Neil Sheehan Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Remembering the Vietnam War; Conversation with Neil Sheehan, 11/14/88 by Harry Kreisler

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Background

Mr. Sheehan, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you for asking me to come.

It was quite a task, the writing of this book. It took you sixteen years?

Sixteen years to publication. I lost time due to an auto accident in which a kid who liked to drive on the wrong side of the road broke ten of my bones. That lost me a year. And I had to take time out to lecture and earn a living, to the extent I could, but yes, it was the better part of fifteen years of research and writing and a then year to publication.

You got involved with Vietnam and John Paul Vann as a war correspondent, correct?

That's right. I went to Vietnam; it was my first assignment as a reporter for the UPI, and I never could get away from the war. I started out there in '62. I met John Vann when I went out in my first helicopter operation, in May of '62 in the Mekong delta. And then, after three years in Vietnam for the UPI and The New York Times, I came back. I was sent to Washington to cover the Pentagon in '66. So there were the protesters against the draft, the controversy over Westmoreland's troop requests, the unraveling of McNamara; then they sent me to the White House to cover the last six months of Johnson in office; then I got the Pentagon Papers in '71. I never got away from the war. Not because I was obsessed with it in those years, but because it was the event of my generation and I started out covering it so I stayed with it.

Next page: John Paul Vann as a Metaphor for U.S. Involvement in Vietnam

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