I arrived in Saigon in May 1965. I came to Vietnam via Laos, where, for eighteen months, I worked first as a stringer, then a correspondent for United Press International (UPI). Vientiane provided a good vantage point from which to watch the political chaos that followed the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem, the worsening insurgency and the increasing US presence. The commitment of US ground forces, initially Marines and Airborne, changed the dynamic of what until then had been a burgeoning civil war.
Covering the war in Vietnam was a lot more exciting than piecing together garbled reports about Pathet Lao advances into remote villages. Correspondents were accredited to the South Vietnamese government and to the US military—which gave us the right to accompany military operations anywhere in the country. Flying on helicopter assault missions and racing across rice paddies under sniper fire were enough to stoke the adrenaline of any young reporter. We were briefed beforehand, and chose which unit to accompany. Never on those early operations with the Marines, the 101st Airborne or the First Air Cavalry Division did I ever encounter a female correspondent—with just one exception, the veteran Second World War photojournalist Dickey Chapelle.
When, in November 1965, Chapelle was killed while accompanying US Marines south of Chu Lai, in the same area I had been on operation just months before, we were shocked. Then three months later who should show up, camera in hand to take her place, but Catherine Leroy. Continue