By Laura Smith
October 9, 2008
In 1967 at the age of 24, Jurate Kazickas was not singing along at a Beatles concert or heading to San Fransisco for the peace movement like most other people her age. Instead, she was a pro-war supporter, living in Vietnam and reporting from one of the biggest wars in United States history.
Kazickas came to Elon University on October 9 to speak to students and faculty about her experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent, where she worked for two years.
Originally a writer for Look Magazine, Kazickas wanted to report on where the action was happening in Vietnam. After winning money from the game show, Password, Kazickas cashed in her winnings for a plane ticket to do just that.
Before sharing her stories from the Vietnamese jungle, Kazickas discussed the role of women reporters in war zones.
“In World War II…male editors and the US military didn’t want women covering the war for several reasons,” Kazickas said. “War was a man’s story….war was too dangerous…women would be a distraction…and there were no latrine facilities.”
“Male reporters resented the female reporters,” she said. “Women did what they could to brush the objections away.”
Kazickas spoke of other female correspondents in past wars who made impacts on history such as Margaret Bourke-White in World War II and Gloria Emerson in Vietnam.
“Very few women went to Vietnam for exactly the same reasons,” Kazickas said. She informed the audience that only about 70 women went to Vietnam in the span of 20 years. She said she experienced the same kind of resentment from reporters as the women who corresponded in World War II had.
Kazickas explained the differences in reporting from Iraq nowadays.
“Iraq to me is really quite impressive to see how we have gotten so comfortable with the idea of women covering the war,” she said.
Kazickas related this to the work of CNN international correspondent Christine Amanpour.
“Almost 230 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the conflict compared to about 63 in Vietnam,” she said.
Kazickas shared her story about her time in Vietnam with the audience. After arriving in the country in 1967, Kazickas was able to acquire a press pass and with that, was free to begin her work.
With this press pass, “Vietnam was wide open,” Kazickas said. “Any place you went, you could get a story. All you had to do was show up; the entire country was available to write about.”
Kazickas’ first story focused on the “Dear John” letters US soldiers would receive from the girls they loved back at home. The story got a lot of attention.
“That gave me courage to go out there and do these stories,” Kazickas said.
Kazickas wanted to cover more of the action though.
“It was very difficult to me as a women,” she said.
“You’re a girl, you wont be able to hack it.” These were the words told to Kazickas over and over again.
She didn’t take it though. Kazickas was even able to help in overturning a rule that women were not allowed to stay overnight on a patrol, due to the threat of danger.
Kazickas continued writing stories on the men fighting for the United States. She enjoyed writing what she calls “hometowns” which were stories focused on specific soldier’s that were published in his hometown’s local paper.
At the Battle of Khe Sahn, Kazickas was awakened to the brutal reality she had spent so long reporting about.
On an unusually sunny day in Vietnam, enemy fire invaded the camp Kazickas was in.
“I made the fundamental mistake of running to the nearest foxhole, you’re supposed to throw yourself on the ground,” she said.
Kazickas was hit and had to be air lifted to the nearest hospital.
“You’re days of show biz are over,” Kazickas was told.
Kazickas did not realize how true these words would be.
“It wasn’t the same after that,” Kazickas said of her return to Vietnam after she was healed. “I was really really scared.”
She left shortly after.
The sights she experienced in Vietnam forever impacted Kazickas.
“You are just not prepared for the horrors of war,” she said. “It sears your soul forever.”
At the same time, Kazickas is very proud of the difference she made as a women correspondent and the thrill she experienced as one.
“Male or female, bullets and bombs don’t discriminate,” she said. “War is intoxicating, erotic, addictive.”