Ex-Hankook Ilbo reporter still remembers Vietnam War

By: Kang Seung-woo

Ann Byong-chan, a former reporter of the Hankook Ilbo ― a sister paper of The Korea Times ― is nicknamed the “ultimate correspondent” as he witnessed the final chaotic days of Saigon 40 years ago.

He reported news of the Vietnam War, staying in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, for 38 days from March 23 to April 30, 1975.

“After reporting on the war at the scene, I have studied how Vietnam’s unification period unfolded. At the same time, I am jealous of the unified country, given that we are still divided,” Ann said in an interview with The Korea Times.

Although Ann, 77, now looks back fondly on his experience there, his time in Vietnam began completely out of the blue.

While at the paper’s office in Seoul on March 21, 1975, he received a phone call from Chang Key-young, the late founder of the Hankook Ilbo.

“He told me to get ready to leave for Vietnam immediately,” said Ann, who covered foreign news at that time.

Ann received an entry visa the very next day from the Vietnamese Embassy in Korea and got on a plane bound for the Southeast Asian country on March 23.

One week later, the Hankook Ilbo sent another correspondent to support Ann, but he returned home on April 25.

Ann attributed his achievements in Vietnam to his wife, also a Hankook Ilbo reporter who strongly supported him during his unexpected dispatch to the battlefield.

“She thought that I ought to go there as a journalist to report exclusive news,” said Ann.

He admitted that his stay there was filled with dread.

“I trembled with fear, but I could overcome that because of my professional instinct to find a scoop,” he said.

However, the native of Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province said that he suffered some risky moments during his stay.

“When I arrived there, Da Nang, a major base for the South Vietnamese and United States Air Force, was about to fall to the communist forces,” he said.

“I felt as if I would soon be standing under heavy fire because the North Vietnamese Army continued to advance southwards.

“Psychologically, it felt dangerous and I was frightened each morning. But I decided to face down the situation.”

Ann, now serving as the honorary chairman of the Center for Media Responsibility and Human Rights, still visits Vietnam every year in April to commemorate the end of the war.

He also flew there last month for the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

Ann added that Korea, still split into South and North, needs to learn the independent spirit of Vietnam’s efforts toward reunification.

“Vietnam gained independence from China after 1,000 years, and then fought the European powerhouse France. In addition, it won a 20-year war against the United States,” he said.

“With such power, Vietnam itself achieved reunification.”

Ann added that he is paying attention to the country’s diplomatic strategy with the two major powers, the U.S. and China.

“Vietnam uses an equal strategy with the U.S., not a dependent one,” he said.

“Many Koreans look on Vietnam just based on its economic standards, but I think they fail to see the nation’s true self.”


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