Alan Dawson was Saigon's UPI bureau chief when the city fell to the Communists on 30 April 1975. He chronicled the events leading up to the capture of the city in a book called 55 Days: The Fall of Saigon which was published in 1977.
Today at fifty-five years of age, he is a summary page editor for the Bangkok Post. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. At the beginning of the decade, he had a chance to cover Desert Storm, but he declined saying that Bangkok traffic was the biggest battle he wanted to take part in today.
Recalling some of his colleagues in Vietnam, Dawson says that in his opinion Larry Burrows and Kyiochi Sawada were the best photographers of the era. As a photo editor he says, "It was very difficult to choose which one of their pictures to use, because they took so many good ones. They were able to stand back and get the right pictures much better than the aggressive photographers who would crowd their subjects." And Peter Arnett gets Dawson's vote as the best journalist of the era due to his "sheer aggressive reporting style."
Dawson says, "In the last six weeks of the war I was driven totally by adrenaline. I had a deadline every minute." He stayed in Saigon for four months after the war and he even returned to Vietnam to cover the Chinese invasion in 1979. "I was always treated with respect by the Communists who regardless of their ideology are very honorable people."
He did not know what to expect when Saigon fell. He didn't know if ARVN (the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) would surrender or act like "trapped rats and fight from house to house." The big battle did not materialize and Saigon succumbed relatively easily. The conquering army invited him to stay on and he did so with five other members of the UPI staff.
According to Dawson, he did have a close call just hours after the North Vietnamese took control of Saigon. He was filing a report from the streets of Saigon when a NVA soldier mistook his tape recorder for a weapon. He says that he had quite a tense half a minute or so trying to convince the soldier the instrument was indeed harmless.
Dawson said his most memorable moment in Vietnam was sending this news message that announced that the war had ended.
Bulletin Peace 4-30
He had waited eight years to send that communique.
A Canadian by birth, Dawson was drafted into the American Armed Forces while working for a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon. He had the option of by-passing the war and returning to Canada, but he thought that would hurt his chances of being able to return to America in the future. So he went to Vietnam and worked as an information officer in the 1st Signal Brigade (comprised of 50,000 troops) for his tour of duty. Dawson says that there was a greater number of Canadians serving in the American military than there were American draft dodgers living in Canada.
Dawson worked for the now defunct Metromedia after the war before joining UPI as an audio correspondent and news staffer. He became bureau chief in 1973 and he was the last full-time news service reporter to leave Saigon.
He has some interesting insights about people involved in the Vietnam war. He said Jane Fonda did not deserve her reputation as a peacenik. "Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh were more anti-war than Jane Fonda who wanted the violent conquest of South Vietnam by the North," Dawson says.
Alan Dawson has been lucky enough to work with some of the best photographers and journalists in the newspaper business. He still has many friends in the field. He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. He has lived many lives in his fifty-five years. Married twice, he has twin sons by his first wife. They are twenty-eight years old. One of them is currently living in Taiwan, and the other, a network guru with MCI, is in the USA with his mother. Alan has three children by his second wife and they all live just outside of Bangkok. Today working for the Post takes up most of his time, but he is contemplating writing another book one of these days. One thing's for sure - it would make for very interesting reading.
For more information you may contact Alan c/o:
The Bangkok Post
136 Na Ranong
off Sunthorn Kosa
Klong Toey, Bangkok
Tel (662) 240-3700
Fax (662) 240-3666