There was something special for three journalists at the Marine Corps Evening Parade last night.
In the first place, a wartime buddy from Tet Offensive days who now lives in Takoma, Wash., brought vials of volcanic ash "guaranteed from St. Helens."
In the second place, the Marine Corps threw a huge bash for the three ex-Vietnam correspondents in the lushly landscaped garden of the commandant's white brick mansion -- home of Marine Corps commandants since 1805.
In the third place, the Marine Bandplayed the whole 1812 Overture, something they don't often do at the summertime Friday Parades, and complete, moreover, with surprise blasts from their three-salute cannon. (They do it just as the sun has set so nobody sees it coming.)
Then there were the Bronze Stars.
And that's something the Marine Corps doesn't do very often, ever. Not for civilians. Not for journalists.
Last night, though, three journalists were awarded Bronze Stars by the Marines (delivered by Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo) for the attempted rescue of a mortally wounded Marine at the ancient imperial capital of Hue on the 20th day of Tet, Feb. 19, 1968.
The three were David Greenway, now of The Boston Globe, now 45, then of Time magazine; Alvin Webb, also 45, then and now covering wars for United Press International; and Charles Mohr, 50, then as now with The New York Times.
The War: Some correspondents made it a habit to go out with the combat troops. Greenway, Webb and Mohr, armed with Marine-issue M-16s (so that combat marines didn't have to nursemaid them instead of fighting) were on such a mission along with Steve Bernston, then a marine sergeant who was a combat correspondent. They'd been around Hue for several days, writing dispatches in longhand and sendin them out with wounded troops or anyone else going back. They divided up the duties; One got food, one got booze, another found a place where they could bed down and light candles so they could write their stories "inch by blood-stained inch" as (his combat buddies yesterday teased) Al Webb managed to get into as many stories as possible.
(Once, Al Webb recalled, he and another correspondent 'liberated' a couple of typewriters from a building that turned out to be a Viet Cong stronghold. They got the typewriters back to their base under heavy fire only to find they had Vietnamese keyboards.).
Feb. 19 was gray and drizzly. That was the day they and the marines were pinned down by enemy fire. A young marine was shot through the throat, and the correspondents carried him through a heavy bamboo thicket to what they thought was relative safety. Webb, Greenway and Bernston were wounded in the operation. They were all picked up by a truck, but the young marine died on the way to the hospital. Bernston, the most seriously wounded, got a Bronze Star for his part in the rescue some time later.
The Party: Yesterday, as about a thousand journalists and several hundred Marine officials and guests began to gather at the Marine barracks and the commandant's garden, the three journalists and Bernston (who brought the volcanic ash) ignored the brilliant afternoon sun, the hovering junior officers and working reporters (who made them especially uneasy and, admittedly, a bit embarrassed) to reminisce.
It was a kind of double time warp, there in that early 19th-century garden, 12 years after that drizzly day at what the journalists referred to in their hand-scrawled stories as the "a.i.c." (ancient imperial capital).
But poring over a scrapbook of photographs taken by Greenway, the reminiscences began to pour: "Do you remember the time when," seemed to begin each sentence there for a few minutes.
"The last time I saw Steve," Al Webb said of Bernston, "we met on stretchers in some hospital corridor or another . . . Danang, I think . . ." s
Webb, who refers to himself as "central casting's war correspondent," is Upi's Beirut bureau chief and almost missed his letter from the Marines inviting him to yesterday's ceremony because he was shuttling back and forth to Tehran.
"You've got to know him," a UPI friend said of Webb, "to know that somebody's honoring him on Friday the Thirteenth."
The Marine Corps, said an ex-marine, "is a wonderful public relater." And just to make sure that no one missed the fact that yesterday was press relations day, the Marine Corps Band included these numbers:
John Philip Sousa's Washington Post March.
W. Paris Chambers' Chicago Tribune March.
Taylor Branson's Times-Picayune Centennial March.
Why, you may ask -- a lot of people there yesterday did -- did it take the Marines 12 years to honor the journalists? All three newspapermen wrote about it.Nevertheless, it appears, the incident was lost to officialdom until Marine commandant, Gen. Robert H. Barrow, heard about it last year from Peter Braestrup, now editor of the Wilson Quarterly, then (1968) Washington Post Vietnam correspondent. Braestrup wrote about it in a book on the Tet Offensive.
As Maj. Paul Chapman tells it, the general told his staff, in effect, to check it out and if it checks, do something about it.
Even though, as Greenway recalled, "The Newsweek guys always thought I engineered the whole thing just to get a story ..."