Gloria Emerson, 75, one of the small band of female journalists who covered the Vietnam War and whose subsequent books continued to document the turmoil and tragedy of war, died in an apparent suicide Aug. 3 at her apartment in New York.
Ms. Emerson had Parkinson's disease, friends said, and left notes in her Manhattan home indicating that she took her life. The New York medical examiner said yesterday the cause of death had not yet been determined.
She came late to the Vietnam War, working there from 1970 to 1972. Her articles in the New York Times showed the human cost of war in excruciating detail and won a George Polk Award for excellence in foreign reporting, but ultimately they seemed too measured and too short-lived for her. Ms. Emerson turned to magazine writing, and then to books. Her nonfiction account about Vietnam and America's reaction to it, "Winners and Losers" (1976), won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1978.
"If I hadn't married," Jackie Kennedy Onassis once said, "I might have had a life very much like Gloria Emerson's."
Ms. Emerson wrote with passion about people caught up in the machinery of war, most often in Vietnam, but also in Biafra, Belfast and Gaza. She never got over Vietnam, and she was determined that the reading public would not forget, either.
"I didn't write to be famous; I wrote to keep a record," she told The Washington Post in 1991. She was among those who blew the whistle on false body counts, on the practice of bestowing medals on high-ranking officers who never saw combat, and on the ease with which troops bought heroin and other drugs.
"I could not abide [high U.S. military officials]. I saw them as very dangerous, treacherous people who would lie at the drop of a hat. And they weren't so crazy to see me, either. They didn't like women floating around. They were collaborators in the fraud, the military," she told a PBS documentary in 2003. "There were one or two officers who might have been marvelous, but it was not my good luck to know them."
She was an "obscurely famous" writer, the Post story said, a character in novelist Ward Just's short story "Journalism" whose torrid love affairs were legendary but who barely spoke of her two former husbands.
She gave homeless veterans money and smuggled antibiotics into Vietnam for children, sending them through airline pilots. "She was very oriented to individuals," said a longtime friend, Dick Hughes. "She always had something she finagled to help out."
Ms. Emerson was a native of Manhattan, from a blueblood family that lost its fortune, a thin, six-foot-tall woman who spoke in precise tones but who was, in her own words: "Bossy. Ill-tempered. Ferocious. Put all of that down. Do you have it?"
She freelanced in Saigon in 1956 and remembered it later as a city of trees, boulevards and flowers, full of gaiety. Fifteen years later, she said, it was "malignant, cruel, crowded, costly and furtive, but never gay."
Her 1957 employment application to the New York Times said she was a widow and her married name was Znamiecki, and that was all that friends knew of her first husband.
At the Times, Ms. Emerson worked on the women's news section, where "a dazzling array of talent was kept six floors away from the news department," said a former colleague, copy editor Betsy Wade. Ms. Emerson, although grateful for the job, loathed writing about shoes and clothes.
She left in 1960 to marry Charles A. Brofferio and live in Brussels. They divorced in 1961. The Times rehired her in 1964 for its Paris bureau, specifically to cover the haute couture collections twice a year. There she met Vietnamese political exiles, learned about their conflicts and differing loyalties, and "often sought solace in Vietnamese restaurants in Paris over countless bowls of noodle soup," she wrote in her own obituary.
She transferred to London in 1968, covered the troubles in Northern Ireland, and two years later was sent to Vietnam "because the war was supposed to be over so it didn't matter if a female was sent," she said.
Ms. Emerson disdained feminism, once writing that no woman who has witnessed how the Army can crush and humble an enlisted man can ever muster any sympathy for the women's movement. "The real victims of men," she concluded, "are other men."
For many years after the war, she said in the introduction to "War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam" (2002), she refused to answer what she considered a frivolous question: What was it like being a woman in Vietnam? "As if I might discuss a career opportunity," she wrote disdainfully. "I wanted the harder questions." She noted the questioners were "dismissing all the Vietnamese women in the South who risked torture and death . . . and the American nurses who cared for the soldiers." In her own book, she wrote: "During the war I was equal at last, and often it was too much to bear."
She was widely excerpted, most prominently in the Library of America's "Reporting Vietnam, Part II" (1998) and in Michelle Ferrari's "Reporting America at War" (2003), which was turned into a PBS documentary. Despite her obsession, she did not glamorize war, nor was she a reporter who arose each morning eager to face the "bang-bang."
"I ate breakfast like a woman with a wired jaw, so much did I dread having to leave that room and face it all," she wrote for a 1973 Playboy story. "There are other stories I could tell, about the living and the dead, much more than I have told here, but so very much has already been written, and none of it ever made any difference at all."
In 1982, she was one of six U.S. journalists, acting under the umbrella of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who issued a report that condemned the suppression of press freedoms and the acts of intimidation and physical violence against reporters in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
In addition to "Winners and Losers," she wrote "Some American Men" (1985), "Gaza, A Year in the Intifada" (1991) and a novel, "Loving Graham Greene" (2000). The Gaza book got poor reviews and provoked hostility from some who felt it was anti-Israel, but Ms. Emerson insisted in her obituary that it was not. She wrote that she "hoped to provide a primer for those who felt the situation in the Middle East was too complicated or too controversial to understand."
Ms. Emerson did not attend college and held no degrees but was three times the Ferris professor of journalism for the Council of Humanities at Princeton University in the 1980s. She was a member of the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame. She had no immediate survivors.
Ms. Emerson wrote, in "War Torn," that although novelist Just wrote that it was a privilege to have been in Vietnam, "I wish I felt the same way, but I can't quite manage it."