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We Were There and We CaredBy Perry Deane Young for Salem-News.com
At a gathering of war reporters in 1995, Peter Arnett summed up their shared experience in one sentence: "We were there and we cared." Not one of the armchair critics who spend so much time berating "the media" can say that.
(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) - This article was originally written and published in 1995.
Just behind the colonnade above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and down the hill from the memorial to those who went down with the Maine, a group of old war correspondents awkwardly assembled at Arlington Cemetery recently to pay tribute to our own.
Boyd Lewis, aged 95, gestured toward the thousands on thousands of graves surrounding us and spoke of the rare privilege of having been able to write about them for United Press in World War II.
Young Roy Gutman of Newsday, winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize, told about the new difficulties of reporting in Bosnia, where 45 correspondents lost their lives.
When this article was published in 1995, more than 250 Americans had been killed pursuing the news in our country's wars in the last 100 years.
That figure, of course, does not include all those killed in the line of duty back home.
"But you guys," as I shall always remember my Saigon roommate's girl friend saying when he was nearly killed taking pictures for Time magazine, "you guys don't really have to be here...."
Maybe we weren't drafted, but if we were to be successful in our trade, or merely to live up to our ideals of personal courage, we most assuredly did feel we had to go to the wars of our time.
And here we stood trying to make some sense of what we'd done, especially in light of all those who never returned.
This was surely one of the most peculiar groups that ever gathered at Arlington or anywhere else in America. Most of us sprang from an old school of journalism, fiercely independent and competitive.
We mocked the joiners and the clubs and fraternities they rode in on.
It was not our job to take sides; we were there to report honestly and fairly on what we were seeing with our own eyes.
We were used to covering everybody else's tragedies and grief, but totally unequipped to respond to our own.
If it had been left up to us, as David Halberstam pointed out from the podium, there would have been no such ceremony to honor our fallen comrades.
The buses would have been late or shown up at the wrong place--or something much worse.
A group set up to honor the victims of terrorism, No Greater Love, had realized that there was no memorial anywhere to war correspondents.
In 1987, the group planted a willow oak tree at this spot in Arlington Cemetery, with a small white marble open book bearing this inscription: "This tree grows in memory of journalists who died while covering wars or conflicts for the American people. One who finds a truth lights a torch."
And in the mid-1990's the word went out and 300 old war correspondents showed up for this day of "reunion and remembrance."
Halberstam spoke about how scared we all had been in Vietnam, but day after day, "we kept going out."
He spoke of "the almost fickle quality that allowed some of us to come back...."The beautiful wife of an ABC TV producer killed in Bosnia last year said simply, "Thank you for remembering."
And away toward the back, as always, my old UPI buddies and I carried on our cynical kibbitzing about the proceedings. Our chatter stopped abruptly as we watched the children and grandchildren of our former colleagues file past and drop a rose by the memorial tree.
"Oh man, I almost lost it there," said my friend Joe Galloway, holding back the tears. Working for UPI in the 1960s, Joe had been in and out of Vietnam several times.
He was one of the few reporters who covered the first full-scale battle, at Ia Drang, and now he--and Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore--have published an extraordinary book about the battle with the poignant title, "We Were Soldiers Once and Young."
There have been two television documentaries based on the book and Joe told me about going back to Vietnam last year with the survivors of the battle.
They met up with their communist counterparts and returned to the scene of the slaughter.
No longer enemies, they embraced in shame for the utter stupidity which had first brought them to that place and left so many of them dead or maimed at such a young age.
I don't presume to know what it is--perhaps it has to do with that kind of shame you feel when you experience the true obscenity of war. It is something you know you'll never be able to talk about afterwards.
Oh, you'll talk about the war and being there and all that, but there's a more deeply felt element that's the real cause of that unspoken bond that cements a friendship in war in ways no other experience ever can.
I certainly don't offer war as any excuse for making friends; all I know is that there was something very special about the friendships sealed by war.
And I was grateful for the chance to be with some of them again and to remember those we left behind: Time photographer Sean Flynn and CBS cameraman, Dana Stone, who went down a road in Cambodia, April 6, 1970, and were never seen again; UPI's Kyoichi Sawada and the AP's Henri Huet, the most brilliant of photographers, the most gentle of men, and Larry Burrows and Kent Potter and Terry Khoo and Michel Laurent....
The last of the speakers at Arlington was Peter Arnett. He won the Pulitzer for his distinguished coverage in Vietnam. He was there for 13 years!
Vietnam was only the first of his 18 wars; now. When this was originally published in 1995, he was CNN's crisis man flying about to broadcast from wherever the danger is. His autobiography, published last year, is titled, "Live from the Battlefield."
Peter is also the best friend and mentor three decades of young journalists ever had.
He summed up our shared experience in one sentence: "We were there and we cared."
Not one of the armchair critics who spend so much time berating "the media" can say that.
Perry Deane Young is the author of eight non-fiction books, two plays and one screenplay. His ninth book, Hanged by a Dream, was self-published in July of 2005. Perry Young’s first book was the widely praised Two of the Missing, a Vietnam memoir published in 1975 by Coward, McCann & Geoghegan hardback and Avon paperback. The David Kopay Story, which Young wrote with the gay pro football player, was published in 1977 by Arbor Hours hardback and Bantam paperback. The David Kopay Story was on the New York Times Bestseller list for nine weeks and was named one of the ten Best Books for Young Adults of 1977 by the American Library Association. To learn more, visit Perry's Website at: perrydeaneyoung.com
Editor's Note: We are extremely honored that Perry Deane Young shared this amazing and emotional story with our readers. The work that he and a handful of other photojournalists and correspondents brought forth in those years delivered the real and full impact of a bloody war halfway around the world, that Americans were otherwise sheltered from. The world is a cruel place and the motives of people are frequently dark, even beneath their otherwise bright exteriors. People like Perry Young and David Halberstam, John Steinbeck IV, Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and Tim Page, laid it all on the line in a confusing time to capture the essence of one thing; the truth. Their coverage was heavily criticized, and called many things and even held accountable for political failures, but war is hell and when the smoke clears, layers of destruction and tragedy lie smoldering and images of these events are scored in the minds of the witnesses. I offer my most solemn and sincere respect and gratitude to these brave people who chose to make sure the world caught a true glimpse of the Vietnam War through the smoke and haze of U.S. Cold War propaganda.
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