Reporting America At War
About The Series
The Reporters
Richard Harding Davis
Martha Gellhorn
Edward R. Murrow
Ernie Pyle
Walter Cronkite
Andy Rooney
Robert Capa
Homer Bigart
David Halberstam
Malcolm W. Browne
Gloria Emerson
Morley Safer
Peter Arnett
Ward Just
Chris Hedges
Christiane Amanpour

For Teachers
The Reporters

Saigon AP Bureau Handbook

Page 10 of 22 Back  Main  Next


At this writing, no correspondent has fallen into Viet Cong hands or been killed by them, although many newsmen have drawn fire.

An Israeli free-lance writer traveling by bus along Route 1 last summer was taken off the bus by the Viet Cong and held captive several days. He managed to escape and find his way out of the jungle by some derring-do.

There are indications the Viet Cong would like to influence correspondents with propaganda, but few direct approaches have been made.

If captured by the Viet Cong from a private car, bus or train, an American (or other Western-bloc correspondent) probably would be treated the same as an American soldier. This normally means six months or more of captivity under very difficult circumstances in the jungle, and eventual release. A captive normally is required to sign propaganda statements or make verbal statements into a tape recorder. Physical torture is unlikely, but daily brain-washing sessions are part of the routine.

Grant Wolfkill, NBC correspondent who was held by the Pathet Lao in Laos received very bad treatment, but the Viet Cong is considered a little less rough in its treatment of prisoners.

If you are with a government operation, you will be a target of enemy fire, exactly as if you were a combattant. If you are wounded in a convoy or position that is overrun, you probably will be shot to death. The Viet Cong generally does not take wounded prisoners (because of the difficulty of keeping them alive in the jungle) but shoots them on the spot.

Most war correspondents in Viet Nam carry pistols on operations to have some chance of shooting themselves out of this kind of situation if wounded. Personal arms also may be useful if with a small unit under heavy attack, in cases where every effective fighter is needed to avoid being swamped.

Carrying pistols is not condoned officially either by Vietnamese or American authorities, but American officers privately approve of the practice.

Under no circumstances try to shoot it out with the Viet Cong if you are alone. They always outnumber you, and generally pack Tommy guns.

There are some highway bandits of a non-political or quasi-political character in Viet Nam. They will hold you up, rob you blind, beat you up and possibly kill you. It is recommended that when you travel you leave valuables in Saigon EXCEPT for identification papers and about 5,000 piastres. Any money you have will be taken, but 5,000 piastres is regarded (by the most experienced French travelers) as about the minimum with which you can buy freedom or your life from bandits. A few U.S. dollars also are handy for use at MAAG detachments.

If stopped by the Viet Cong, tell them truthfully who you are and what you are doing. Don't try to throw away your identification papers if you are stopped by guerrillas. Identity-less captives are regarded as extremely suspect by the Viet Cong and are subject to very bad treatment. If you are American and happen to speak fluent, accentless French, you might get off with just a brief lecture. But don't try to hard to deceive anyone. This can make matters a lot worse if you are found out. Do not carry arms if traveling alone.

Courtesy Malcolm W. Browne.

Photo: Horst Faas, Mal Browne and Peter Arnett in the Saigon AP office. Photo credit: Peter Arnett collection Reporter's Notebook