It was this time of year...in 1969.....44 years ago...that the orders came down from NBC News at 30 Rock NYC that they wanted to lead the NBC Nightly News on Christmas with a blood and guts Vietnam story (I guess to upset all who had their turkey and goodies already).
Or...perhaps the big wheels in New York City like Les Crystal or Joe Angotti were as fed up with the war as the peace-niks marching against it.
I harken back to sitting in David Brinkley’s office before I flew to Nam as a correspondent and hearing him muse that I should go over there and be the first “peace” reporter! I told him I wanted to work for awhile...so “no thanks” and he laughed.
Nice guy David Brinkley. Lit up three Salem's while we talked for ten minutes. Guess he got that growing up and watching Ed Murrow....who always had a lit cigarette in his hand...Chesterfield king and no filter.
Anyway...all the correspondents..Kenley Jones, Bob Hager, maybe Wells Hangen, who was in and out of Saigon often (and later tragically killed in Cambodia) and me...the radio dude..were assigned a cameraman and a sound man and told go get the lead story of the Christmas Nightly news....about three or four days off.
Because I was basically radio...not tv...I was given our award winning cameraman Vo Huynh..who would guide me through the whole thing well. Vo was THE best and would go on to do an exceptional job of catching the right story and making the news. From what I can gather in searching about him he made it out of Saigon before the fall and came here to the U.S. That makes me very happy.
We went to the boonies somewhere...not too far from Saigon because Vo had sniffed out a lead about an attack on an American jeep with four US solders dead or dying. After searching several areas he found the spot where he (and me) would lead the evening news Christmas day.
We slowly approached a strange scene. It wasn’t the actual accident..the bombed jeep was miles away. It was a gathering of South Vietnam soldiers in a circle and inside were two Vietnamese woman....
...and they were being tortured by several soldiers.
We got out of our car and watched...and I saw Vo Huynh slowly brings his camera around to film the scene.
I wondered about this and whispered...”do you really want to shoot this?” “They might go for us...they are really pissed at these women”.
He motioned me back to the car and I obeyed him...smart move the less press people sniffing around the better chance of filming and getting out of here.
Vo was filming and slowly moving closer to the circle of soldiers with the two women being brutalized. His sound man was far behind but still able to pick up the shouts of the solders and the screams of the women...two Vietcong women who had planted the deadly device on the roadway and got caught.
In a few minutes Vo returned and we piled into the car and quietly drove off. We didn’t talk to anyone...we didn’t need to. We had the story...and upon returning to Saigon and the office Vo told me what he had overheard...and I wrote the story that way. The story was open ended. We didn’t know what happened to the women...dead or alive.
But the time they got this film to Bangkok and up on a satellite to NYC we would probably have some details from the military who would surely be bragging about the fast work catching the Vietcong women who did it.
Either Chet Huntley or John Chancellor would open the Christmas edition of the NBC Nightly News and our story to lead it off.
Vo Huynh was quite a guy...built like an NFL linebacker so skinny soldiers were likely not to tangle with him and it worked that night.
I hate to thank of us out there alone...unprotected...if it hadn’t.