Sunday, September 20, 2009

Former Correspondent for Reuters and Time Magazine

He earned the "Hero of the People's Armed Forces" award, the highest military recognition by Vietnam for his information in planning the Tet Offensive in January 1968.

Fourteen additional medals were awarded to Pham Xuan An for his tactical help in specific battles and campaigns while fighting the United States and South Vietnam forces. In 2003 An was awarded a medal for 50 years of service in the Communist Party.

All these awards were presented following the war, because from 1955 to 1975, Mr. An was a spy working as a news correspondent for Reuters until 1965 and for Time magazine from 1965 to 1975.

He was charming and entertaining as he interacted with diplomats and news people like Morley Safer, David Halberstam, Frank McCulloch, Beverly Deepe and many more reporters throughout the long war.

When North Vietnam realized the United States would continue the fight after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Vietnam Communist Party sent Pham Xuan An to Costa Mesa, California in 1957 where he enrolled in Orange Coast College to learn American culture. He studied two years in the community college and then traveled across country by car. An was in the press gallery in New York to watch Nikita Khrushchev deliver his speech during the Soviet leader's first visit to the United States.

Pham Xuan An had a network of 45 couriers to get messages to Ho Chi Minh. Twenty-seven were captured or killed throughout the war. One courier, Ngenyen Van Thuong, was captured and tortured by amputating his legs several inches at a time every two months. A total of 6 cuts reduced his legs to stubs. The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 brought about Thuong's release. He, too, earned the "Hero of the People's Armed Forces" award for his part in transporting messages and keeping the secrets during captivity. Thuong lives in Vietnam in a wheelchair with half a body.

The tunnels in Cu Chi were used by An to send frequent intelligence to North Vietnam leaders.

In the 1980's when all this came out about Pham Xuan An's role in the war, most reporter friends in the U. S. didn't feel betrayed. Some admired his cunning and skill at avoiding detection and suspicion. During the 1990's many friends in the United States raised money to bring An's son, Pham Xuan Hoang An, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study journalism and Duke University to study law.

The book, The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An's Dangerous Game, by Thomas A. Bass was published in 2009 by Public Affairs. I recommend this book if you're a student of history, war, and spying. If you're easily upset by the news media, then don't read it.

Have a good week!



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