A steady cold drizzle here. Press Camp fairly active. Bedding,
satisfactory. Food, tolerable, if you're the tolerant sort. The trips out to Khe
Sanh through the foggy mountains interesting. Best of all, the phone lines to
Several days after arriving, this reporter left. A diligent Lieutenant
discovered that we had been doing our work on the basis of a Vietnamese press
card instead of a MACV (Military Advisory Command Vietnam) one.
ON VISITING LAOS
Ham Nghi, three Klicks south of Khe Sanh proper, is the site of the
Vietnamese headquarters for the operations in Laos. News people who want to get
into Laos are brought here in US helicopters from Quang Tri. Most, so far,
haven't made it into Laos.
The danger, the often dark skies, the shortage of Vietnamese helicopters
are only part of the reasons why. One of the most important reasons is connected
with a new ruling which has come down all the way from Secretary of Defense
This Laotian affair marks the first time that newsmen are allowed to visit
the scene of important operations only on a specially assigned "Press"
helicopter. On the surface, it seems considerate to make this Press chopper
available every day. In practice, so far, it means you're not likely to get into
Things were different last May and June in Cambodia. You showed up at Press
Headquarters in Tay Ninh. If the Press helicopter had already left, or if there
wasn't any, you waited around for anything on a space available basis. You were
welcome to an empty seat in most anything flying into Cambodia. It was
understood that a newsman, as an adult, took his chances as he saw fit. This
custom also allowed him to avoid press parties (or packs). He was able to get
around and exercise intitiative, enterprise and other things that used to be
associated with good journalism.
One of the subtle effects of the new ruling for Laos has to do with its
creating a certain conflict between the newsmen and the helicopter pilots. These
pilots already have their hands full in flying normal military missions into
Laos. One of the most professional newsmen told me that some pilots don't like
the idea of having to fly a hazardous mission exclusively for the press.
"And I don't really blame them," he said.
The new ruling for Laos might conceivably keep some correspondents from
getting themselves killed, as well as from getting first-hand information. On
the other hand, forcing them to travel only in relatively large groups could
contribute to increasing the media fatalities. If the helicopter is hit, you may
lose a lot of people all at once. That's what happened in February when four,
including famed (LIFE Magazine) photographer Larry Burrows, all went down in
Luckily it didn't happen on March 12 when a US helicopter took three bullet
holes over Landing Zone Lolo in Laos. The chopper turned back and was able to
land safely in Quang Tri. It was carrying six civilian correspondents.