Bao Chi brings together interviews with 35 combat correspondents who reported on the Vietnam War. They wrote the stories of Vietnam, captured the images and filmed the television coverage of their fellow servicemen on the battlefields from the Mekong Delta in the south to the DMZ in Central Vietnam, from the Tet Offensive in 1968 to the fall of Saigon in 1975.
They were men like Dale Dye, who would go on to play an integral role in the making of Platoon , the first film to realistically portray the Vietnam War; marine Steve Stibbens, the first Stars and Stripes reporter in Vietnam in early 1962; Jim Morris, 1st and 5th Special Forces Group, whose works such as War Story and Fighting Men , recount the soldiering of the Green Berets and their Montagnard counterparts in the Central Highlands of Vietnam; John Del Vecchio, whose classic work of nonfiction, The 13th Valley , mirrors his own existence as a combat correspondent with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam; and U.S. Navy Frogman Chip Maury, renowned for his free fall and underwater photography in Vietnam.
For years, there has been a well-deserved plethora of work by and about those who covered the war as civilians, with this book dedicating four of its chapters to civilian media. There hasn't been enough about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who did so while wearing an American uniform. Yablonka's extensive experience as a military journalist brought him into contact with many of these combat correspondents, giving him a unique insight into their professions and lives. This book honors these brave chroniclers in uniform who brought the Vietnam War home to us.
Marc Phillip Yablonka is a military journalist whose work has appeared in the U.S. Military's Stars and Stripes, Army Times, Vietnam magazine, American Veteran and many others. "Distant War: Recollections of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia", Marc's first book, was published in 2011 by Navigator Books. His second book, "Tears Across the Mekong", about the secret war in Laos, was published in 2016 by Figueroa Press, publihsing house of the University of Southern California. "Dispatches from My Father's War", a conglomeration of articles on World War II, which Marc wrote for various military publications, was published in 2018 by War Stories Press.
Vietnam Bao Chi (Vietnam Military Journalist) looks at an aspect of the war not often discussed. Most historians of the period know about the civilian reporters, many of whom went on to prominent positions in print and television journalism, but few are familiar with their military counterparts. This book brings this chapter to light.
During the Vietnam Conflict the war became not just a military contest but an increasingly desperate effort to maintain the American people’s support for the war effort. As seems to be the nature of long-term/low-level conflicts, support for the Vietnam War became more and more difficult as the years went by, made worse by civilian news reporting which was able to impact U.S. citizens with network TV broadcasts every evening.
But the U.S. military had a tool of its own meant to give the American people an idea of the courage and determination of their fighting men in Vietnam. By this time the United States’ armed forces had formalized a public relations system, a sophisticated capability which was able to create written news stories, frontline still photos of the action, document military operations and even film of combat. Fighting men and women were provided not just military newspapers and magazines but also radio and even television programming. PA Units and staffs were organized to support ongoing operations and each branch of the service had its own Public Affairs specialists, trained at the Armed Forces Information School at Fort Slocum NY or the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison IN, and allowed to go right where the men fighting the war were. What Mr. Yablonka, himself a Vietnam veteran, military journalist and civilian reporter, has done is take several of these Soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines PAs and tell their stories in their own words.
Some had their “brushes with history,” like Mike Boggs and future President George W. Bush, or found themselves in the middle of firefights, like Chris Jensen at Kham Duc. Others saw events unique to the war, such as the return of American POWs to Clark AFB in the Philippines as witnessed by Striper Tom Lincoln, Marvin Wolf met Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky of South Vietnam before meeting John Wayne at Fort Bragg, and Sonny Craven saw for himself the Tet Offensive of 1968… and the way the event was portrayed in the media.
All of the public affairs specialists dealt with the same issues: equipment which dated from WWII, censorship for questionable reasons, organizations which seemed to make little sense. The way the Navy, Army and Air Force all trained and deployed public affairs personnel is evident from the way the story tellers relate their experiences and the problems of shooting film in the high humidity of Vietnam makes itself known in many of the narratives.
Also, it is important to remember that the job of Public Affairs was not to influence but to inform. Frustration is evident in some of the voices Yablonka chose for Vietnam Bao Chi as they discuss the low caliber of many of the civilian reporters sent to Vietnam by media outlets and their clear bias on arriving in-theater. Much of the reporting done by military journalists was ignored in what came to be known as the mainstream media.
However, not all of the public affairs personnel saw the conflict as necessary. Many were antiwar from the beginning or turned against the war in time. Objectivity was clearly hard to find at this volatile period in U.S. history.
One surprising aspect of the book is a lack of photos (in the case of photographers and cameramen) and excerpts from articles (in the case of writers). No doubt the addition of these products would have made the book more interesting in that it could provide the reader with examples of the important work done by individuals. There are photos of the Public Affairs contributors themselves, however.
The most important element of the book is the way it conveys the danger involved in serving as a Public Affairs specialist in Vietnam. While not every Public Affairs job was dangerous, Soldiers, sailors and Marines who served “in the bush” often came under fire, and occasionally the war came to those who served in relatively safe places, which is what happened during Tet. Like their civilian counterparts, several of them saw their comrades killed in action or were wounded themselves. A few were killed in action. If Vietnam Bao Chi tells us nothing else it tells the cost of getting the truth to the world.
This was an extremely interesting read. It is an in-depth compilation of the individual stories of over 30 military photojournalists and writers (Báo Chi, in Vietnamese) across the span of the Vietnam War. The military photojournalists profiled are from all five branches of the United States military. Their combined experiences cover the entire timeline of the Vietnam conflict, from the beginning days of military advisors in the early 1960s up to the technical end of American military involvement and beyond. A glossary is included, essential for a book covering five different military branches during a war that occurred well over 50 years ago. Marc Yablonka is an established author, having written for military and military-related publications, including Stars and Stripes, Army Times, Vietnam magazine, and Soldier of Fortune. He has written three previous books, including two on Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and traveled the region extensively post-war. As our western society has become increasingly averse to any use of force, no matter how justified or necessary to counter existential threats, we will need, more than ever, military journalists that can tell the warrior’s story and capture the factual records of military campaigns. Those chosen for this duty can find no finer example than the Báo Chi of the Vietnam War.