tv Women Reporters in Vietnam CSPAN August 31, 2015 4:05am-5:21am EDT
this conversation, and i had a whole plan of how to start until i was talking to edith letter backsta backstage. she's going back new york tonight -- yeah, i have to share. she's going back to new york tonight to cover the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. he'll be at the u.n. tomorrow. the pentagon said to me, no, no, no press. edith got her way into it. i think that's where we start tonight. but if it makes news, you're got to give me a full. >> absolutely. >> i expect that we will have an absolutely fascinating conversation tonight. i want to start by saying one thing. i am not a war correspondent. i'm a pentagon correspondent, and i'm thrilled, honored, and humbled to be with these women tonight. i work out of the pentagon. i have traveled to war zones,
but nothing, nothing, approaches what these women have done and what so many journalists, regardless of gender, i think you would all agree, men and women, did in opening the way to covering battlefields, to bringing the stories of american troops fighting in faraway places into our living rooms, into the front page of our newspapers. if nothing else, that era was such a turn in journalism that i probably don't have to explain to anybody in this room. and i thought that if we're not all totally familiar with these women's backgrounds, we would just start by going down the line and have all of you briefly tell us how you came to be in vietnam. it's a far away place a long time ago. let's just go down the line for a few minutes here. how did you get there?
>> i got there -- it seems hard to believe, but someone in our day, like barbara, would be a pentagon correspondent. we reported on things like parties and gardening and cooking. we never really made the news because women's lives were so confined that we had our section, but the stories of women weren't even news because their lives were tiny and circumscribed, so i got very bored at my job. i was reading papers all the time, so i decided i wanted to go to vietnam. i was the lowest person in that women's section covering the parties the party reporter didn't want to cover. i went in and said i want to go to vietnam and be a war reporter. they just about fell out of
their chairs laughing. >> you can see it there, but this is you. >> yes. >> if you're not getting it, we're going to show you these women as they practiced their journalism in the middle of a war zone. so what year was this? >> this was '66. the editor of the morning paper approached me and asked me if i would like to be a reporter, but they didn't pay my way. i mhad to pay my own way to get there. he promised me $35 per story. at the time, i was making $80. if i wrote three stories, that would be a raise. after i got there, six months later i was hired as a full-time reporter. >> tell us a little bit about how you got there. >> well, i was working at "look magazine" as a researcher just
reading day in and day out coverage of vietnam and there was nothing else going on. it was the biggest story and it was my generation covering it. i knew i wanted to be a journalist. i asked "look magazine" to send me, and they said absolutely not. inexperienced and female. same thing. i quit "look magazine," bought my one-way ticket to saigon, and showed up as a freelancer. i got my press pass and i was ready to go. >> edith? >> i had a very different kind of experience because i was working for the associated press in san francisco, and i was covering the anti-war movement among many other things, which
was, of course, a very hot topic. every year, the ap would give you a form that asked basically what do you want to do when you grow up, and i would say that i wanted to be a foreign correspondent. but in the ap, that was really an impossibility because the ap had a foreign editor who refused to have a woman on the foreign desk, and that was the prerequisite for going overseas. so in 1971, i had been to europe. i had never been to asia. and with one my girlfriends, we got one of those incredible pan-am around the world tickets where in those days, eat your hearts out, you could stop every single place that pan-am stopped
for the same price. >> do you remember what you paid for the ticket? do you remember what you paid? >> i think it was -- it was about -- it was under $1,000. >> it was like $195. >> i remember. i had one. >> i traveled the world in 99 days. >> it was quite incredible, and one of the places -- >> that's why pan-am is out of business. >> one of the places they stopped was saigon, so my girlfriend nancy goldner and i decided we were going to see this war witch i had been writing about, which she had been involved in also. she was a teacher. so we went to saigon for four days as war tourists, and the ap staff adopted us. what was fabulous was they took us to the 5:00 follies, which
was the daily military briefing. we got to go on a helicopter ride over the mikong delta. and then we got on a plane and went to bangkok. you can imagine my surprise the following summer where, again, i had put on my, what do you want to do when you grow up form that i wanted to be a foreign correspondent to get a phone call from the president of the ap asking me if i wanted to go to vietnam for six months. and the first thing i said to him was, does that mean i have to go work on the foreign desk? he said, no, no, no, no. you're just going to go to vietnam. because we still had the same foreign editor and he still refused to have a woman on the foreign desk. >> edith, tell me quickly what year did you join the associated press. >> 1966 in new york city.
>> and still getting the scoops and still beating some people on this podium. laura, tell us how you came to vietnam. >> i hitchhiked to vietnam. vietnam was the last place i ever expected to go, unlike my wonderful colleagues. i had started college in 1968. i had been to every major protest movement, probably some that edith covered. i was deeply opposed to america's involvement in vietnam, and while i was taking my science requirement in california, i had gone to visit a friend in oregon and was hitchhiking back to the bay area with my teenage sister. we were told by the highway patrol we would be arrested if we didn't leave the interstate. i said to my sister, the next car has got to be it because we had no other way to get back
there, and it was 100 degrees and she was in a bad mood. and i was thinking, what have i gotten us into. so i see a car coming down the highway. i see fishing poles. it's a green chevy. it's a hippy car. they'll star. the driver of the car turned out to be a pediatrician, and that was who i went to vietnam with two months after graduating. my plan for my life was to go to law school and get black panthers out of jail. i was deeply committed to social justice issues, and the doctor and i were going -- he had finished his training and the plan was that he would take a job abroad, and we would do that for a few months. i was at home working as a cocktail waitress earning some extra money. i got a call from him saying i've been offered a job in vietnam. do you want to go?
i said yes without missing a beat. i had to work in vietnam and the only jobs that paid anything were working for the embassy, which was not on my list of things i could do, and then working for the media, so i made the rounds to all the news organizations. all i could answer was no. do you have any experience in journalism? no. do you think anything about the military? no. do you speak vietnamese? no. how long have you been in country? two months. did you major in journalism? no, i majored in political science. so abc was looking for a radio stringer and it was 1972 and there were five people who applied. denby was actually qualified for the job. she had a significant track record as a reporter, but she was married to an nbc
correspondent and in that era that was not possible, so i was hired and i was hired by new york. and i was hired because it was 1972 and "the new york times" was in the midst of a sex discrimination suit and the word was out that we need women in prominent places, so on my very first day at abc the bureau chief was sitting where eddie is. he looked at me and said, first words, i just want you to know of all the applicants, you were the least qualified. that was the beginning. >> and there we are. you know what strikes me -- by the way, very shortly, we're going to get to questions. we have microphone stands on either side of the room, so get your questions lined up in a few minutes. what strikes me, you know, john
very nicely talking about in my era we imbedded, and i'm sure many of you in the audience have seen when you turn your tv on in the years with iraq and afghanistan, you would see reporters standing there on a military base going out with military. it has come to be really the only way during the years of massive u.s. military involvement that you're allowed to cover them because no longer do they allow what was so common and so interesting in your era, which is show up and get on a helicopter. show up and go out in the field. denby, i was reading that, in fact, in one instance in vietnam, you actually went not to just accompany them on patrol, but you walked point and you called in fires.
tell us -- tell us about -- i mean, today, no way. >> i'd like to tell you about that, but i think the important thing to bring up, too, is we didn't just go there and then get out and cover combat. once you got there, then the problem became -- vietnam was very free. almost anybody could get accredited. there was no censership. to actually go out with a unit, you needed the unit commander's permission, and that was the roadblock for us. there were hardly any women there. maybe five, maybe three. then they would say, no. for me, they said -- to me, i was 24 then, i would never let you come out because you remind me of my daughter. you think, holy cow, they would
never say that to a man. you remind me of my son. you might get killed. for me, that was the greatest difficulty in vietnam to convince people because there was so much prejudice in our era of women not being able to do anything, that they weren't capable, and a woman could never report a war. for me, the miraculous thing that happened when i had almost given up is the u.s. marines let me go out with them. i was surprised at the time, but someone reminded me later the marines love publicity. we all know the u.s. marine and they're the smallest branch of the service, so they need money, they need funding, they need to be important. the things that you describe calling in fire, that would be a violation of journalist ethics, but that was the first marines i went out with, the first people
that allowed me to go out to a place when i arrived they were taking out bodies. i was like holy cow. i didn't think i would be in this hot of a place, but that evening, the marines -- we were being shelled. to combat the north vietnamese that were shelling our position, they were calling air strikes, so they asked me to call in the air strike. they wrote it out on paper. the pilots are navy pilots, so they can't see what's down below. i called in the air strike. this female voice saying in all technical language -- and it's wrong for a reporter to do that. i wanted to pay them back for helping me get started. the navy pilot when he heard that said -- we were called girls. hey, they have a girl down
there. how'd you get a girl there? >> i suppose whsomewhat years later looking back it does say something about the lack of resources in that war that people were just beginning to understand. very, very tough battlefield for so many young american troops. >> oh, yes. >> and i think all of you probably experienced that. urate, i was reading -- edith and laura, the same thing. it's funny. across the decades, across the years, what resonated with me when i looked at their histories and their stories, is you've all talked about remembering the faces, the kaleidoscope. i know, laura, you talked about vietnam, saigon being your hometown. edith, you talked about the
kaleidoscope. urate, you talked about the faces. i just want to say that resonates with me so much about covering vietnam. it's interesting my era is a little different, but that resonates because in afghanistan, in iraq, i feel as though i know the faces of all the troops i've met. i don't know their names. i may not remember what units, but i see those faces and they all come back and the places come back. and i'm wondering if even all these years later, is it still something that resonates with you, seeing it in front of your eyes? laura, do you feel that vietnam is still -- saigon is still so much of where your life was? >> when i said saigon is my hometown, i meant that's really where i feel like i'm from.
that's where i did work that i loved for the first time. it's where i met friends that i loved. it's where i felt for the first time that i mattered in life and where my life really began, so yes. i do feel that saigon is my hometown in some ways. new york city in others, but that was a very tender and precious part of my life. >> do the images still come back to you? >> oh, of course. people say vietnam is behind us. well, why should it be behind us? it's in us. it's something we experienced. it was a pivotal moment of our lives. it's something i want to remember, to learn from, to grow from. i wrote a book called "shrapnel in the heart." i think, for me, when the faces
really clobbered me was when i went to see "platoon" and the opening montage in the film where kids just jumping out of choppers and i just sat there and wept. they were not only the boys i knew in vietnam. they were the ones i had written about in the book. i think that was one of the times i really cried for vietnam. i think what strikes me about the faces now when i see the kids that we're sending to iraq and afghanistan is the faces stay the same. they still have that innocence. they still have that youth. they still have that fear. they still have when they come home that 1,000 yard stare, so i think that's what strikes me about the faces. they remain unchanged. >> they often talk about war sort of being the business of the young, isn't it?
>> i think i'd like to say what was so unique about vietnam and different from current wars is this was a war of draftees. now, they are military. they're professional. you know, they tow the line. >> it's a volunteer force. >> this was 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds. i was 24 and i was an old woman sometimes. oh, i thought they were sending a girl. not this -- and they were green. some had never been out of their hometowns in small southern cities. they were afraid. they didn't understand the war. they were getting, you know, letters from back home writing about all the protests. so when you talk about faces, i mean, i saw fear, confusion, loneliness, and that's really, i think, what -- everybody knew
someone who was in vietnam or had died in vietnam. these wars are very different, aren't they? >> we are delighted there's so many young people with us this evening. if we still had a draft in this country, it would be a very different, a very different prospect, i suppose. urate, can you tell us a little bit about being wounded? >> well, you know, cason was a very big story, and i broke my rule -- since i was a freelancer, it was very hard to get things into newspapers. never go where all the press goes. if everybody was up there, i was down in the delta, but this was such a big story. marines were under siege since middle of january. i got the assignment from wr radio to interview new yorkers who were in caison.
i hitched a ride on a helicopter. there was very limited press accessibility, and i saw, like we always did in vietnam, empty helicopter blades whirring. being a girl, i had that advantage. i looked over and i said, where you going to caison by chance? sure. hope on. public information officer was furious, because he had his roster of "washington post," new york times, "upi," whatever. we made the fatal mistake of not throwing ourselves on the ground but running for the fox hole. when artillery shell hits the ground, it explodes this way. i got shrapnel in my legs, my face, and my back and whatever. and the pio officer later on
said, well, she got what she was looking for. and that was not quite what i was liking for. >> hardly. well, thankfully, we're past some of that attitude, but i just want to impress upon everyone here what you already know otherwise i don't think you would be here this evening. the women who are journalists today in war zones have so much to be thankful for for those who came before us. we're talking about being women, being women journalists, and being journalists. you were there when some of the pows came out. i think there are very few american journalists that can tell that story today. we all see the news clips, the old newsreel footage things, but
you saw them. >> so i did. i was lucky enough to be in vietnam before, during, and after the pull-out of the last american combat troops. i think a lot of people don't realize that the last american combat troops left at the end of march in 1973 and then the vietnam war went on for another two years fought by the south vietnamese military with diminishing military and financial support from the united states until saigon fell on april 30th, 1975. but after the last american combat troops left, i was sent
to cover the release of the first americans who had been held in the south, in south vietnam, by the viet kong. it was like this whole circle of helicopters that came in and landed at the airport. and these totally bedraggled american soldiers got off. some limping. many emaciated. some seeming not to know where they were. but at the bottom of the
helicopters, when they got off, there was a general standing there, and he saluted every one of them. and what was fascinating was -- i think at that moment, for some of them anyway, they realized they were free because they saw he was an american general, and almost every single one of them saluted back. it was an incredibly moving experience, and you always have to wonder when you're talking about faces and people that you remember how it impacted the lives of those young men. i guess, among many other things, i've always wondered were they able to rebuild their
lives and to have good families and decent jobs and to really have a decent life. >> i want to interrupt then and tell an anecdote. i'm going to take one second here. i was inside the pentagon working on the morning of 9/11, and as we came to understand the people who perished inside the pentagon, there was a man, older man, civilian, worked for the department of the army. his name was max bilky. you know who max was. max bilky died in the pentagon on 9/11. max as a young army draftee is listed in american history as the last combat american soldier out of vietnam, and he came home and he had a good life.
>> that's good. >> by all accounts. and he died that morning. so vietnam, it's just -- it's just fascinating because it is so woven in the fabric of this country and the journalists who covered it are so woven into the fabric of our profession. you know, let me be the one to ask the trite question. as you look back now -- laura, want to start with you and let's go down the line. through the prism of history, where did it matter what you were a woman, a female journalist in terms of being denied the options that otherwise had? let's talk about that. and as you look back seeing these americans come off helicopters, who on earth cares whether it is a man or woman covering that story as long as it is getting covered? it is partly looking through the
prism of time. what am i going to do? ask these women, did it matter being a woman in vietnam? well, sometimes yes. sometimes no. talk to us about this. >> i was there so late in the war that i was standing on the shoulders of those who had made real sacrifices to give women the opportunity. as i mentioned, it was not only the women at "the new york times" and the sex discriminate suit, but people like urate who fought to have women have access, so i didn't have obstacles in my path that way, but i think i knew as a woman i had to earn my place at the table. there were some things that were a given. i would never show fear. i would work as hard as any man, and i would never do anything that would embarrass my profession. i felt that very strongly. did it matter being a woman?
was the coverage different? i think one thing for me being -- i was in vietnam from the time i was 22 to 24. i was young and i was always underestimated, so i was always smarted than i appeared. i was not threatening. i think sometimes politicians talked to me. g.i.s would talk to me. vietnamese are not tall people. for a woman, you're the same size as the government official you're interviewing. i think sometimes that was an asset. i think as -- i don't know what my colleagues think. i think as a woman i was someone who was always more comfortable talking about feelings, so it wasn't -- it was a natural far me. so if i'm interviewing a g.i., i'll ask the second and third follow-up question. >> denby? >> my thoughts on it were that i
think being a woman was important because it showed that women could do that. everyo even up to the end, edie and her boss and kate webb and other female reporters, we were kind of freelancer. edie was among the first to become as a staffer, but her boss said no covering combat and also to tracy wood. he had sent them over. there was a push to have woman covering important things, but still you had this overhanging layer of -- my experience there, my worst -- we were almost on the edge of getting set back in my era. mine happened when i was out at a forward fire base. the general in charge of the
armed forces in vietnam, he happened to fly in because they were under fire and a lot of people had died. 36 people had died. it was very bad, so he came do give a pep talk. and he came around. i just waited until he was finished talking to the soldiers. and then he came up and he saw me and he said, oh, what are you doing here? and his family had rented a house near ours in hawaii and my mother played tennis with his wife. he said, oh, how long have you been here? i said, oh, two nights. he said, oh. then he laughed. then we heard later that urate and i and the few female reporters, he wanted to close it down for women reporters. he decided then that no women could spend the night in the field and that meant that we couldn't cover things because it's not like you could call uber and say get me out of here. i have to be home for my
bedtime. so, women all banded together, and we managed to get that changed. i think women matters because the women of our era were starting to get emboldened. it was the 1960s. what happened to women before us they would often buy into this myth that you can't do these things. i was a little bit that way myself, but the 60s are coming and the times, they're a changing, so we were braver and we fought things. >> start thinking about your questions. we're going to get to questions in about three minutes. if you don't have ones, i'll call on you anyhow. what do you think? >> i think the military at that time was very paternalistic with us, like denby's story. oh, you remind me of my
daughter, and they would really say things like why aren't you writing about widows and orphans. occasionally, they would say, okay, you're here. you know, you're such a morale boost. could you just go around the fire base and pose for photos? pose for photos with with the kids there. you know, there was this weird disconnect. you had this legitimate press pass and were trying to write about combat. yes, there were show girls in vietnam, and there were also nurses, but reporters very few. and it was very hard for them to see you as a professional. >> this is why i mean i'm sitting here and i'm just awestruck because anything we have been able to do in iraq and afghanistan, bosnia, the middle east, the horn of africa, really is owed to the women who have
gone before. edie, i suspect that maybe who -- any american general who told you you couldn't do something might have had an adjustment made to personality. >> i would like to start out by echoing laura and paying tribute to denby, urate and kate web. >> kate web captured -- >> in cambodia and one of the very few people to come out alive, but i would also like to say that we were all products of the dawn of women's liberation. we were that generation that really started to believe that
women could do anything that we put our minds to. and in a sense, that's what i think made a difference for all of the women who came of age and into this profession of being war correspondents and foreign correspondents starting in vietnam. we, as a whole group, were actually able to prove that women actually do have what it takes to cover wars and disasters. unlike what ap's then foreign editor ben bassett believed. >> not that we're naming names. >> i always felt that i was grateful that i could prove that
he was wrong, and that i was able to do it not just in vietnam but in the many other wars i went on to cover. the other thing that i wanted to say about women was, you know, just because we were there and we were working hard doesn't mean that, at least for me, on many occasions i wouldn't use the fact that i was a woman to try to get information and to get stories because one of the things i learned instantly on arriving in vietnam was there was so few american women there that you could basically talk to any man about anything. and particularly in the military, where i actually did not know that much, you could
ask them to explain things to you, or you could ask what might sound like a stupid question coming from a man and often would elicit great quotes for a story. >> i got no problem with that. i really don't. if they want to cough up the information, that's they're problem. let's go to some questions. i think you were probably first. you want to tell us who you are and who you'd like to ask a question of. >> my name's dee young. could you tell us something that you hear from american people and from vietnamese or any other nation countries that people say about and how do they express their emotion about the wars? >> about how people today -- >> when you were in vietnam,
when you hear the people say, when americans say or vietnamese or some other countries stay -- >> how do people feel emotionally about the war when they were reporting? what kind of emotions did you hear from the people of vietnam, i think that's your question, about the war when you were there and reporting on the war? what did you hear? >> what do they feel about you -- >> how did they feel about you as american journalists covering the war? >> i could answer just kind of briefly because i lived with the veietnamese family in the heart of saigon. it was so bizarre. they were just going about their business in the war. they were trying to make a living and trying to survive. and they didn't think of me as
anything unusual at all because i was working too, so we didn't really discuss the war at all. we were just kind of going about our business. yes, getting through life. >> i'm so sorry. no, no, please. >> one of my great disappointments about having been in vietnam for almost two years, i did not write enough about the veietnamese people. i was so focused on the americans. for a freelancer, i would be very hard to get a story published and i regret it terribly. thank god for gloria emerson who went there and wrote day of day about the vietnamese people. we went through the villages and the devastation and people crying. it was heartbreaking to see how much the vietnamese people suffered. >> i'd just like to say that --
i think i echo what they said. there was a tremendous amount of suffering, and one of the stories that i did want to write was about the impact of the war on the south vietnamese because we wrote about all the american casualties, but we didn't write about the massive south vietnamese casualties. and in order to do this, i had to go and find a south vietnamese family that had lost -- this woman had lost either three or four sons, and she had one who was still fighting. she didn't know whether he was still alive, and she was living under the most horrible circumstances in a shack where she didn't even have walls of her own. she had a roof over the walls of the two adjoining huts, and so i think that there was a
tremendous amount of suffering, but i think a lot depended on the economic class of the people. i think there was a certain middle class in south vietnam that sort of rolled with the punches and some who made money, but i think a lot of the very poor, the poorer people, really, really suffered. >> ma'am? >> my name is peggy lewis and i'm with trinity washington university. we are so proud of you and so grateful to all of you for being here. i have a number of students and faculty here from the university who are aspiring to be journalists, but i wonder what your thoughts were when you heard brian williams embelli embellishing his experience and you were there.
>> i'm going to leave it to these ladies to decide if they want to answer. it's your floor. anybody want to -- is that a no thank you. >> i'm not trying to make you say something you don't want to say, but i'm certain women who had been there covering it, to see a man who embellished and was taken out of the anchor chair for the embellishment -- >> is it a gender issue? i don't know that it is. you have students here this evening? are you guys up there in the rafters? raise your hands. >> i think it's an okay question, but it doesn't have to do with being a man. it would be anyone who would embellish and still have this position of stature and speaking out to the american people. you worry for them and feel sad
and think, why did you do that. >> journalism 101, accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. after that, there's really nothing. it's not about anybody else. it's about you and your accuracy. i'm not commenting on mr. williams. i'm commenting on journalism, the journalism profession. >> i'm a political communications student at gw. thank you so much for being here. >> raise your hands. >> there's a great book by tim o'brien, "the things they've carried." it's a fictitious account. i was hoping that you ladies could possibly share either some things that you brought along with you in your own bags as you traveled along or some of the momentos you picked up along the
way. >> that's a great question. did you have a good luck charm? did you have something you always had bottom of your bag? >> i know it was very important for me to still have some kind of femaleness out there. i'm 6 feet tall. i mean, this is an amazon, walking through the jungles. >> as it should be. >> dressed in fatigues, combat boots, carrying a pack, the whole thing. you know, i always kind of wore maybe like a yellow t-shirt underneath my fatigues. i did put on lipstick every now and then. one of the nicest compliments i ever got after a couple of days on patrol in the rain, in the mud, sleeping in a fox hole with somebody, and the guy says to me, ma'am, i don't know how you do it, but you still smell better than we do. [ laughter ].
>> i took -- i was always thinking of eating. when i'm nervous, i like to eat. we had sea rations, which were canned. i would take an onion, saigon, and there was a little store there in the era, and they had a can of wine. figuring this is going to be my last day on earth, so i'm going to have some wine with my feast. >> i didn't know that. >> i was also into the lipstick, nail polish, sort of wearing combat fatigues, but also trying to look like a woman. and i try and take that wherever i went.
i also tried to sneak along some biscuits and cookies, stuff that was not part of any kind of rations. >> i don't remember taking anything with me, but something i've carried or kept is a small helicopter that was made from hospital junk. iv tubing, some needle caps, and it's a perfectly constructed miniature helicopter with a small rotor. it was made by a young boy who was, i think, about 10, who had been shot in the spine from an american chopper. he was paralyzed. what he did was create this helicopter from the junk in the hospital, and he was selling it for, you know, 25 cents or
whatever, to raise money for himself and for his family. so i've always kept that very close by. it's usually on my desk. i keep it as a reminder of what war does. >> thank you. >> sir? >> good evening. gary thomas. i'm a retiree. first off, i have to remind you the marines isn't the smallest service, it is the coast guard. >> thank you. >> for all five of you for what you continue to do for role models, thanks. denby, early in your career, you made career decisions about your professional life and personal life that sometimes had to be conflicted, and sometimes dealing with the fact that bob was also a journalist, brett was born overseas, things like that. can you talk a little bit, for the younger people out here, how you made those decisions. how did you judge your personal life, professional life, and how
did you make it work out in the end? >> gary and i know each other, and he has a wife who is a pioneer, also. she's an admiral in the u.s. coast guard. we ran the 14th district on our island of oahu. i think, for me, i can't say there was a pattern. i just was alone for a long time in vietnam before i was married, reporting alone, and things kind of fell together. then i always kept working when i was married. i don't know how i did it. it wasn't really a conflict. it just kind of fell along, fell together as i went along. >> i think one thing that struck me very dramatically was my decision to leave vietnam and to see how seductive war is. i knew i didn't want to be someone who went from one war to the next, and be kind of a war
groupie. i couldn't make a life. i wrote once that i wanted roots that went down to the source of water. and at the time, when i was in vietnam, i wasn't sure what that would have meant, and i was too young to be thinking about that. but when i went back to vietnam in 1989, it was the first time, and i travelled with a small group, all the way through the country. i was in saigon, and i did the memory walk of the places i had lived. i realized, there was a moment when it just hit me, i thought of my daughter who was then 8, and i wanted to go home. i missed the life that i had created. i think that was when i really realized that i had done that, that i had somehow chosen or life had chosen me. i didn't want to just go from
war to war, and i had to make another life, which i did. but it's, you know, the tradeofs a -- trade offs are always there, and you do the best you can at the time. >> barbara, can i say something? >> please. >> i think of all of us here, i'm the only one who actually stayed being a foreign correspondent and a war correspondent for 25 years. and i think that it definitely was a tradeoff, particularly for my generation. >> right. >> i think it would have been impossible for me to have covered all the wars and conflicts and gotten on planes and run off all over the world, and to have been married and raised a family.
so it was a choice that i made, and i have had an incredible life. but it was a choice that i made. >> hi. i'm judith. my question is directed to most of you. many of you had been both reporters before and after the vietnam war. my question is, how did it change the environment for women, both your life before and then coming back afterward? and my question is a little twofold. also between you and other women journalists after the war, was there a different level of respect or ease because you had had the experience or no? >> no. >> no, no, no, no. vietnam was, i remember first coming back from the war, and i was looking for a job in television, which was my experience. it was like, oh, yeah, you were in vietnam, but you don't know
film and tape. it was like, oh, that was there, but this is now and you don't -- you know, there was a time when vietnam just was -- it wasn't almost heard. i remember when i went home, i was in the drugstore where i had been for years and years. they said, laura, i haven't seen you for a while. i said, i was in vietnam for the last two years, and i was living in paris the past few years. paris? oh, tell us about paris. for a time, vietnam was erased in consciousness. >> for me, i agree. vietnam was the war that everyone wanted to forget. when i came back, i went back to san francisco. i remember all my friends saying, oh, how was it? did you have an interesting time? yes, i did. well, here's what's been going on while you were away. professionally, for me, it was
very positive because i left vietnam in like august of 1973. then there was the war that broke out. i was one of -- by then, working for the ap, and wes gallagher, who sent me to vietnam, then sent me to israel and sent the other reporter to cairo. professionally, it was a positive because we had proven that women could actually do the job. >> i think, one thing, she's talking about her job, and laura also, but it also is emboldening
personally. you think, you've been in vietnam and you've covered that. then things i didn't really know my profession and my craft, i went from being -- writing about parties to writing about wars. i needed to learn the craft. i needed to be a police reporter. i needed to cover courts. i needed to do politics. that gave me the guts to do that, even if i didn't understand it and i thought it'd be hard. >> hi. my name is meg. i'm a student reporting here for the summer, so it's awesome to see all of you. i'm wondering, was there ever a moment when you were reporting or when you're stationed out in vietnam, when you just really, really wanted to go back home to the u.s.? >> while we were there working, i really didn't. i felt that it was such an
amazing story. but it was very lonely. and i knew denby was out there, but i didn't know her. we were not friends. there were so few women. when i was out on patrol, i was with the guys. there was camaraderie. i felt really, you know, important, engaged, alive. after a couple days, go back to my little room in saigon, all alone, no one to really talk with. it was hard. really had to say, okay, let me get out of saigon and back on patr patrol, back where the story was. >> we have -- i see a young man -- i'm sorry -- >> on the left. >> we'll probably tie it off with you. >> sir? >> i'm sorry. manners are terrible. >> trying to learn patience right now. >> no, no. it's very hard to see. >> it's all right.
>> i'm so sorry. >> aloha. i recently just moved here from maui. graduated in 2012 from the best school west of the rockies. anyway, my question is two parted. this is your job, and i understand that, and it's an amazing job to have. but there are so many tragedies, so many things that maybe i shouldn't bring up, but it's a question i want to know. how did you stay focused? how did you just like drain everything out and just remember that this is your job and your job is very important, because without your job, we wouldn't know any of the things you've put down in history. also, i don't know about you guys, but it's kind of hard. i just moved out here -- sorry -- you know. >> jump in whenever you want
here. you're obviously very aware that covering a war, you see a lot of sadness, a lot of death, a lot of fear, a lot of injuries amongst troops. journalists, you know, i'll just say it, and jump back in where you want to, reporters are very famous for, oh, it doesn't get to me. we do the job and push it out of our minds and we go ahead and do what -- you know, it's our job. that's why we're there. >> people handle things differently. it would depend on -- your question is really good. it would depend on the temperament of the individual. you won't know it until you get into something really hard, how you'll handle it. i remember watching "gone with the wind," and watch scarlet walk through a hospital with dead people, and people seeking her help. that was fiction. for me, i found out when i saw something terrible in vietnam, i did that. i closed it out. it was automatic. i didn't think about it.
it was like a veil, to just keep going and not get deeply -- not bring it all in, like you were saying. how do you do it? so mine was a strange thing that happened automad icaltically. >> i think it comes back. we've all read about young troops with post-traumatic stress. they tell us it's a matter of resilience which is, you know, you acknowledge the stress, acknowledge what has happened to you, but how do you develop the techniques of resilience, to keep moving? i'll share a story. it was not in a war zone, but i walked into the room of a young marine who had been wounded. we're chatting about, where i had been in afghanistan and where he was wounded in afghanistan. this young marine had done a really hard time.
i thought i was making a light hearted remark, something like, i would never be able to be in the area that you were in. it was so hard. it was so dangerous, et cetera. this young man looks at me and says, look, we're all afraid. anybody out there who tells you they're not afraid, they're lying. but it's that ability, perhaps, to put one foot, you know, the soldiers who do this, the marines, the most awesome thing that you see, i think, in a war zone, is, of course, they're afraid, but they still put one combat boot in front of the other. >> thank you so much. i also have -- >> i think it's important, too, one of the things that is very significant is that if there's meaning, if there's a reason to tell the story, i'll do anything. i think that there is among the best journalists i know, a sense of mission and calling.
people are doing the work because they're passionate about it, that carries you, too. i think, yeah, i mean, i think the challenge is always, how do you keep the heart alive? how do you keep the heart open and not get numb? that takes, you know, a lot of work. i think one of the gifts of the reporting and one of the gifts of sort of entering into anything that's hard is that it takes you deeper into yourself. if you can find ways to work through it, it will break you open and break you open into a richer and deeper connection to life. >> and one of the really great things about great reporting, and i think of gloria emerson, particularly, is being able to capture that emotion that you're watching. and translate it into words, into stories that humanize war.
and i mean, none of us are zombies. we all have emotions. the real talent is to be able to put those emotions in a place that you can report on what's actually happening, and then at a time when you're writing or broadcasting, that you can convey the sense of that incident to a broader public. >> i also have another question, as well. i don't know if you guys are religious or anything, but how did you guys come out of this war? were you guys -- did you guys have more strength in your
religious resolving, whatever your views are, it doesn't matter, but did you guys come in -- like, how did you guys come out of this war? did you guys have more resolve in your religious views, or were you -- was your faith in humanity broken down into nothingness? i'm sorry. yes, that's my question. >> all right. i'll tell you what, what we're going to do, because we have little time left, and i want everybody to get a question in, we're going to have one of you answer, and we'll move it along so we get -- laura, i'll have you answer. >> i'm working as a hospital chaplain now. i went to seminary from 2006 to 2009. i think vietnam took me deeper into my own life. the question you get, of course, we all have to reconcile with, is where was god in vietnam? where was god in the holocaust? how can there be something so awful?
i was interviewing a woman who has been a nurse in vietnam. this was a question i had struggled with. she said to me, as any soldier will say to you if you talk to them, well, i never loved like i loved in vietnam. i loved my wife and kids, but i love my buddies. the nurses will say there was something about the love i had for my patients. it was so intense and so different. linda vand linda said, i know in that love, that's where god was. that was the moment that i thought, yes, god is in the love, not the bonds of the bullets. >> hi, i'm kay kofman, a former worker. the question i have, and you've talked a little about it, is reintegrating once you got back at the time. the gis were not welcomed the way they are now. we were not talking about post-traumatic stress disorder.
how was it for you to come back and, to the extent you had to reintegrate into society, what were the challenges for you at that point? >> let's have one person take that on so we keep moving. >> the only thing i'd like to say is my views on the war changed when i was there. i was pro-war, because i was anti-communist. toward tend, i saw the tragedy and the waste of war. but coming back to america and seeing the anti-vietnam demonstrators broke my heart. while politically, i agreed with them, to hear them ho, ho, ho, they're going to win. you know, it was very, very difficult to walk straight into that very hostile environment. >> just as a, i think, her point is excellent. it really wasn't until the dedication of the vietnam memorial that we were able to separate the warriors from the
war. i think one of the, perhaps, ultimate obscenity about vietnam is the soldiers who went were blamed for our losing it, and the result of the war is not the outcome. the outcome of the war is not the result of the people who fought that. by the time the memorial was dedicated, we could see that as a nation, finally. >> let's get through three more quick questions. i'm sorry to rush you. >> that's okay. my name is annie. my question is, what are your thoughts about vietnam and the war before and after you came to vietnam, becoming reporters? >> in a sound bite, i can say i went with all the answers and i left with the questions. i saw the war in black and white before i went there, and when i came back, after knowing vietnamese and seeing more sides of the pictures, there are many shades of gray. >> great answer. i think i might have to use that
in other circumstances. >> my name is dan. i'm in the theater. i have a huge military family background. my question for edith. based on your pow experience, and i'm curious, given recent comments, my question to you would be, what advice would you give or say to somebody who says that pows are not war heros, because they've been captured, given everything that you've seen? >> that's a loaded question. >> well, you know. >> but i believe that anyone who puts his or her life on the line, ready to sacrifice for their country, in any shape or form, is basically a hero in the
broader sense of the term. and for those who were inpris imprisoned and captures, suffered terrible hardships and indignities, it's magnified. because they actually had to face an even greater test than their fellow soldiers who survived and went home to their families when their tours were up. the word "hero," i personally believe, has come to be sort of a catch all word. >> everyone is a hero in our culture. >> everyone is a hero. as i say, i think that soldiers,
say it was marines ready to sacrifice for their country, they all should fall in that category. >> i think it can also be heroic to heal, to come to terms to the war, for someone who tries to find beauty and meaning in life again, who has to learn to walk again, tie a shoe. for the family who stands beside him, for the children who learn that dad or mom is upset because of -- i think there are many things that are courageous that we sometimes overlook in our need to create heros. healing is ultimately very heroic. >> thank you very much. >> sir, you're going to have the last question of the evening. no pressure. >> sure. my name is hunter forte. my question is for all of you. how might you see yourselves in
journalist or reporters in particular, female journalist and reporters, in this modern or current age of journalism? >> i wouldn't want to be a war reporter today. i think it's so dangerous and so just random. one thing about vietnam is our enemy there, the north vietnamese, they wanted to get through the war and live. they weren't going to kill themselves or kill civilians. they tried it once before i came, blew up a boat in saigon that served this delicious pepper crab, and a lot of vietnamese would go there. they grenaded this boat, and a lot of vietnamese were hurt. they realized right off the bat, that was not a way for them to win the war and win them over to their side. so they stopped. but the danger in the current
war is the people that are an enemy, they don't care. they will kill civilians, they will torture people. we did not have, when people were cabture tucaptured, like was not tortured. vietnam was plenty frightening, but in a different way. >> i think there's no gender bias anymore. i may be wrong, but when i see women reporters covering from the middle east, it's now, if i'm correct, more than 60% are female. nobody bats an eye that she's standing there with a flat jacket. i think the opportunities are amazing for women. however, journalism itself as a profession has changed, and that's a different panel discussion. >> in the military, i learned the lesson of vietnam, keep reporters as far as you can from the field. which is impossible. we did something that can't be
replicated today, which is a tragedy. most of the news organizations don't have foreign bureaus. i think that's a huge change. >> as someone who works for an organization that still does have a lot of foreign bureaus, one of the rare american organizations that still does, there are a lot of women out on the front lines. the united states is not involved in many countries where there are conflicts going on. there are more civil wars today than there are inter-country conflicts. i think the fact that we live in a 24/7 world, where the communications and the inter-connections are so instantaneous, and the fact that
you have not only governments, but you have rebel fighters, and then you have extremist groups on every range. the players have grown dramatically, and i think that for all of that, it is much more dangerous to be out in the field on the front lines today. but there are plenty of women and plenty of men who are doing it, and plenty of men, young men and plenty of young women who really would like to be doing it. >> and on that note, we want to thank everyone for coming. i think it's been a terrific conversation amongst our panelists and with you in the audience. we really do thank you for coming out tonight.
you know, the news business has been changing, i think, more rapidly with more volatility and faster than most of us can really keep up with it. but what it really does come down to at the end of the day is the reporter out there, filing under the most difficult of circumstances, making sure that the story does get to the american people. and these are four women who stand head and shoulders in making that happen. [ applause ] so i think we'll turn up the house lights so nobody -- everyone can see their way out. thank you again.