War and news happen around the clock. Over the last 234 years, brave Americans have distinguished themselves writing and shooting photographs chronicling their country’s conflicts. Sometimes giving their lives to get the story, these journalists’ sacrifices make the public pieties of Veterans Day possible. For instance, the Iwo Jima Memorial, a place for patriotic pilgrimage today, owes its heroic angles to Joe Rosenthal’s original, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, snapped on the battlefield for the Associated Press. The ironic part: before he snagged a wartime gig with AP, the US Army had refused to let Rosenthal enlist because of his lousy eyesight.
Not all war correspondents were as lucky in life as Rosenthal. Each, however, deserves recognition for service to the First Amendment, an exceptional American invention and, even in the chaotic hell of war, the one worth fighting for the most. After the jump, we look at a few of that right’s best defenders.
Gloria Emerson (1929-2004) spent some of her childhood in Saigon, and returned to Vietnam in the 1950s, freelancing for the New York Times. After stints at Times’ bureaus in London and Paris, she went back to the country when the US intervened in their post-colonial civil war. Determined to reveal the “immense unhappy changes” in the lives of average Vietnamese, Emerson uncovered and condemned a callous culture of “killing at a distance,” whereby stateside Americans failed to comprehend “how huge are the graveyards” that US bombing runs had caused. Later, she discovered the disturbing prevalence of hard-drug use among American GIs, a shocking example of glassy-eyed Yankee dissociation from the carnage the war had wrought.
In 1969, Emerson conducted a combative interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, criticizing their approach to protesting the war from afar. If they had come to Vietnam and played for US soldiers, Emerson thought, John and Yoko “could have stopped the war.” Sadly, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004, Emerson committed suicide, terrified that the disease would render her unable to write again.