War. and Gulf War. Especially poignant are the stories of five returned POWs: Angelo Donati (Laos), Ed DeMattos and Phil Nadler (World War II), and Paul Galanti (Vietnam).

The book gives a realistic view of what life as a foreign correspondent entails. The authors’ stories include accounts of South Vietnamese refugees (the boat people) fleeing communist rule, the Plain of Jars in Laos, Pope John Paul’s visit to South Korea, guerrillas in El Salvador,and interviews with Mother Teresa and India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

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Steve Patten

Several chapters are devoted to Patten’s struggle to clear his name after being fired in 1984 by CBS following allegations that he was a CIA agent. Patten worked briefly for NBC, but was fired again when the CIA rumors resurfaced.

The authors suggest the CIA rumor was planted by the Israelis to discredit him because of his critical reporting of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. The book follows Patten’s fight all the way to the CBS Board of Directors in 1990, but does not reveal if a settlement was reached.

I found this book very interesting and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in war reporting, POW/MIAs, and the history of our most recent wars.

—Mark S. Miller

 

Please Enjoy Your Happiness by Paul Brinkley-Rogers


In 1959 at age nineteen, U.S. Navy enlistee Paul Brinkley-Rogers fell in love with a thirty-one-year-old Japanese woman—Kaji Yukiko. Fifty-five years later, Brinkley-Rogers—who went on to become a Newsweek correspondent who covered the war in Vietnam and Cambodia for eight years—recreates that platonic relationship in Please Enjoy Your Happiness (Touchstone, 333 pp; $25.00 paper). In speaking across half a century, he tells Yukiko, “I never was awed as I was when I was close to you.” Practically every sentence in the book supports that declaration.

The relationship lasted for six months while his ship—the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Shangri-La—operated out of Yokosuka, Japan. Actually they spent only forty-five days together when “the ship was anchored in your harbor,” Brinkley-Rogers writes, but they communicated by letter while he was at sea. The book contains ten of Yukiko’s letters that focus on his future.

The two instantly bonded while she served as a geisha-like hostess at a bar called the White Rose. In their limited time together, she opened the doors of the arts to Rogers and provided him with guidance for a lifetime. Virtually every experience with Yukiko provided enlightenment for him.

Yukiko’s education extended deep into Eastern and Western music, poetry, and cinema. Raised in Manchuria, she fled to Japan following World War II to escape the Soviets. Amid the post-war chaos, a Yakuza gangster took her as a mistress. Her ultimate release from the gangster partially involved Brinkley-Rogers.

English by birth, he grew up under an estranged mother and domineering father. The family moved to the United States in his late teens. After high school, he joined the Navy to escape from home and find his identity.

As a leftist thinker and with a high regard for the downtrodden, the young Navy man easily developed an appreciation for all things Japanese. More than once, he berates America for bombing Japanese cities and civilians during World War II. Yukiko integrated him into a segment of Japanese society in a manner that nullified any stigma he had as an American sailor.

Many people, including a Japanese detective, found reasons for helping Brinkley-Rogers. They appeared to appreciate his exceptionally astute mind and positive nature. I strongly doubt that time might have distorted his memory of 1959 because, along with Yukiko’s letters, he frequently refers to photographs and notes from the past.

After the Shangri-La completed its deployment and returned to the United States, Brinkley-Rogers and Yukiko never met again.

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Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Reading Please Enjoy Your Happiness is a cerebral exercise. The writing .imbued me with nostalgia for my late teens and early twenties. The author cited almost-forgotten poems and words from songs to emphasize the lessons Yukiko taught him. In a subtly funny way, he describes his commander and the ship’s chaplain and their close-to-fanatical zealousness to control his thinking and actions.

Fundamentally, the book’s story line falls well outside the values of today’s young people, but the same observation applies to the time in which it took place. Which is what makes the book timeless and interesting.

Before retiring to Arizona, Paul Brinkley-Rogers spent much of his life in the Far East as a journalist. He shared a journalism Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

—Henry Zeybel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Correspondent by H.D.S. Greenway


H.D.S. (David) Greenway’s new memoir, Foreign Correspondent (Simon & Schuster, 304 pp., $26), looks at the nearly forty years he spent reporting for Time magazine, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe from ninety-six foreign countries. That includes Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the American War.

Greenway arrived in Saigon in 1967 where “life was pleasant and safe enough for the moment.” That soon changed drastically with the 1968 Tet Offensive. In February Greenway hustled off to Hue to cover the action. At at one dicey point he wound up picking up an M-16 and firing at the enemy.

Soon thereafter, he was hit by rocket-propelled grenade fragments as he, two other civilian journalists (Charlie Mohr of The New York Times and Al Webb of UPI), and Marine combat correspondent Steve Bernston carried a severely wounded Marine out from under enemy fire. The Marine Corps later awarded the three civilians—Mohr, Webb, and Greenway—and Sgt. Bernston the Bronze Star for their courage under fire.

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You would expect an experienced journalist to present a well-written memoir. Greenway comes through on that score. His writing is crisp and his insights are often telling. That includes this assessment of the Vietnam War:

America “came to save the Vietnamese from Communism, not exploit them economically as the French, and there were many, especially among the propertied classes, who feared Communism and appreciated our effort. As for the peasantry in the countryside, they just wanted to be left alone.”

And this on the American military’s handling of corespondents: “The U.S. military was always upbeat, and if you stayed in Saigon you might think the war was being won. If there was one trait that trumped all the others during the long war, it was American self-delusion. As Sebastian Junger would later write about Afghanistan, it wasn’t as if American officials were actually lying to you about the progress of the war. They were just inviting you to join in a conspiracy of wishful thinking.”

Greenway also gives us a good deal about his fellow correspondents in Vietnam, including Michael Herr, Gloria Emerson, David Halberstam, Dick Swanson, R.W. Apple, and Stanley Karnow. He writes about hanging out with the photographers Sean Flynn and Dana Stone in Cambodia in April 1970, days before they rode their motorbikes toward Khmer Rouge positions and were never seen again.

—Marc Leepson

No Place for a Lady by Thea Rosenbaum

As Thea Rosenbaum stepped from a still-moving C-130 onto the Khe Sanh runway on January 29, 1968, she was greeted with the click -click of incoming rounds. Throwing herself behind some oil drums, the young war correspondent noticed cows crossing the runway. It reminded her of the terror she had experienced as a child during World War II.

He memoir, No Place for a Lady (AuthorHouse, 194 pp., $16.95, paper), written with Chris Moore, has greater depth than many war stories. Thanks to Rosenbaum’s well-crafted writing the reader can see through her eyes as she relates her wartime experiences in Berlin and Vietnam.

After describing landing at Khe Sanh, Rosenbaum spends several chapters explaining how war was not new to her and how she and her family survived World War II in Germany.

Just as this narrative is not an ordinary book, Thea Rosenbaum was no ordinary child. At the age of five she traveled ten miles by train to enroll in school. During the final weeks of the war, she saved her mother from being raped by Russian soldiers.

Rosenbaum admits to serious feelings of inferiority. But by the age of twenty-one, she had become Germany’s only female stockbroker at Oppenheimer & Company. Later, she would become the only German female journalist covering the war in Vietnam. Her desire to produce top journalism led Rosenbaum into potentially dangerous situations, including going through Vietnamese airborne troop training.

As the reader is drawn into the Rosenbaum’s life, you can appreciate why she spends so many pages describing her youth. It becomes quite clear that her growing-up experiences brought a new kind of self-confidence. Dealing with a child-molesting grandfather, being an au pair for a family with no children, and falling madly in love with a violin player built a foundation for dealing with all kinds of people.

Thea Rosenbaum

Arriving in Khe Sanh was as fortuitous for a journalist as it was dangerous. There was no lack of action to report. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Moving into Saigon later during Tet, the author writes:

“There is no battle line. Now this is true generally of the fighting in Vietnam, but during Tet, and in Saigon, if you went to an area where fighting was under way, you would have great difficulty in pointing to one side of the street or the other and say with any certainty that is where the Vietcong are and that is with the South Vietnamese are. You just couldn’t do it with any consistency.”    

Being a German citizen and a noncombatant was no guarantee of safety. While Rosenbaum was in Vietnam, a group of German doctors was taken out to a field and shot by the Viet Cong. The author writes that Americans were also guilty of atrocities, but says we were not nearly as cruel as the Viet Cong were.  

After she left Vietnam, Rosenbaum worked in the White House as a German correspondent for ARD television. She became well acquainted with Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and interviewed people such as David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan, Jesse Jackson, and Hugh Hefner. One of the greatest experiences of her life, she writes, was seeing the Berlin Wall fallThea Rosenbaum became a U.S. citizen in 2013.

She ends her narrative with these words. “Yet sometimes I ask myself, was it more important to meet every president since Nixon or to spend time with my family? It can be difficult to choose between historically important people and taking care of your children. But would I do it again? You bet I would.”

Would this reviewer recommend this book and read it again? You bet I would.

The author’s website is www.noplaceforalday.com

—Joseph Reitz

On War: The Best Military Histories

The Pritzker Military Library and Museum in Chicago’s Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing honors “writers whose work adds to the public’s understanding of military history and the role played by the military in civil society.” The list of the award’s seven winners (it dates from 2007) is a who’s who of distinguished military historians, along with a former war correspondent (Rick Atkinson) and one novelist (Tim O’Brien, 2013’s recipient).

The handsomely produced new book On War; The Best of Military Histories (Pritzker Military Museum and Library, 264 pp., $27) contains seven excerpts from the work of the award winners. That august group is made up of the historians James McPherson, Carlo D’Este, Max Hastings, Allan Millett, and Gerhard Weinberg, as well as the award-winning journalist Atkinson and O’Brien, the most honored Vietnam veteran novelist.

The editors of this top-quality volume—including former Vietnam magazine editor Roger Vance who served as the book’s managing editor, and Michael Robbins, the editor of Military History magazine, the book’s editor—chose the perfect excerpt from O’Brien’s work: “How to Tell a True War Story” from The Things They Carried.

As the introduction to this section notes:

The excerpt “is a characteristically sharp response to the challenge of how to convey in words on paper a true sense of the surreal blend of horror, boredom, humor, fear, love, brutality, and grace that was combat in Vietnam.”

In this work of fiction which contains many elements of the truth, O’Brien discourses on what is real and what is not when it comes to war stories.

“In many cases,” he writes, “a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.

“In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.”

—Marc Leepson

Dispatches by Michael Herr

The unique thing about discovering Michael Herr’s Vietnam War tale, Dispatches (272 pp., 1977) in a used-book venue was the cover—it really catches the eye. Citing in bold lettering no less than John Le Carre’s rather lofty assertion (“The best book I have read on men and war in our time”) it became something I had to read for myself.

Though the cover through the years has undergone many changes, including several with photographs of the author, the cover on the edition I bought is most striking, Along with the quote is the ubiquitous camo-covered helmet with the ever-present graffiti, in this case, “Hell sucks.”

Herr, in Hemingway-like brutality creates a graphic narrative of his time spent as a journalist in Vietnam for Esquire magazine and Rolling Stone. Hence the numerous sixties popular song lyrics Herr connects nicely to the incidents he relates.

As to the book’s authenticity, when asked if he was a reporter, Herr replied, “No, I’m a writer.” And a gifted and talented one indeed.

But whether fiction or non, there is no denying his presence in describing places like Hue, Khe Sanh, or Vinh Long during the Johnson presidency years. There are no pulled punches here as the author addresses the scathing racism of the conflict in this quote: “Ain’t a slope bitch in this whole fucked-up country that loves it.”

Michael Herr

He also speaks frankly on the rampant drug-usage: “Sometimes sleeping at Khe Sanh was like sleeping after a few pipes of opium, a floating and a drifting in which your mind still worked.”

With masterful craftsmanship, this embedded journalist (long before the phrase became cliché) uses a stream-of-consciousness style to relate images, incidents, and events he either witnessed or heard about. Often Herr provides little in the way of background information, merely easing into one story from the last.

First published in 1977, this literary gem is still relevant to anyone who lived through the Vietnam War period, veteran or not. As a WestPac sailor with a limited view of Vietnam—mainly H & I missions in South Tonkin or Seadragon operations north of the DMZ—I found this collection of war reporting fascinating.

But for those who were there, Dispatches will be compelling reading, fact or fiction, perhaps dredging up decades-old memories. For writing style alone, this is worthwhile reading.

—Peter Steinmetz