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AFTER 10 YEARS IN VIETNAM, REPORTER STAYED TO REPORT HOW COMMUNISTS TOOK SAIGON

After the final U.S. helicopter left Vietnam 20 years ago, the incoming teletype in The Associated Press bureau clicked off a message from the man who was then president of the wire service.

Wes Gallagher, concerned for the safety of correspondents Peter Arnett, Matt Franjola and me, advised helicopters might be returning."Any of you want to leave if it works out?" he asked.

"Thanks for your offer," I replied. "We want to stay."

During my 10 years as a war correspondent for the AP, I often wondered how and when the war would end. I had seen it from the beginning. I wanted to see it through.

On Wednesday morning, April 30, 1975, our Vietnamese reporter alerted me to a national broadcast over Radio Saigon by Gen. Duong Van Minh, South Vietnam's final president. As he translated Minh's address, I typed out this bulletin, which was transmitted to New York and then relayed to the world:

BULLETIN

Surrender

SAIGON (AP) - President Duong Van "Big" Minh of South Vietnam announced Wednesday an unconditional surrender to the forces of North Vietnam.

As a backup, I was desperately trying to keep a telephone line open to other AP bureaus. "Operator! Operator!" I yelled into the phone. "Can you get me a line to Hong Kong?! Tokyo? Anywhere?"

I was on the phone when two North Vietnamese soldiers walked into our offices, on Lam Son Square in the heart of Saigon.

They were courteous. They laid down their rifles in the reception area. They had been in the field, away from their families, for two years. They were young, and reminded me of country boys on their first trip to the big city.

I offered them Cokes and some stale pound cake, all we had left. We took out maps, and they showed us the attack routes they had followed into Saigon.

For 10 years, I was thinking to myself, I had written about the faceless, nameless Communist troops. But I had seen them only in death or as prisoners of war, parroting what their captors told them to say.

Finally, we were face to face.

The soldiers, in their early 20s, took out their wallets, pulled out family photos and talked about how they had not seen their loved ones for so long.

It struck me then that they were no different, really, than our allies, the South Vietnamese, or for that matter, my fellow Americans - all of whom had been killing each other.

They all carried snapshots of loved ones missed. They all felt the same loneliness.