H.D.S. (David) Greenway’s new memoir, Foreign Correspondent (Simon & Schuster, 304 pp., $26), looks at the nearly forty years he spent reporting for Time magazine, The Washington Post , and the Boston Globe from ninety-six foreign countries. That includes Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the American War.
Greenway arrived in Saigon in 1967 where “life was pleasant and safe enough for the moment.” That soon changed drastically with the 1968 Tet Offensive. In February Greenway hustled off to Hue to cover the action. At at one dicey point he wound up picking up an M-16 and firing at the enemy.
Soon thereafter, he was hit by rocket-propelled grenade fragments as he, two other civilian journalists (Charlie Mohr of The New York Times and Al Webb of UPI), and Marine combat correspondent Steve Bernston carried a severely wounded Marine out from under enemy fire. The Marine Corps later awarded the three civilians—Mohr, Webb, and Greenway—and Sgt. Bernston the Bronze Star for their courage under fire.
You would expect an experienced journalist to present a well-written memoir. Greenway comes through on that score. His writing is crisp and his insights are often telling. That includes this assessment of the Vietnam War:
America “came to save the Vietnamese from Communism, not exploit them economically as the French, and there were many, especially among the propertied classes, who feared Communism and appreciated our effort. As for the peasantry in the countryside, they just wanted to be left alone.”
And this on the American military’s handling of corespondents: “The U.S. military was always upbeat, and if you stayed in Saigon you might think the war was being won. If there was one trait that trumped all the others during the long war, it was American self-delusion. As Sebastian Junger would later write about Afghanistan, it wasn’t as if American officials were actually lying to you about the progress of the war. They were just inviting you to join in a conspiracy of wishful thinking.”
Greenway also gives us a good deal about his fellow correspondents in Vietnam, including Michael Herr, Gloria Emerson, David Halberstam, Dick Swanson, R.W. Apple, and Stanley Karnow. He writes about hanging out with the photographers Sean Flynn and Dana Stone in Cambodia in April 1970, days before they rode their motorbikes toward Khmer Rouge positions and were never seen again.