Death Zones and Darling Spies
Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting
Publication Year: 2013
In 1961, equipped with a master’s degree from famed Columbia Journalism School and letters of introduction to Associated Press bureau chiefs in Asia, twenty-six-year-old Beverly Deepe set off on a trip around the world. Allotting just two weeks to South Vietnam, she was still there seven years later, having then earned the distinction of being the longest-serving American correspondent covering the Vietnam War and garnering a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
In Death Zones and Darling Spies, Beverly Deepe Keever describes what it was like for a farm girl from Nebraska to find herself halfway around the world, trying to make sense of one of the nation’s bloodiest and bitterest wars. She arrived in Saigon as Vietnam’s war entered a new phase and American helicopter units and provincial advisers were unpacking. She tells of traveling from her Saigon apartment to jungles where Wild West–styled forts first dotted Vietnam’s borders and where, seven years later, they fell like dominoes from communist-led attacks. In 1965 she braved elephant grass with American combat units armed with unparalleled technology to observe their valor—and their inability to distinguish friendly farmers from hide-and-seek guerrillas.
Keever’s trove of tissue-thin memos to editors, along with published and unpublished dispatches for New York and London media, provide the reader with you-are-there descriptions of Buddhist demonstrations and turning-point coups as well as phony ones. Two Vietnamese interpreters, self-described as “darling spies,” helped her decode Vietnam’s shadow world and subterranean war. These memoirs, at once personal and panoramic, chronicle the horrors of war and a rise and decline of American power and prestige.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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November 8, 1960. Brisk gusts descended with the twilight hour as Sam Lubell and I entered Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhatt an, headed for the news studio of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). We were geared up to assess the soon-to-arrive ballots cast in the presidential election between Democrats Senator...
Introduction: From Midwest Dustbowlto Mystical Vietnam
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The farmhouse still had that lived-in look, although it had been uninhabited for eleven years. All the windows in the house were intact, adorned with stiffly starched, sand-colored curtains. At the beginning of the graveled driveway leading to the house stood a red metal mailbox holding a crimped-up...
1. The People’s War
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The two-ton truck jostled me from side to side as it lumbered down the cinnamon-colored road, swooshing puff s of dust through the window and engulfing the armed escort vehicles behind us. The daredevil Vietnamese military driver and I were headed toward D-Zone, a vast jungled area controlled for decades by the...
2. Rice-Roots Reporting
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A rice farmer grumbles that he is too afraid to leave his home in a government- held zone in the Mekong Delta and cross over to his paddy land controlled by the Viet Cong. A riverboat peddler of rice, fruit, and textiles grimaces that the war has reduced the waterways that he can safely travel to earn his living. A saintly looking villager tells me people in his Dong Nhi hamlet...
3. “The World’s First Helicopter War
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The first American helicopter unit started moving into the Mekong Delta on April 9, 1962, and I went to visit it soon afterward. I was eager to cover the first contact between these newcomers and the delta’s population. To arrange the visit, I met with the commander of Marine Squadron 362, Col. John Franklin Carey, a forty-six-year-old...
4. The Rise and Fall of Frontier Forts
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I thought I was seeing the filming of a cowboys-and-Indians movie. As the helicopter circled, I saw below me a bit of the old frontier days of the American Wild West. Th e large wooden fort with gun ports and log cabins were not, however, in Hollywood. It was April 1962, and these structures at Kham Duc were for real, in...
5. Two Ill-Fated Presidents
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My trip to Laos in April 1963 was eventful in an unexpected way — my eyes and skin turned jaundiced from infectious hepatitis, probably caused by consuming contaminated food or water. Just aft er returning from the deserted Plain of Jars, I cabled Newsweek’s senior editor that I was “two shades lighter than a lemon.” Back in Saigon...
6. “The United States Will Lose Southeast Asia”
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The coup d’état that toppled the Diem government trickled down to affect me personally and professionally. Aft er filing my dispatches to Newsweek, I rushed to my apartment-office, only blocks from the battered Gia Long Palace, and spotted Vietnamese coming down the stairs toting stuff from my place. Upon reaching the second floor...
7. Americanizing the War
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I visited the provincial capital and military headquarters at Pleiku shortly aft er Communists forces had unleashed a three-pronged attack along nearby Route 19, 250 miles north of Saigon. Fierce fighting ensued for five hours before allied forces beat back the onslaught. “Th is is the closest thing to Korea I’ve ever seen,” a U.S. advisor...
8. Her Story as History Too
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Nguyen Th i Bay saw the fl ames and smoke leaping skyward from her family home as she approached, paddling her sampan aft er visiting a relative. She ran toward the house to salvage belongings; instead, she found her elder brother with blood gushing from his head and her twelve-year-old brother with a gashed-up...
9. “Destroy the Town to Save It”
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In mid-1966 I trudged alongside marines conducting Operation Has tings, one of the biggest of the war up till then, as they met stiff resistance with North Vietnam’s heavily armed 324b Division, which had infiltrated across the Demilitarized Zone. I was making notes and interviews for gathering non-deadline-type...
10. From Khe Sanh to the “Virtual Equivalent of Treason”
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March 1, 1968, 12:45 p.m. I was grouped with two other journalists in the austere office of the Danang military airport, “where everyone gives us a briefing on what to do.” I jotted down those words in my notebook because the Khe Sanh Combat Base was being mortared “all the time” with three or four hundred...
11. Two “Darling Spies” and I
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January 1969. It was an upbeat time when Pham Xuan An and his family waved good-bye to me as I boarded a plane to leave Vietnam. They had given me a gorgeous, embroidered linen tablecloth as a present for my wedding, only six weeks away. I fully expected to see An and his family again...
Appendix 1: Author’s Vietnam Articles in U.S. Publications
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Appendix 2: Author’s 1966 New York Herald Tribune Series (Inserted into the Congressional Record by Senator Mike Mansfield)
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Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 30 illustrations, 1 map, 1 appendix
Publication Year: 2013