Marc Phillip Yablonka. Casemate, $32.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-61200-687-1
Release date: 11/01/2018
REVIEW FROM SOLDIER MAGAZINE, Publication of The British Army
The combat reporters who covered the Vietnam War for the US Armed Forces have rarely had the exposure of their counterparts in the civilian media – but this collection of biographies redresses the balance. Yablonka presents a vivid snapshot of some 35 military correspondents responsible for telling the soldier’s story, often facing a ruthless and determined enemy. The pen portraits brings the Bao Chi – the Vietnamese phrase for journalist – to life, with the author’s accessible style making this a decent read. With a section for each personality, it is also very easy to pick up and put down.
Published in the February 2019 Issue
REVIEW FROM PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Journalist Yablonka (Distant War) fills a void with this valuable collection of profiles of 35 American military journalists of varied sorts who plied their trade during the Vietnam War. Some, including former Marines Dale Dye and Bob Bayer, Green Beret Jim Morris, Army combat correspondent Marvin Wolf, and combat photographer Dick Durrance, went on to notable careers as civilian journalists, writers, and photographers. Others such as Frank Lepore stayed in the military. All of the former military correspondents, photographers, and TV and documentary cameramen and directors go into depth about day-to-day details of their war work. Some offer their opinions about what civilian war correspondents do: Sonny Craven, an Army radio-TV-motion picture officer, for example, is highly critical of “hot dog” civilian reporters trying to make a name for themselves in the war zone, but Lepore, who served in the same position, characterizes his interactions with civilian press members as “congenial,” since both groups of journalists “had to get to the action to record it.” Yablonka pays tribute to three of the civilians—photographers Eddie Adams, Catherine Leroy, and Nick Ut. This work shines light on the all-but-forgotten role of American military báo chí (press in Vietnamese) and fleshes out the history of Vietnam War journalism and journalists. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/29/2018
REVIEW FROM THE VVA VETERAN, Magazine of The Vietnam Veterans of America
Most Vietnam War histories on the broadcast media focus on, and critique, civilian coverage of the war. TV television coverage brought the war into America’s living rooms and many believe turned public opinion against the war. President Johnson hated most coverage, at one point saying that it was as if CBS and NBC were “controlled by the Viet Cong.”
Journalist and author Marc Phillip Yablonka’s Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film (Casemate, 320 pp., $32.95, hardcover; $11.99, Kindle) provides a different point of view. Yablonka tells the stories of more than thirty Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine military correspondents, photographers, and TV and documentary cameramen and directors who covered the war for Stars & Stripes and various military media.
Marines, as Yablonka shows, were warriors first and reporters or photographers second. In one case, Yablonka writes of a Marine cameraman, as the next most senior in rank, picking up his M-14 and calling in an airstrike after his lieutenant and sergeant were severely wounded. In another, a Marine journalist captured six Viet Cong.
Loosely translated,“Bao Chi” is Vietnamese for journalist. But the men Yablonka writes about covered the war more viscerally, with emotional perspective cast in terms like bravery, courage, honor, and loyalty. The Marine cameraman who took command declares, for example:
“I was with the finest company of those Marines and Navy corpsman and thank them for giving me the rare privilege to bear witness to their efforts and sacrifices. I wish all the images in my mind could be reproduced because they are far more exceptional than the images I captured on film.”
Each chapter deals with a different person’s experiences in the war. To some degree the chapters are repetitious. At the same time, a reader can pick and choose among chapters, drawn in by titles such as “Rockin’ and Rollin’ with the Montagnards” and “From Hot Rod Comics and Hemingway…to Vietnam.”
Military abbreviations and jargon pepper the text; the glossary is seven-pages long. Some veterans may find the terms nostalgic; civilian readers may find themselves regularly referring to that glossary.
Some chapters recount the war’s “surreal” moments.” In one case, ten Marines on a roof watch flashes in the distance as rockets fall on Da Nang’s airbase, excited by “the fireworks show.” They sit in beach chairs and drink beer. Then someone yells out: “Get naked.” So they did.
Another time, after a firefight, a lieutenant had his unit call out their last names to determine if anyone had been killed. One guy didn’t answer. After a frantic search, he was found behind a boulder—calmly eating C-ration fruit cocktail.
Vietnam Bao Chi isn’t for everyone because of its repetition and level of detail. But that was the mission of military correspondents: to provide context and details that arguably escaped recognition by civilian reporters. The book’s perspective may be unique among the number of books written about the Vietnam War.
Posted on 02/19/2019
REVIEW FROM THE VHPA AVIATOR, Magazine of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association
This is a book about men who, when bullets are flying stick their heads up to take pictures or make notes so they can tell the story when the rest of us want to take cover. They were there to record history, not make it even though they had to use their rifles. Vietnam Bao Chi is the story of thirty-plus Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard correspondents who were sent to Vietnam to record the war. Who knew? They didn’t work for TV networks or major publications, instead they were one of us. Many were officers, most were enlisted men. All were sent to Vietnam to accurately record what they saw – the bravery, the conditions, the humor and what we did without providing commentary. Many were wounded and some were killed. The book starts with Marine captain Dale Dye, more known for his work in the film industry than as a correspondent. Their stories will make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same story as they did their level best to record what they saw in Vietnam. This is their story and Yablonka does a great job of telling it. Vietnam Bao Chi is a great read about men who did double duty. I highly recommend it to everyone!
Published in May/June 2019 Issue
REVIEW IN THE BURBANK LEADER NEWSPAPER
There have been many books documenting the events that occurred during the Vietnam War, but Burbank author Marc Yablonka wanted to tell stories about the war through a different lens.
Yablonka’s latest book, “Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film,” is a collection of stories and interviews from military correspondents — not civilian reporters but rather the servicemen who were enlisted in U.S. military branches — during the war.
Yablonka, a journalist who has written for several military and traditional publications, said there has been a plethora of books written by traditional reporters who covered the Vietnam War.
However, he slowly learned about the dozens of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who had to report on what was happening, as well as fight in the war.
“Yes, they covered the horrors of the war — they were in the midst of it — but I think the ultimate mission was to show the good that our troops were doing and the braveness [with] which they did it,” Yablonka said. “They were right in the thick of it [at] the same time they were writing the stories or taking the photographs in the midst of it. They had many points where they had to make a decision on whether to shoot with their camera or shoot with their gun.”
One military correspondent he interviewed for his book was Marvin Wolf, a public information officer for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade of the U.S. Army.
Yablonka said Wolf was traveling with his unit through An Khe and was left behind for a day after a battle.
Wolf sought refuge in the surrounding jungle and stayed up in the trees. During the night, Wolf heard the footsteps of Viet Cong guerrillas moving through the area.
When Wolf returned home, many people asked him what it was like in Vietnam and the battles in which he fought.
“Many of the guys who came back from Vietnam were often prodded, and what Marv told me was ‘I shot hundreds, usually at F11 [1/]250,’” Yablonka said, referring to Wolf’s camera settings.
Similar to civilian reporters, Yablonka said the military reporters had to earn the trust of their fellow servicemen. Once they did, they were open to talking about their thoughts about the war.
“These guys were humping the boonies, and they didn’t know what tomorrow would bring,” Yablonka said. “So when the combat correspondent took out their pad and pen to write a [story], I think many of these guys, not knowing what tomorrow would bring, were happy to submit to an interview.”
He added, “They felt special and hoped that their family would be able to read about them in the newspaper. The thought of being immortalized was an enticement to them.”
Yablonka is scheduled to attend a Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. on May 27 at McCambridge Park, 1515 N Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, where he will be selling and signing copies of his book. Portions of his proceeds will be donated to the Burbank Veterans Committee.
Anthony Clark Carpio
Posted and published May 14th, 2019
REVIEW IN THE EPOCH TIMES NEWSPAPER
The adage that experience is the best teacher has a profound meaning for Southern Californian Marc Phillip Yablonka, who found his passion for writing by accident.
The military journalist, author, and retired educator came across this lesson at the start of his unexpected 36-year run as an instructor of ESL (English as a second language) in adult education with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Now retired from teaching, he reflects on his initiation to classroom teaching, something no amount of schooling had prepared him for.
A day after he observed an ESL class at Evans Community Adult School on the outskirts of Chinatown in Los Angeles, the relatively fresh college grad with no training in pedagogy was asked by the school principal if he wanted his own class.
“Uh, uh, okay,” Yablonka said. The butterflies in his stomach were understandable considering that in 1976, ESL was a field scarcely heard of, nor were there many qualified people to teach it. College programs had not yet invented disciplines like TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
The school district, its back in a corner, needed degree-holding candidates in any discipline with at least twenty units of credit in English. Yablonka’s bachelor’s in English literature satisfied the condition. His role would be to facilitate the language needs and overall cultural acclimation of the influx of Indochinese refugees—called “boat people”—fleeing from the communist takeover after the Vietnam War, as well as immigrants from many other nations. Left to sort things out by himself, he had the keys to the classroom and had to hit the ground running.
He had at least one thing his students didn’t have but direly needed: English. Even with that, Yablonka arrived at school hours before class to prepare. Teaching was a lot like on-the-job training, a trial and error of what worked and what didn’t.
“Baptism under fire,” Yablonka recalled of the experience, which he attributes to helping him sharpen his own skills in his native language. “Suffice to say, whatever I know of the English language, which is quite a lot, I learned by teaching it.”
He came to admire students from Southeast Asia in particular for “their zest for life, sense of humor, and fortitude in the face of war,” he told The Epoch Times.
Earning a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California while teaching full time helped connected the dots to the next phase in his life.
Born into Jewish traditions in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, his writing led him to another kind of cultural awareness, firsthand, as a stringer for the National Catholic Register. This adaptability to learn new things by immersion put him on track to writing for military-themed periodicals, notably “Stars and Stripes,” “Soldier of Fortune,” and “American Veteran.”
A growing passion for writing and a knack as a raconteur culminated in his authoring several nonfiction books about the Vietnam War, those who served in Vietnam, and those most affected—the group that became his students.
“Distant Wars,” “Tears Across the Mekong,” and his most recent release “Vietnam Báo Chi: Warriors of Word and Film,” have the sound of action thrillers. Each book is a compassionate undertaking on many unique aspects of this unsettling time in history. For many old enough to remember, it was the the first war brought into American homes in primetime television, on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite, or another network. Those videos on television were largely created by civilians, however.
Báo Chi, loosely translated, means journalist. Publisher’s Weekly commends the book for “fill[ing] a void,” as it “shines light on the all-but-forgotten role of American military.” It’s a compilation of 35 true tales of soldier-photographers in Vietnam whose decisions often spelled life or death.
“[T]here were many times when a still or motion picture photographer had to make a split-second decision on whether to shoot his camera or his M-16,” said Yablonka, a current member of the California National Guard. He concedes that although he did not serve in the armed forces in Vietnam, this book, like the others, is the way for him to pay homage to those who did.
“They [soldier-photographers] were also tasked with showing the good that our troops did in Vietnam and braveness with which they did it,” he said.
Yablonka does not shy away from offering his thoughts on the American war effort in Vietnam, which runs counter to many mainstream narratives. Based on his interviews with soldiers and civilians, and many trips to post-war Vietnam, he concludes that the United States did not lose the conflict; rather, its spirit of free-market economy eventually had a strong influence. “If you go to Vietnam today, you see resorts and golf courses springing up everywhere. Saigon is a bustling city again.”
Even Hanoi, formerly in the Communist-held north region during the war, is different, he claims.
“The fact that former President Barack Obama and late chef Anthony Bourdain could schmooze late into the night over a beer in a Hanoi cafe and make the evening news doing so is not the result of communism. It’s the result of capitalist monetary infusion from us, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Even those who still cling to an iota of communist ideology call themselves ‘Red Capitalists’ today.”
Posted and Published August 7th 2019