Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Marine Reporter (previously unpublished)

October 31, 1966

Da Nang, South Viet Nam--Since 1942, war has been Jim Lucas' job. He was a combat correspondent for the Marine Corps during World War II, and has been a staff writer for Scripps-Howard Newspapers since 1945.

He has seen Americans die, and has written of their bravery from Tarawa, to the Yalu River, and, from there to the steaming jungles of Viet Nam. And, he'll never get used to it, he said.

As a Marine during World War II, he received the Bronze star and a battlefield promotion for his actions during the bloody battle for Tarawa. Unscathed in that action, he has twice suffered injuries in Viet Nam.

Lucas won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his coverage of the Korean War, and an Ernie Pyle award. He won a second Ernie Pyle award for his columns on the Viet Nam fighting.

Lucas has to be considered the dean of the war correspondents now in Viet Nam. No one out-hustles him. People in Indianapolis used to read his columns in the now-defunct Indianapolis Times.

Now 52 years old, Lucas calls his home Washington, D.C., but he'd be hard to find there. He's always where the fighting is, dressed in combat fatigues, and sifting out stories.

He's a very kind guy to any rookie reporter who even acts as though he's interested in finding out what this war is about. He has slight regard for the majority of correspondents who are supposed to be covering the war, but seldom leave Saigon.

"All most of them do is sit around all day and wait for the 5 p.m. briefing...And then they try to think up silly questions to ask the briefers, and complain because they don't get enough information."

"The government is doing their leg work for them," Lucas said. "and the Saigon Commandos have the nerve to complain about it.

"There's never going to be a substitute for getting out and getting a story," Lucas said emphatically.

Jim began his newspaper career in 1934 in Muskogee, Okla. In 1938, he moved to the Tulsa Tribune and covered a variety of beats. In 1942, he joined the Marine Corps and served with the Second and Fourth Marine Division in eight major battles: Guadalcanal, the Russell Islands, New Georgia, Tarawa, Apemama, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.

When he left the Corps, he went to work for Scripps-Howard, and he's been on the move ever since. He covered Admiral Richard E. Byrd's expedition to the South Pole in 1947, and then the first atom bomb test at Bikini Atoll.

In 1950 he headed for Korea when the fighting broke out, and he stayed until the truce.

After the Korean War, Lucas smelled news in French Indo-China. He spent 18 months in Hanoi covering the action before he returned to the states. He took a few junkets to Europe, and covered the crisis in Lebanon.

Lucas returned to Southeast Asia in 1959 to visit the newly created Republic of South Viet Nam. Lucas saw early signs of what was to come and wrote about it, but too many other people were blind to the issues.

He left Viet Nam in 1960 and returned in 1964. The face and facts of war had not changed, and neither had Lucas.

"It still shocks me and hurts me to see a man die. I still haven't learned," Lucas said softly, "not to get too close to a guy. I damned near cry sometimes," he said with a weary shake of his head.

"War," he continued, "brings out the best or the worst in a man. Usually, it's the best. War makes a man selfless. A man has to think of the other guy all the time, and I like being with men under those circumstances."

Lucas is single. "A guy in this business shouldn't have a family," he said seriously.

Of the fighting up to now in Viet Nam Lucas appraised, "I think our people are largely doing right. And things are coming to a head here pretty fast. The enemy's back has been broken. We didn't fight this war the way the French did theirs. The French fought during the day and let the enemy have the night. We've never let the pressure off."

"The helicopter's value in this war is unmeasurable. The First Cavalry Division can pick up and move two regiments-twice in a day. Mobility has made the difference here," the veteran correspondent said.

Lucas' hair is gray, and he wears glasses. He speaks with a soft, precise drawl. He knows he is often criticized by other correspondents, usually the Saigon Commandos he so thoroughly disdains.

"I've heard they say I'm still writing the GI JOE and ME stuff, which was alright for World War II, but out of place in this war. Baloney," Lucas said with a grin. "Our guys are just the same. And human interest stories are never out of place."

Lucas has a book coming out soon entitled, "Dateline Viet Nam," published by Award House. It includes his dispatches from January 1964 up to the battle of A-Shau during May, 1966.

Lucas hopes a lot of people buy the book. He's tired, needs the money, and a long rest.

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