David Halberstam: Reporters remember him in Vietnam





In the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 23, 1963, Associated Press photographer Horst Faas gathered his gear, left his house in Saigon and climbed aboard a U.S. Army helicopter, one of a fleet carrying hundreds of South Vietnamese troops on a combat operation in the Mekong Delta.

He didn’t bother to wake David Halberstam, the tall, rangy New York Times reporter with whom Faas shared the villa, and who was the acknowledged leader of the small foreign press corps covering the early stages of the Vietnam War. Halberstam died Monday from injuries sustained in an auto accident.

The times were tense during the war, with reporters being accused of disloyalty — and worse — for writing about corrupt Saigon officials, incompetent, self-deluding Americans, and South Vietnamese forces that couldn’t defeat the communist Viet Cong insurgents controlling the countryside.
Just three weeks earlier, Halberstam and his colleagues had covered their biggest story yet — a military coup in which President Ngo Dinh Diem had been overthrown and murdered, along with his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, the much-reviled head of Saigon’s secret police.

Even before that event, acrimony ran so deep that in October, President John F. Kennedy had asked the Times to transfer Halberstam out of Vietnam. The newspaper not only refused but canceled a planned leave by Halberstam to dispel any implication that it would bow to pressure from Washington.

All was routine on this morning sortie into the Delta, Faas recalled, until the pilot of his helicopter told his passengers by intercom that the operation was being aborted. “We have just been told that President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas,” the pilot said.

The long line of choppers reversed course and headed back to Saigon.

“When I got back to the villa, David was still asleep. I woke him up and told him about Kennedy being killed. At first, he didn’t believe it. Then he cried,” Faas recalled on Tuesday, after learning that his friend had been killed in a car crash in Menlo Park, Calif....

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