George McArthur dies at 88; L.A. Times Saigon bureau chief during Vietnam War
George McArthur, who covered the Vietnam War for the Los Angeles Times as Saigon bureau chief after spending two decades as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, died Friday. He was 88.
McArthur died at a hospice in Fairfax County, Va., of complications from a stroke he suffered more than two weeks earlier, said his wife, Eva Kim McArthur.
“He stood out among Vietnam War reporters for being level-headed at a time when other reporters were obsessed with being pro-war or anti-war,” said Bob Gibson, who was foreign editor of The Times when he hired McArthur in 1969. “For that he was highly esteemed.”
FOR THE RECORD:
George McArthur: An earlier version of this online article contained an error about The Times’ hiring of George McArthur. Bob Gibson, who was foreign editor of The Times in 1969, hired McArthur.
He covered Vietnam until the war’s end in 1975 and remained with The Times until 1979, continuing to file dispatches from Asia.
While the Paris peace talks were taking place, McArthur wrote a lengthy overview on the war that “he poured his heart and soul into,” Gibson said. “It was an incisive account and a highlight of his reportage.”
Born in the Deep South and caught up in the romance of journalism at an early age, McArthur was not one to let social taboos or politics interfere with a good story.
As a campus reporter for the local newspaper, covering civil rights and racial tensions at the University of Georgia, he was called a “communist” by the state’s segregationist governor, Herman Talmadge. McArthur replied, with typical sarcasm, that he felt honored.
Later, while reporting for the AP from Seoul during the Korean War, and from the Arab world and Indochina, McArthur cultivated Soviet and other communist-state reporters as friends. The trust regularly paid off with exclusive inside information.
In one case, McArthur recalled recently, his source made the deal in exchange for a box of condoms from the military stores.
When Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, an avowed communist, hosted American anti-war advocate Tom Hayden at his home in Cambodia, his friend McArthur was the only western reporter invited to their news conference.
“As I left,” McArthur recalled years later, other reporters were standing outside, asking: “‘What did he say? What did he say?’ I went past them and headed for the phone.”
Born July 15, 1924, in Valdosta, Georgia, George A. McArthur III was 9 when he wanted to come a correspondent after reading a book by globe-trotting reporter Richard Harding Davis.
During World War II, McArthur served aboard the Navy hospital ship Bountiful and upon his return attended the University of Georgia while working for a local newspaper.
Hired by the AP in Atlanta in 1949 to cover sports and write radio news copy, he volunteered to go to Korea as a correspondent and later worked for the wire service in Paris before serving as bureau chief in Cairo and Manila.
In 1964, McArthur began covering the Vietnam War and was named the AP’s Saigon bureau chief in 1968.
While there he met, and later married, Eva Kim, a diplomatic secretary to U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker and his successor, Graham Martin.
When Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, Martin and key aides were in one of the last Marine helicopters to leave the U.S. Embassy roof. Martin carried the embassy’s folded flag; McArthur, accompanying his wife, carried the ambassador’s tiny terrier, Nit Noy, on his lap, having saved it from being left behind.
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