AP's fabled Saigon team thins, with recent deaths

Published August 29, 2012

| Associated Press

It's been a cruel year for the fabled crew of reporters that covered the Vietnam War for The Associated Press.

Correspondent George Esper died in February, writer Roy Essoyan a month later. Legendary photographer Horst Faas passed away in May.

Malcolm Browne, whose photograph of a South Vietnamese monk engulfed in flames became an iconic image of the war, died on Monday.

Their deaths represent the slipping away of a generation of war reporters that brought the reality of the conflict to the living rooms of America in unprecedented detail and horrifying close-up. Often working under hostile conditions, their work helped set a new standard for combat journalism and inspired scores of journalists in their wake.

"We have lost four journalistic legends from the great AP Saigon bureau this year, and I fear we are running out of them," said Richard Pyle, who covered the Vietnam War for five years and was AP's Saigon bureau chief from 1970 to 1973, in an email. "After Horst died in May I wrote that it was suddenly as if a rooftop sniper had found out where we live and was picking us off one by one."

Esper wrote more words about the Vietnam War than any other correspondent during his 10 years in the country, and refused to leave when it fell to the northern Communists on April 30, 1975. He returned in 1993 to open the AP's first postwar bureau in Hanoi.

As chief of photo operations for The Associated Press in Saigon for a decade beginning in 1962, Faas covered the fighting and also recruited and trained new talent from among foreign and Vietnamese freelancers. He was severely wounded in 1967 and won four major photo awards in Vietnam, including the first of his two Pulitzers.

An exhibition of his photos will go on display at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club starting Sept. 4.

Browne was perhaps best known for his photo of the burning monk, which appeared on front pages around the globe and sent shudders all the way to the White House, prompting President John F. Kennedy to order a re-evaluation of his administration's Vietnam policy. Browne also won a Pulitzer for his work in Vietnam.

Many hundreds of reporters from around the world covered the conflict, but the AP was especially well represented, winning five Pulitzers for its coverage from the war zone from 1964 to 1973 and an additional one in 1974 for a photo of a former prisoner of war being greeted by his family.

"George, Horst, Roy, Malcolm .... like others in Vietnam in the 1960s, they shared a fierce devotion to eyewitness journalism," said Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president. "See the fighting for yourself. Count the bodies yourself. Talk to people you trust. "

Ed White, who worked in the Saigon bureau for more than five years and celebrated his 90th birthday on Wednesday, said he was sad to be saying "sayonara" to his colleagues.

"They were such a great bunch of people. I sometimes just stood around in awe of them."

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