In 1961, equipped with a master’s degree from famed Columbia Journalism School and letters of introduction to Associated Press bureau chiefs in Asia, twenty-six-year-old Beverly Deepe set off on a trip around the world. Allotting just two weeks to South Vietnam, she was still there seven years later, having then earned the distinction of being the longest-serving American correspondent covering the Vietnam War and garnering a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
In Death Zones and Darling Spies, Beverly Deepe Keever describes what it was like for a farm girl from Nebraska to find herself halfway around the world, trying to make sense of one of the nation’s bloodiest and bitterest wars. She arrived in Saigon as Vietnam’s war entered a new phase and American helicopter units and provincial advisers were unpacking. She tells of traveling from her Saigon apartment to jungles where Wild West–styled forts first dotted Vietnam’s borders and where, seven years later, they fell like dominoes from communist-led attacks. In 1965 she braved elephant grass with American combat units armed with unparalleled technology to observe their valor—and their inability to distinguish friendly farmers from hide-and-seek guerrillas.
Keever’s trove of tissue-thin memos to editors, along with published and unpublished dispatches for New York and London media, provide the reader with you-are-there descriptions of Buddhist demonstrations and turning-point coups as well as phony ones. Two Vietnamese interpreters, self-described as “darling spies,” helped her decode Vietnam’s shadow world and subterranean war. These memoirs, at once personal and panoramic, chronicle the horrors of war and a rise and decline of American power and prestige.
Beverly Deepe Keever is professor emerita at the University of Hawaii and the author of News Zero: The New York Times and the Bomb.
Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History and winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in history, said: “Few correspondents engaged in the protracted, ugly war in Laos and Vietnam were as diligent and perceptive as Beverly Deepe. As energetic and intrepid as her male counterparts, she slogged through dense jungles, flooded rice fields, and thick rubber plantations, filing dispatches that shed insights on that futile conflict. Her account of that experience is authoritative, credible, lucid, vivid, and above all readable.”
Two other critiques of the book that appeared in the Shanghai Daily include:
“Keever’s memoir of her Vietnam years is a book that has long been missing from the vast collection of chronicles written by reporters who covered the Vietnam War. Deepe’s recollections of this time add a special dimension to the journalism of this era and its place in the history of the Vietnam War. As she correctly notes in her preface, few other reporters have the record that Deepe established during the seven years she spent covering the American experience in Vietnam. Her achievement is all the more remarkable because she was in the vanguard of young women for whom the Vietnam War became their unique opportunity to establish that women indeed had the ability to cover war as well as any of their male counterparts. Legions of young women followed Deepe’s example, some of them as a direct result of seeing her byline, and bought themselves one-way tickets to Saigon where they worked their way to prominence in the same way that Deepe succeeded in doing after she landed in Vietnam in February of 1962 and began working as a freelance journalist.
“This account is especially significant because it draws on the products of Deepe’s long-ago diligence as a record keeper. No other reporter in Vietnam–and very few elsewhere for that matter–exercised the kind of self-discipline that Deepe exhibited in preserving carbon copies of her stories, the field notes on which those stories were based, and memos to and from her editors about the situation unfolding in South Vietnam. This kind of ‘on-the-ground’ resource adds a richness that remembered experiences can never quite match. This ‘trove,’ as she calls it, will be an invaluable resource for historians long into the future.”