It is just before 9 p.m. Sunday and Bernard Shaw looks awful. His stomach is in knots. His eyes are glazed. Fatigue lines are etched deeply into his 50-year-old face. Even his mustache seems to droop.

To be sure, Shaw has gotten little sleep since the bombs began dropping in Baghdad and he and his colleagues transfixed the world with their gripping accounts from the ninth floor of the Al-Rashid Hotel. But that isn't the only reason his voice is trembling as he prepares to walk onto the set of "Larry King Live" to talk about the ordeal.

"I have to confess to being nervous, sitting around talking about 'I did this, I did that,' " Shaw says, alternately puffing on a Winston and sipping orange juice from a Chicago Bulls mug. "It's ironic. I'm seen in 105 countries every day. But you can only sit and say 'I, I, I' for so long."

The principal Washington anchor for Cable News Network is a disciplined ex-Marine who has never comfortably worn the cloak of television's celebrity culture. He clings to an almost quaint belief that journalists should report the news, not make it. But now Shaw and his colleagues John Holliman and Peter Arnett are the story, their narratives cited by Pentagon officials at news conferences, their personal drama the dominant image of that first American assault on Iraq.

At two minutes before air time, Shaw slips on his glasses, stiffens his posture and slides into the seat next to King. The curtain of fatigue seems to lift; his answers are crisp, concise. In the next chair, Holliman, a loquacious country boy from south Georgia, seems to be having a fine old time, spinning colorful tales and relishing his moment of fame. Shaw remains unsmiling, never letting down his guard.

"He's one of the most private individuals I've ever known," says Ed Turner, CNN's vice president for news. "Essentially, he's a very shy man. There are very few humorous anecdotes about Bernie because he's such a serious fellow at what he does. When you hear the phrase solid as a rock, that's him."

It must be understood that Shaw never planned to emulate his boyhood idol, Edward R. Murrow, by reporting live as bombs exploded around him. He had flown into Baghdad to land an interview with Saddam Hussein, and when that fell through he made plans to leave by chartered jet.

"I'm going to be wheels-up out of here tomorrow, and I leave Baghdad very disappointed that I have not accomplished the mission that I had," he told viewers Wednesday afternoon.

Unlike Arnett, who had trudged around the jungles of Vietnam, or Holliman, who had begged his bosses for a ticket to Baghdad, Shaw had not expected to be crawling around the hotel room floor or reporting in his pajamas or living off canned tuna fish as the deafening sounds of war filled the sky. Death was never far from his mind.

"If there had been one indiscriminately dropped bomb or one misdirected bomb, if the hotel had been hit, that would have been it," he says. Even more frightening was the notion that Iraqi troops would terminate the broadcast with extreme prejudice or make them Saddam's permanent guests. "My biggest concern was an Iraqi backlash to what we were doing," Shaw says.

Somewhere in the private recesses of Bernie Shaw's mind, there may be a sense of triumph at trouncing the competition, at beating Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings on such a huge story, at Brokaw's being forced to interview him on NBC because the Big Three networks had lost their phone lines. But Shaw's puffy eyes do not betray it.

"After you start reading your reviews, you run the risk of believing you're important," he says. "That can create distortions in your perceptions, in your honesty. It can color your judgment. I'm a severe critic of myself."

Yet there was also a sense of exhilaration the night the war began. During a break, Arnett turned around and said, "Gentlemen, you and you and I are making history tonight," and the three men hugged each other.

The Scoop

Two days before the bombing began, Shaw told CNN viewers, based on an interview with an unidentified Iraqi official, that Saddam Hussein planned to ignore the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for pulling out of Kuwait.

Within minutes, Shaw was under pressure from CNN headquarters in Atlanta to soften the report.

"There was all this screaming and confusion: 'What are you reporting? The market has plummeted 47 points!' The show producer said we have to clarify this. I said, 'Wait a minute. I don't have to clarify a damn thing... I will repeat what I reported and I will repeat it very slowly.' "

One old friend, George Watson, says Shaw always had an unshakable faith in himself. Watson hired Shaw at ABC News before moving to CNN, where he lured Shaw again in early 1980, when the cable network was still a twinkle in Ted Turner's eye.

"Bernie is a little rigid," says Watson, now back at ABC as Washington bureau chief. "He is not the most relaxed and easygoing guy I know. He is impatient when things don't go right. The Marines were a formative experience for Bernie."

While Shaw never saw combat in the Marines -- the closest he came was when his unit went steaming toward the China Sea during the 1962 crisis in Laos -- he knew that Baghdad was on the brink of war, particularly after White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater made a personal appeal for journalists to evacuate. Fitzwater says now he did so because one bombing target was next door to the Al-Rashid Hotel.

"When every major newspaper pulled out, that was frightening," says Shaw, who lives in Takoma Park with his wife, Linda, and their 15-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. "The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the L.A. Times, The Washington Post. We knew we had a responsibility to cover the story even more extensively. Obviously, selfishly, we knew it would enhance the reputation of our network."

For Holliman, 42, who raises English sheep dogs with his wife Diane on their Loudoun County farm, the Al-Rashid Hotel was a long way from his 16 years as a radio legman for stations from Athens, Ga., to Washington. It also seemed light-years away from his early days as CNN's farm reporter, when one of his jobs was to plant a garden outside the original Wisconsin Avenue studios, a backdrop that wilted and died on the air.

"You can stay here and cover some Post Office hearing on the Hill or you can go to the story of the decade," says Holliman, a rosy-cheeked man with thinning blond hair. "If you're a reporter, what could be better than to be there to cover a war?" But Diane Holliman says she was "angry" and "terrified" listening to her husband when the bombing began. She was frequently on the phone to Linda Shaw, both of them in tears.

It was just before 6:35 p.m. last Wednesday when Bernard Shaw got on the now-famous "four-wire" phone hookup from the Al-Rashid, screaming at Atlanta headquarters to put him on the air.

"This is -- something is happening outside. Peter Arnett, join me here. Let's describe to our viewers what we're seeing. The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. We're seeing bright flashes going off all over the sky."

For the next 16 1/2 hours, it was as though Shaw were again working for WNUS Radio in Chicago in the 1960s, covering fires and shootings and riots, armed only with a tape recorder and a deep baritone. There were no pictures, only the unchanging map of Baghdad and the voices of the CNN troika.

"It sounded like an NFL game, three guys in the booth," Holliman says. "Bernie is the voice of authority, Peter is the war correspondent and I'm the guy from out of town, the average Joe."

Shaw would interrupt their grim narrative with light-hearted comments, observing that he hadn't had dinner or that he was wearing out his pants from crawling around on the floor.

"My attitude was, this was not the end of the world," he says. "It might seem like it because bombs are dropping all around you and rockets are shooting up into the sky. But life goes on, even under the most dreadful conditions, and a sense of humor is needed to help you keep perspective."

Still, the reporters could feel the vibrations as the bombs landed. "There was one blast that was very close, less than a block away from the hotel. I hit the floor," Shaw says.

Holliman says the ordeal was perhaps most difficult for Shaw. "Bernie had it set in his mind that he was going to be out of there," he says. "I think he was probably very disappointed that his plans, and the promises he had made to his family, had fallen through."

As the night wore on, "There was a time when Bernie said, 'I don't think I'm able to be coherent any more.' Finally the producer, Robert Weiner, ordered him to go to bed."

But Shaw, lying down in his clothes, got little rest. "You can't sleep," he says. "I could not find the key to turn off my mind. After the first wave came in, I didn't get more than two hours' sleep. It was the same syndrome I experienced in Beijing {covering the massacre at Tiananmen Square}. You don't want to miss anything."

Whenever there was a knock at the door -- hotel security men were constantly checking the floor -- Shaw would run to another room and hide under the table so that if Holliman and Arnett were detained, he could resume broadcasting.

The hotel had no electricity, no running water and no room service, although the maids still arrived to make up the beds each morning. "My last day there I didn't have a single meal," Shaw says. "I was snacking on some of the things I bought at the Giant food store in Takoma Park. I didn't have an appetite. I didn't feel I needed a full stomach to cover a war."

On Thursday, after the Iraqis had ordered CNN off the air, Shaw, Holliman and Arnett spent the night on the floor of the hotel's bomb shelter with about 300 other people, including crying babies and children. CNN had received a warning from NBC's foreign news director, David Miller, that the Al-Rashid Hotel would be a U.S. bombing target that night. "We did everything we could in good faith to save lives," Miller says. By the time CNN learned the rumor was untrue, security guards refused to let the reporters leave the basement shelter.

Holliman was allowed to visit his room on the pretext that he needed some medicine. He whispered over the four-wire, "This is Holliman. Tell our families we're okay." Holliman declined an invitation to go on the air, knowing the Iraqis were monitoring CNN.

Shaw, meanwhile, had gone to one of the shelter's two working toilets. When he returned, an elderly French woman had taken his spot. He was furious, but decided to sleep in the hallway, using an editor's goose down jacket for a pillow.

On Friday morning, Shaw, Holliman and two other CNN staffers decided to leave, in part because the Iraqi government was now censoring their reports. Shaw says the pressure had "taken its toll" on his health. Arnett stayed behind.

"He insisted that someone had to stay," Holliman says. "We had talked about whether it was going to be Peter or me. Peter said, 'You've got a wife. I don't have a wife.' "

For 14 arduous hours, a three-car CNN convoy made its way across the desert, stopped 15 times by Iraqi authorities. Finally they made it across the Jordanian border.

Shaw and Holliman appeared on CNN that night from Amman. Anchor David French asked Shaw to talk about his feelings. "One of the things I was afraid of doing, David, was allowing myself to feel," Shaw said.

On Sunday night he added this postscript: "A couple of times I thought to myself, 'If you're going to die, die doing what you love to do.' "

'A Sense of Pride' Bernie Shaw grew up in Chicago, the son of a house painter and a domestic. As a teenager he would make announcements on the school public address system, sneak into news conferences and call reporters to discuss their craft.

"A sense of pride was deeply ingrained in him, that his family had standards to live up to and he didn't have time to waste on clowning or horseplay," says Thelma Ford, who taught English at Dunbar Vocational High School, a predominantly black school. "Bernie had within him this capacity for talking, for conveying ideas."

The man who has become the nation's most prominent black anchor says he faced no special obstacles growing up. "I didn't need any black role models," he says. "I didn't look at Edward R. Murrow as white. He was the premier example of excellence. ... I would work harder than the average person regardless of my color."

Says Ed Turner: "I sense more of a pride in being a Marine than being black. It simply doesn't enter into his thinking or conversation."

In 1961, when CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was passing through Hawaii, he found himself deluged with messages from a "Corporal Shaw" who was stationed there with the Marines. The young officer finally grabbed Cronkite in a hotel lobby and asked for career advice.

"He was the most persistent guy I've ever met in my life," Cronkite says. "I was going to give him five begrudging minutes and ended up talking to him for a half hour. He was just determined to be a journalist."

A decade later, after Shaw had graduated from the University of Illinois and paid his dues as a radio reporter, Cronkite helped him land a job with CBS. He later jumped to ABC, which made him Latin America bureau chief. Shaw got the only aerial pictures of the Jonestown massacre by ordering his pilot to fly low over the jungles of Guyana, so low that a stall would have meant certain death. When he got back, Shaw told his colleague Frank Reynolds that he had been lucky to get the story.

"He said, 'You always have luck when you hustle.' I've never forgotten that," Shaw says.

In 1980, Shaw hesitated when he was offered an anchor job at "a network that didn't exist," a 24-hour news channel that many saw as a harebrained scheme. Shaw says his wife persuaded him to do it by saying that "if you don't and CNN takes off, I won't be able to live with you."

For years, Shaw was better known in Europe or Japan than in Washington, which was without cable until the late 1980s. CNN made strides in credibility and recognition, but slowly. It was considered a breakthrough in 1987 when Shaw was included with Rather, Brokaw and Jennings in a group interview with President Reagan.

Shaw's reputation as a fierce inquisitor gathered steam when he interviewed vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle during the 1988 Republican convention. The CNN anchor asked if Quayle had joined the National Guard out of fear of being killed in Vietnam. "Sweat popped out on his lip," Shaw says. "He was visibly furious."

On Oct. 13, 1988, Shaw asked the question that many believe changed the course of the presidential race. As moderator of the second campaign debate, he opened the proceedings by asking Michael Dukakis whether he would drop his opposition to the death penalty if his wife were raped and killed. Dukakis responded with a limp defense of his opposition to capital punishment and never recovered.

During the pre-debate discussions, George Watson says, "This was not the question some other panelists wanted to open up with and they put a lot of pressure on Bernie. But Bernie stuck to his guns. He's very stubborn."

Shaw makes no apology for such questions: "I'm not an offensive person by nature, but if a newsmaker is offended while I'm in the process of doing my job, it does not bother me at all."

When Shaw is on the other side of the microphone, however, he is clearly reticent about discussing his private life. Pressed about his reunion with Linda earlier that day at their Takoma Park home, he says in a monotone: "When the door opened, she just started trembling and crying, and I started crying too. We all hugged and kissed. ... She didn't like the idea of my going. It's difficult what we do to our family members because we're in this business."

Nor can Shaw be induced to wax eloquent about the scoop of a lifetime. "I don't like to gloat," he says matter-of-factly. "I believe in cutthroat competition. I will try to beat Dan, Tom or Peter every time I can."

Even now, after receiving a standing ovation at the CNN bureau, being hailed by Larry King as a "folk hero" and taking a congratulatory call from Cronkite, Bernard Shaw dismisses the idea that he is a superstar who has accomplished some great feat.

"So we did extremely well on that story -- so what?" he says. "Next week we still have to be responsible and accurate and on top of the news. If you sit around fondling the clips, you're going to be in trouble. This war's going to be history one day."