Assignment: Vietnam War correspondent Jurate Kazickas gives a historical perspective of women in the war

Former Vietnam War correspondent Jurate Kazickas spoke to the Elon community on Thursday about the history of women in the war and her personal story as a female war correspondent in the jungles of Vietnam.

Kazickas first traveled to Vietnam in 1967 when she was only 24-years-old.  She quit her job as a researcher for Look magazine and, after winning $500 of prize money on the TV game show “Password,” bought a one-way ticket to Saigon.  She was one of only 70 women who covered the war.

 

World War II

Throughout history, war has always been a man’s story.  Most of society did not want women in war because it was dangerous and unsanitary and female reporters might distract men during combat.

During World War II, women were not allowed in combat zones.  Women who wanted to cover the war had to fight on two fronts.  First, they had to convince their editors to let them cover the war, and second, they had to break the United State’s official policy of not allowing women in war zones.

This did not stop women, though.  Some famous names came from World War II, including Margaret Bourke-White, Dickey Chapelle, and Marguerite Higgins.  Women journalists were ambitious and curious about what was going on overseas and they weren’t going to let anyone stop them from finding out the truth.

Eventually editors saw that it was to their advantage to send women into war zones.  Women back in the states liked hearing from other women about their husbands and sons who were fighting overseas.  Male reporters, however, still resented female reporters and thought that they used their sex to their advantage.

Vietnam

The Vietnam War was noticeably different than all other wars in American history.  Unlike World War II, Vietnam was fought in one place by mostly American soldiers.  Warfare was guerrilla-style in the jungle, not on battlefields.

Women journalists who wanted to cover the war were met with the same resentment they had in World War II.  Kazickas was one of only 70 women who covered the war.  Vietnam didn’t produce as many iconic names as World War II, but Gloria Emerson, a freelancer for the New York Times, wrote stories about the daily life of the villagers in Vietnam and became one of the most famous women to cover the war.

Iraq

The war in Iraq is similar to that of Vietnam.  It is being fought guerrilla-style, mostly by American soldiers.  However, it is proving to be the most dangerous of the wars for correspondents, as 230 journalists have already been killed in Iraq since the conflict began in 2003.  More than half the reporters who are covering the war in Iraq are female journalists. 

“To me, it’s really impressive to see how comfortable we’ve gotten with the idea of women in the war,” said Kazickas. 

Significant changes have been made to aid reporters covering the war.  The U.S military now prepares journalists who are going into a war zone.  The danger of kidnapping has also caused problems with reporters because they make such interesting prisoners.  Despite Iraq being a very high-risk situation, women are continuing to travel there to report on the war.

Kazickas Story

Kazickas traveled to Vietnam in 1967 at the age of 24 as a freelance journalist.  She felt the need to go to Vietnam because the war touched everybody in the United States.

“This was my generation,” said Kazickas. 

When she landed in Vietnam, she got her press card and explored the country.

“Once you got your press card, you were free,” said Kazickas. 

Kazickas used her press card to travel on military planes, ships, and aircraft carriers without a problem.  While the older generals were less inclined to take her or any other woman along with them into combat, the younger 18-20 year-old soldiers were happy to have a woman reporter by their side.

Kazickas didn’t know what she wanted to write about when she first arrived in Vietnam.  She knew that she didn’t want to follow the big stories, so she wrote about the impact of Dear John letters on soldiers.  Kazickas soon found the confidence to write what she wanted and spent her time with patrols on the front line of combat writing about what it was like to risk your life.  She said she tried to carry her own weight when she was with the patrols.

After sustaining a “humiliating” wound to her buttocks from an artillery shell, Kazickas was sent back to the United States.  She is the author of a chapter in the book “War Torn” and most recently has been active in refugee relief work, traveling to Bosnia, Rwanda and Afghanistan.

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