If you were only to read The New York Times one day out of the year, I’d nominate the last Sunday of December as the day to go out and pick up a copy. That’s the day the Times Magazine publishes its “The Lives They Lived Issue,” which marks the passing of notable and remarkable persons over the last year.
The final piece in today’s issue is titled, “The Combatant.” It’s a short remembrance of David Halberstam by Neil Sheehan, who was, like his subject, one of the great journalists of the Vietnam War. And by that I mean: they were among those who fought hardest to penetrate the veil of misinformation, myths and outright lies that were standard issue from the Pentagon and White House to explain what we were doing in Vietnam during the war’s early years.
Here’s how Sheehan wraps up:
“Some months into our partnership, after the Diem regime provoked the Buddhist monks into rebellion, the government began to censor so aggressively that nothing meaningful could get through the cable office. We resorted to sending our dispatches out with sympathetic pilots and flight attendants on planes passing through Saigon’s airport, with instructions to call the U.P.I. office at their next destination for a pickup. One night we were so wrung out from days of covering demonstrations, dodging police batons and choking on tear gas that we kept dozing over our typewriters. We considered giving in to our exhaustion for a few hours of sleep, but if we did we might not finish our reports in time for the first plane in the morning. “A reporter doesn’t have a right to be tired,” David finally said, ending the discussion. Our dispatches went out on the morning flight.”
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