Leon Daniel, 74; Covered Wars, Civil Rights Movement for UPI

Leon Daniel, right, in Vietnam in April 1975, two weeks before Saigon fell. Daniel was one of the few Western reporters to stay after U.S. forces left.
Leon Daniel, right, in Vietnam in April 1975, two weeks before Saigon fell. Daniel was one of the few Western reporters to stay after U.S. forces left. (United Press International)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006

Leon Daniel, 74, a colorful United Press International reporter who spent three decades covering many of the world's hot spots, died March 19 at a hospital in Glen Ellyn, Ill., from a blood clot in his lung, five days after a heart procedure.

A former Marine who spent 36 years with the wire service, Mr. Daniel reported on the civil rights movement in the South, rebel movements in Afghanistan and the Dominican Republic, and the Gulf War in Kuwait.

He first reported from Vietnam in 1966 and was one of the few Western reporters to remain in the country after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. In one dispatch, he described the eerie scene after U.S. forces had fled:

"As darkness fell, we watched ammunition dumps exploding in the distance and tracer bullets leaping into the flare-lit sky . . .

"So we ventured out into the street, grinning at the Communist troops we'd only seen before on battlefields. We were relieved when some of them grinned back.

"In the days that followed, we walked the streets freely, observing the curious peace.

"Most of the beggars and a few of the hookers returned to Tu Do, but the Viet Cong flags hanging from the shuttered bars convinced me the street would never be the same."

After several weeks, Mr. Daniel was expelled from the country by Vietnam's new Communist rulers. He had been declared persona non grata in Thailand in 1972 and ordered out of the country for articles he wrote about the Thai military.

"Leon was one of the most knowledgeable and boldest reporters in Vietnam," war correspondent Peter Arnett told the Associated Press. "He was also among the most amiable of men."

After being based in Hong Kong and London, Mr. Daniel came to Washington in 1980 as a roving national reporter. As chief correspondent for UPI in 1990 and 1991, he directed coverage of the Gulf War.

In a tense exchange with a U.S. Army major, Mr. Daniel protested that reporters were being kept from the battlefield and demanded, "Where the hell are all the bodies?"

"What bodies?" the major replied.


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