Reporters on the Job

Homecoming in Vietnam: For a contingent of "old Vietnam hands" such as correspondent Don Kirk, the 30th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam is an opportunity to walk down memory lane and see for themselves just how much the country has changed (this page). Don and his wife, Susie, arrived in Saigon late in 1967 to cover the war for the Washington (D.C.) Star.

They needed a place to live and former Monitor correspondent Beverly Deepe said her apartment was free on a "temporary" basis. The fourth-floor apartment above a garage at 39 Le Loi in the heart of old Saigon was not much by Western standards. The refrigerator, for example, was cooled by a large block of ice, recalls Don. But it was close to the Rex Hotel where military and civilian bureaucrats briefed the press about the war that was flaring around the country.

"We soon discovered that we were the inheritors of quarters that had housed a distinguished line of Monitor personae," says Don. "When I had visited Saigon briefly in 1965, before moving to Indonesia, one of the first people I met was the Monitor's veteran reporter, Takashi Oka. He was followed by John Dillin. He and his wife stayed at 39 Le Loi for a year and a half. He later became the paper's managing editor. Beverly Deepe would have stayed longer, but she was marrying an American Army officer and leaving Vietnam.

"We were supposed to vacate when the Monitor's next reporter, Elizabeth Pond, arrived. We were packed and ready to move out when she was turned away at the airport, rejected by South Vietnamese immigration for some articles she had written for the Monitor.

"We happily remained in the apartment through the 1968 Tet offensive, and the spring and September 1968 offensives. Attacks sent rockets whining overhead with disturbing regularity. One of the rockets killed a Japanese correspondent in the next building."

Today, 39 Le Loi endures as a symbol of change and, possibly, progress, says Don. "The sign over the door says the "39 Cafe." At the bottom of the remodeled stairway is a modern elevator that carries you two floors up to a restaurant and cafe complex with real pretensions of elegance.

"The cafe fills not only our old apartment but two or three others, and a large balcony provides a sweeping view of the city center. Veteran Monitor correspondents may be comforted to know that the fumes from the rushing vehicles, and the popping and puffing of motorscooters, remain much the same."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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