Friday, December 7, 2012

Ed Bradley's Vietnam

ED BRADLEY (1941-2006)

Q. . . . I was going over the manifest of the Blue Ridge seeing who landed on it when you came out on the 29th. You had quite a crew. I have George Lewis, Phil McCombs, Nick Profitt, Roy Rowan, Bob Simon , and Dick Threlkjeld for some reason was taken to the Hancock. I can never quite figure out the rationale of all of that.
What I wanted to ask you about was your last days in Saigon. There were not that many newsmen who remained to the very end. Usually when they did, they did not have very pleasant experiences getting out. Could you describe for me when your last assignment started. I saw the tape of the story you did from Cambodia, the two soldiers, the one who stepped on the mine and was killed and then his friend who was hit in the face -- and then I didn't see any videotapes that you did after that or any reports.

A. I think you should probably get the tape from the last day.

Q. But I thought that was Bob Simon.

A. We all went out together on the helicopters. I was the first one off the aircraft carrier to Manila. And the first reports that were done by anyone who was there and got out with film were the reports I did that morning.

Q. Brian Ellis was bureau chief in Hong Kong and I know he started getting out some of the Vietnamese dependents and employees about mid-month. How was it decided about the time of President Thieu who would stay and who would go? Did you volunteer to stay after the 21st?

A. Oh, yeah, it was all volunteer. Nobody was forced to stay. I was in Cambodia for most of it.

Q. Were you inside the perimeter in Phnom Penh?

Yes. I came out on the helicopters.

Q. Were you with Sidney Schonberg?

I saw Sidney at the embassy that morning. Sidney said he was going to stay and we had been ordered out.

Q. So were you reluctant to leave at that time. Were you curious about staying with some of the others or not, in Phnom Penh?

I had mixed emotions about it. I didn't see any reason to leave Cambodia. I didn't have any fear or anything. Quite contrasting feelings between Vietnam and Cambodia. Faced with the same situation in Vietnam I was concerned for my safety.

Q. Why would that be?

Because two days before the evacuation a South Vietnamese soldier put a gun to my cameramans head and pulled the trigger and the gun misfired.

Q. That was Mike Merriot. He descried that for me. He said that was the event that made him decide to not stay.

A. Up to that point we had made arrangements to stay in Vietnam and I had made contact with the Viet Cong. We had lived with the Viet Cong for about a month a year or so before that. Mike Merriott and I had. And we made contact with the people we knew who were Viet Cong and asked two things, one, "Can you tell us where there is a safe house in town, so we can stay." And two, "If that doesn't work, is there some place we can rendezvous outside of Saigon and enter Saigon with your troops?" And he said that would take too long to arrange and the fall of the city was imminent and he basically said, "Mr. Bradley, you have nothing to fear from us."

I said, "Look, I realize I have nothing to fear from you. It's not you I'm concerned about, it's the South Vietnamese I'm concerned about." And I related what had happened that day when what had happened was that a plane flew too close to the palace on an approach to the airport-- a South Vietnamese plane -- and the anti-aircraft gunners at the palace freaked and thought it was a captured South Vietnamese plane getting ready to attack the palace.

Q. This was after the plane that bombed the palace?


They started shooting. Well, everybody in Saigon has a gun. There was shooting all over the city and all of the Vietnamese staffers, cameramen, sound men and all had left the country, so Mike ran out with a camera and I grabbed the amplifier. We had a system where you had to plug the amplifier into the camera. So I ran out and worked the sound. We went up Tu Do Street and saw this guy just beating this woman for no reason -- a captain. It was one of the corner restaurant buildings that had big plate glass windows on each side. So we could see him around the corner through the two glass windows. And he saw us and ran around the corner and came up to us and pointed the gun at Mike and pulled the trigger. I'm standing next to Mike and it misfired. He came up and hit him with the butt and Mike and I turned and just ran down the street. There was a telephone pole there and we split the cord as I ran on one side and he the other, and we dove into a door there, any minute expecting to get shot.

Q. What goes through your head at times like this. You guys are not soldiers. Do you ever think of throwing down the camera and running for your life? You said you still carried the equipment. It sounds like you were good news men and at the same time concerned about your personal safety.

A. Well that's just kind of second nature. I think it was probably faster to run with it than to throw it down.

Q. Is that the only event like that? I know when Ken Kashiwahara came out he said he was afraid his helicopter would get shot by South Vietnamese troops.

A. We were too, the last day. I did two or three pieces. I did a pool report for all the networks on the morning and then I did a long piece with Hughes Rudd on the morning news, and then a five-minute talk with Hughes. And then I did another piece that evening on the evening news with Walter Cronkite. I think Dan Rather was substituting that night for Walter. Those pieces will give you the full story of what happened.

Briefly, we went to the airport as we were supposed to, and they shot at us at the gate.

Q. Mike said he walked over to the airport. Is that right?

No, he couldn't have walked to there.

Q. So you went to one of the evacuation points and got on a bus.

Right. We went -- it was crazy. We had been told to listen to Armed Forces Radio and they were playing Muzak and when the evacuation was going to happen, you would hear an announcer break into the Muzak and say, "It's a hundred degrees in Saigon and the temperature's rising." And then he would play Bing Crosby's White Christmas. This was in April. That just shows you the mentality. Nobody played White Christmas, but we looked out the window and saw people walking with suitcases -- round-eyes. So we knew the evacuation was on. So we called the information officer at the embassy and he said to go to the nearest evacuation point.

We went to the nearest evacuation point and there was no one there. We went to the second one and there was no one there. Couldn't get into the building. Went to the third one and at that point there was panic, because the Vietnamese in Saigon see round-eyes walking around with suitcases and they know it's time for the Americans to leave, so all the Vietnamese who want out start following the Americans and other round-eyes. When we got to the third evacuation point and people were getting to march off again to a fourth, I said, "Look obviously this thing is not organized. Let's just wait here. And eventually a bus will get here. Somebody will come open this door so we can get in." It was a school on Gia Long Street.

You've got maybe twenty, thirty, forty people and a crowd's gathering. You get up to a hundred, hundred-fifty, two hundred people. And finally after about an hour a bus came and we kind of in an orderly fashion tried to organize to put people on these buses. I got two or three buses out and then I got on a bus and that's when we went to the airport and they shot at us. Then we went to a place down by the port which was across from the a well-known Restaurant, and they said that -- you could see the helicopters flying overhead. I don't know how high they were, five or ten thousand feet. And they said the helicopters are going to land. We've got five or ten thousand Vietnamese at this port, some of them jumping off trying to get on the boats. All of this is in this footage I'm talking about. Some making it, some falling into the river. I said to the bus driver, "You going to leave us here like this? And you think these helicopters are going to land among all these Vietnamese who would like to leave the country. And you have no security at all and you think they are going to stand and watch us walk onto those helicopters and fly away and leave them behind? You are crazy. You put all these people back on the bus and take us somewhere else. The helicopters aren't going to land."

Q. This was an embassy person driving the bus?

A. I don't know. Boy he was a jerk. He didn't have keys to the bus, he had to hot-wire it. The mentality of this thing -- the guy who was running the evacuation was called the wagon master.

The driver had to hot wire the bus because he couldn't find the keys. Plus he wasn't a bus driver and he'd stall out a lot. And every time the bus would stall we'd have to jump it again, cross the wires.

Q. So various buses got separated on the way to Tan Son Nhut?

A. Years ago they had cut down all of these trees in Saigon so these convoys could get through. Do you think this guy goes on those wide streets? Uh uh. He takes the smallest streets he can find. And you had all these restaurants in Saigon that were just street corner soup stalls, no more than somebody sitting on the curb with a pot and a fire and a canvas cover and that was a restaurant -- with a stool. He turned the corner with this bus and wiped out two or three restaurants.

Q. This sounds like the same bus that Ken Kashiwahara was on.

It could be. I can't remember who was on.

Q. Your bus didn't run over the baby down at the port, did it?


Q. That was Kashiwahara then. His driver actually ran over an infant in the street. And he just went crazy on his bus then. They had gone to the port also.
The bus was going to wait at the port also?

A. No. He was going to drop us off and then he was leaving.

Q. Did he get off a Tan Son Nhut? Some drivers got off and the guards shot at their feet. Or did they actually shoot at your bus?

They shot over your head.

Q. Had you gotten off the bus already?

We were off the bus. Got back on the bus, and "Bye." We'll find another way out.

We spent seven hours that day trying to get out of Vietnam.

Q. Did the Vietnamese at the port try to get on your bus when you left?

I begged people -- there were Vietnamese on the bus. And I begged them not to get off. I said, "Look nobody's got ID. You are on the bus now. Stay." And I remember one guy got off with his family. I'll never forget this as long as I live. The bus was pulling out, the guy was running along and he had a suitcase and was trying to hold his wife's hand and two little kids behind trying to hold her hand, and people were running along beside him taking the guy's watch, hacking at the suitcase, and they just never made it. I can see the terror in that guy's face to this day.

Q. Eventually where did you end up?

Eventually we ended up in the parking lot across the street from the embassy. Kais Beech called somebody in the embassy and they told us to come to the back. We ended up going -- to get I guess a distance of ten yards took about an hour to fight your way over the wall.

Q. You had to climb over the white wall, is that right? And there were Marine guards on top?

Uh huh. At one point I was with Keith Kay, a cameraman, and he was shooting, and I said it was time to stop taking pictures and get over the wall. When I got inside I saw them burning all this money. There was this big oil can full of twenty dollar bills.

Q. It was packed inside also I assume?

There was one guy who had an arm ful of money, about three or four feet long, all wrapped and tied up, and I said, "Are you going to burn that too?" And he said, no, it was too slow, they had to shred it.

Q. This sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I know it's not laughable, but it sounds like it. It sounds like the whole world was crazy.

Yes, it was.

Q. Once inside the embassy -- ABC threw film over the wall and lost it on the way in. But you had film from that day. Were you carrying it yourself?

Keith had some, I had some.

Q. There was a long wait inside, wasn't there?


Q. The radio radio broadcast was about nine in the morning, so this was late in the afternoon.

Yeah, most of that time was spent driving around trying to find a way out.

Q. It was a hot day, too, wasn't it?


Q. What happenes then getting out? I know Kashiwahara was on an overloaded helicopter and crash landed three times before it eventually took off. Where did you take off from?

I went off from the roof. Once you got up there is was okay.

Q. How about lifting out over the city. Did you get a chance to look?

I could see fires, and I could see the lights. It was dark by then.

Q. Did it look like a battle zone?

Well, no, really it didn't look like a battle zone. You could see the fires burning in different parts of the city and outside of the city. But it was kind of surreal. "It's all come to this."

Q. I guess Martin doesn't leave until about one in the morning. Did you see him inside the embassy?

No. The first time I saw him was on the carrier.

Q. When you went out over Vung Tau, was that a battle zone also?

I don't remember.

Q. No worry about SAMs on the way out?


Q. So you came to the Blue Ridge. Did you see Ky come in the next morning?

No, I never saw Ky. I'm trying to get off.

The guy who was the information officer, Patty something, had been the information officer on the Cambodian evacuation and I knew him. And we'd also gone to the same high school in Philadelphia. Although about ten years apart. He was older than I was. And he said he had one seat on a helicopter and we'd have to draw lots to see who would go out and carry everybody's material. And I just pulled him aside and said, "If I don't win the lottery, you got two seats. I've got to get out of here." And he said he'd see what he could work out.

We had the lottery and CBS won the lottery. So I was going, and I said, "Listen, there's only one seat."

Q. From the Blue Ridge you had to go to another ship to catch a plane?

Right. We went off the Coral Sea.

Q. In those last couple of days, did you ever have the feeling, or was there a feeling in the city among the newsmen that there would be a settlement, that Minh or Hoang??? would make a settlement, that there would be a partition and it would all end, or did you have a feeling --

My sense always was that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were coming into the city. It was just a matter of time.

Q. Did you ever expect American B52s to come like the cavalry at the end?


Q. How about the organization of Frequent Wind?

There was no organization. Listen to the story about White Christmas, the "wagon master", the helicopters, the port, the airport -- there was no organization. It was chaos.

Q. Martin came back and appeared before Congress and talked about how great it all was because they only left two hundred and twenty-four people in the embassy compound. Did you have a feeling when you left that everybody in that compound wasn't going to make it out?

A lot of them weren't going to make it out. Because they didn't have that much time. At this point all of the defenses in the city are gone. Because everybody is trying to get out. So who's going to stop the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong from entering the city? The defenses? Hell, they're trying to get out.

Q. Nobody seems to be sure that there was an agreement that they would let us out. Mike Marriot hinted there might have been an agreement with the Swiss, through the Swiss government to let the evacuation of the Americans take place. But nobody can say really for sure about that.


Q. In the couple of days before Marriott got shot at, did you think of leaving the city and going out, say, around Xuan Loc and --

We were trying, but that's really dicey. You don't walk out into a main force unit with no advance preparation. That's how you get killed. At this point the war is over. It's not time to be crazy. That's why Mike and I were trying to contact the people we knew in the Viet Cong, to make arrangements to go outside the city to meet with them.

Q. I’m assuming the Viet Cong you knew were in the ICCS at Tan Son Nhut.

Right. They had contacts with these people. There were people all over the city. All they had to do was say, "Hey, go here."

Q. In looking back, at that time it doesn't sound like you considered it to be any betrayal of trust, or anything like that, that you consider it to be historical forces. Am I right or wrong?

It was something that was bound to happen. Two years or a year and a half before that when I lived with the Viet Cong I met a guy who spoke excellent French and that's how we communicated. And he said to me, "You know, I've been fighting for twenty-five years. Before you we fought the French and now we're fighting the Americans, and we will continue to fight, and we will win. It may not happen in my lifetime, but we will win." And I never saw that kind of determination and dedication on the other side. I never saw that kind of determination and dedication by the South Vietnamese fighting forces.

Q. But that's exactly what Ky told me down at his house. He said, "We will win. I'll be in Saigon before I die."

I was out at Bien Hoa when they turned tail and ran. Peter Green and I were out there at Bien Hoa, when I saw the whole command come out in a caravan and leave all the people there behind. The entire leadership of the South Vietnamese high command at Bien Hoa, generals and all, turned tail and ran. Now these are the guys that are going to be back in Saigon?

Q. The stories contrast so much. It's difficult to look these people in the eye and say "You're full of it."
In your career is that still with you? Or was that just an episode?

That's like being at Waterloo, for my period. That's something that's so historical. The United States -- we as a people -- have not recovered from Vietnam. The Vietnamese have not recovered from Vietnam. The Cambodians have not recovered from Vietnam. What else in my lifetime have I witnessed personally that is as gigantic as all that? I lived through that. I was evacuated from Cambodia. I was evacuated from Vietnam. I went to Laos and saw it coming there, and said "Gee, I think I'd like to leave on a fixed wing aircraft. I'm tired of helicopters."

Q. Now it's ten years down the line, and to me it seems there's more interest in the trivia of today than there is in the collapse of Indochina to the communists. I'm having trouble trying to grasp a metaphor to tell people who have come of age in the past ten years and started college, exactly what it all means. How many lives were uprooted and shattered and lost and the timelessness of the tragedy. When you talk to your children, for example, how do you approach this?

I don't have any children.

Q. What phrase would you use -- you said you were at Waterloo. Is that the proper metaphor?

It's a tragedy. That's what it was. We sent good people there on what some politicians thought was a noble mission. And we lied to ourselves, to the people who were there, the soldiers who had to fight the war. We lied to them all along. We lied to the people in this country. That's tragic.

Q. One phrase from the chief of personnel at DAO, he said, "God damn press never knew from beginning to end what was going on over there." And he said, "When I saw the videotapes of the commentaries on Tet, I gave up." Now he's probably CIA. He's in Egypt today and just came back from Uruguay. But I find that particularly with the Westmoreland trial going on it is a real popular sentiment. You guys never quite got it.

The whole thing is, this is the first time there was a war like that. World War I and World War II, we were the good guys. The Korean war we were the good guys. This is the first time we really weren't the good guys. And when reporters reported, wrote, broadcast what they saw, people were saying "Hey, go along with the program guys. Get on board. Show the company line." Well that's bullshit.

Q. Did you ever feel limited in the medium itself? Did you feel limited by being on television rather than in print?

I stayed away from the American military. I stayed away from American CIA, from intelligence people. I'd rather go out in the field and find soldiers to find out what the hell is going on. And tell my story based on the eyes of that one soldier. It's like the guy in Cambodia, I don't need to talk to a general. I don't need to talk to a briefing officer. Let me show you what happened to these two guys. That's one day in the war.

Q. Michael Arlen says about tv that that's fine, but what you are doing is tantamount to a child looking through a keyhole into a room with people walking around inside and he sees them walking back and forth. What he sees is really happening, but he's not really looking at what we would call the "truth". You really do believe that the little stories add up to the big story. A lot of people wouldn't.

I do believe that. I believe that anything is a compilation of all the little stories, everybody's story.

Q. I was looking at Morley Safer's report from Cam Ney??? the other day and something funny struck me. I'm always looking at the visual images that you guys put on, the pictures, and I guess I should pay more attention to the narrative. Morley Safer at the beginning of the report is real excited and he says, "This is what the war in Vietnam is all about." And that struck me just about a week ago, because for the first time I thought, "Now wait a minute Morley, this is not what the war in Vietnam was all about." And I know he was doing a great job and that piece of tape was really provocative and controversial, but you think the newsmen knew as much as anybody about what was happening? Because the military thought they really knew.

Yes, because I think what happened, I think we didn't know what was happening maybe at the very top ranks. We didn't know the secrets, some of them, but we had a better idea of what was happening with the grunt in the field because we were with the grunt in the field. And by the time it filtered from the grunt up to the high command it was just one lie after another. The lies, the body counts, I mean lying just went with being in Vietnam.

Q. Was there a point when you made a turnaround from being on the team?

I was never on the team. I didn't go there as a member of the team. I went there as an observer.

Q. When did you first go?


Q. So you went relatively late then.

I was there in September of '72. Westmoreland had said there was liaght at the end of the tunnel. Three years later I was still getting shot at.

Q. The intelligence officer for ARVN, Colonel Vu Van Loc said he was in boat going down the river on the morning of the 30th and he went by the light tower at Vung Tau and there were Viet Cong mortars around it shelling them and he thought rather humorously that that was the light at the end of the tunnel. That was one of the worst metaphors that Westmoreland or anybody ever came up with.

Q. Have you been back since then? Or will you be going back?

I don't think so. I've been trying to go back to Cambodia and I can't get a visa.

Q. I read in the New York Times they've invited all the newsmen back for a big show on the 30th.
Had you been in the service before?


Q. What college did you go to?

Cheyney State College

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