San Diego P.R. Executive's Heady Days as a War Correspondent in Vietnam
After almost a year as a writer and editor with the 22d Public Information detachment for the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta (a PR firm for the division, basically, with daily news releases generated from the field for the Saigon follies, a weekly newspaper, daily radio show, quarterly four-color magazine, photographers and beat reporters in the field all over the Delta, etc.), U.S. Army SP5 Tom Gable was assigned to Pacific Stars and Stripes, Saigon Bureau, as a reporter.
Gable, who as founder and CEO of Gable PR is one of San Diego's better known public relations professionals, says the Stars and Stripes crew included a civilian bureau chief and writers and editors from different branches of the service. It was talent-rich, Gable notes, with writers from the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek and San Jose Mercury News.
The bureau, including newsroom and living quarters, was in a converted villa not far from the Bien Hoa U.S. Army base. Reporters would go all over the country gathering news, which would be edited in Saigon and sent by Teletype to Tokyo, where the paper was published. Does anyone out there remember Teletype?
Photos like the one shown above, as well as the one on the next page of this post (click "continue reading") had to be flown out on daily flights to Tokyo. Gable describes the picture above, which he took, as a "typical scene on the Mekong River; commercial and family traffic by day, Viet Cong at night."
Gable carried the same press passes as all the other credentialed media and also had the benefit of wearing the standard combat correspondent uniform of the day around Saigon. "I believe it was called an English walking suit - tailored shirt and pants, lightweight material," he says. "Check old news footage of Peter Jennings and you will know what I mean. We switched to camouflage when going into the field, with a 'Combat Correspondent' on the shoulder and no other identification."
Gable says the assignments varied from one day to the next. He covered the last mission of the battleship New Jersey, flew replenishment missions with some highly skilled Air Force C-123 pilots to Green Beret camps in the Central Highlands, and visited small towns in the Mekong Delta for features on daily life during war, among other things.
He especially liked photographing the children of Vietnam, from happy kids at a Catholic school in the delta to beggar children weathering the rain on Highway 1 between My Tho and Saigon, pictured below.
Gable, who says he was "very fortunate to have this experience," keeps in touch with several of the people with whom he worked. He attended a reunion a few years ago in the DC area, and in 2004 he went back to Vietnam - 35 years after he left. Needless to say, things had changed a bit since the war.
"Saigon now could be compared to Hong Kong 25 years ago ' active with commerce, capitalism and great values in custom-made clothing," he says. "But that's another story."