Open main menu

John Laurence (also known as Jack Laurence) is an American television correspondent, author, and documentary filmmaker. He is known for his work on the air at CBS News, London correspondent for ABC News, documentary work for PBS and CBS, and his book and magazine writing. He won the George Polk Memorial Award of the Overseas Press Club of America for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad" for his coverage of the Vietnam War in 1970.[1]

John Laurence
John Laurence

OccupationTV news correspondent, author, documentary filmmaker.
Notable work
The World of Charlie Company (1970)
The Cat from Huế: a Vietnam War Story (2002)
I Am an American Soldier: One Year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne (2007)

Life and careerEdit

Laurence attended Fairfield College Preparatory School and then Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. While at the University of Pennsylvania, he started working at the campus radio station, WXPN which led to his career in broadcast journalism. He worked at WWDC (AM/FM) in Washington D.C. for a year and then at WNEW-AM/FM in New York from 1962–64. He joined CBS News as a radio correspondent in January, 1965. He covered the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Civil War in April–May 1965 where he produced a radio documentary on the revolution.[2]

Vietnam WarEdit

Laurence volunteered to go to South Vietnam in August 1965 as a radio reporter while Morley Safer, Charles Collingwood, Peter Kalischer and others did television. However, as an extra camera crew was available, he started reporting for TV, beginning with an exclusive report on the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division's advance party in South Vietnam. He covered Operation Piranha, the Battle of An Ninh, the Siege of Plei Me, the aftermath of the Battle of Ia Drang and Operation Masher.

In December, 1965, Laurence was promoted from reporter to correspondent by Fred W. Friendly, the president of CBS News. This made him the youngest correspondent in CBS News history.[citation needed] He was 26 years old.

Laurence was initially supportive of U.S. policy in Vietnam and gave favorable if neutral coverage in what was referred to by the U.S. Army public information officers as "being with the program".[2]:123–5 However, as he saw more and more of the war, witnessing the deaths of American GIs and Vietnamese civilians, the accidental bombing of a village in neutral Cambodia, coming under fire from friendly forces, and seeing the corruption endemic in South Vietnam, he became more critical of the U.S. presence and what might actually be achieved there.[2]:293, 219–20

Through his friendship with UPI photojournalist Steve Northup, Laurence became a regular visitor at 47 Bui Thi Xuan, Saigon, the home of Northup and fellow correspondents Tim Page, Martin Stuart-Fox, David Stuart-Fox, Simon Dring, Joseph Galloway, and later Sean Flynn. It was known as "Frankie's House" after the resident Vietnamese houseboy. Frankie's House became a social club for a small group of young correspondents and their friends who talked, listened to music and smoked marijuana between field assignments. Laurence gifted Page a sandalwood box in which he kept a ready supply of marijuana.[2]:295–314[3][4]

On 10 March 1966, following the Battle of A Sau, Laurence interviewed Marine Lt. Col. Charles House, commander of HMM-163, the unit which had evacuated the survivors of the battle and who had himself been shot down and rescued from the battlefield. House stated that panicking CIDG troops had overloaded the evacuation helicopters. The crews and Special Forces troops opened fire on them to restore order. The story caused outrage when broadcast and led to an investigation by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and III MAF but no further action was taken.[5][6]

On 22 May 1996, Laurence's friend and Frankie's House regular, Sam Castan, a LOOK magazine correspondent, was killed at Landing Zone Hereford and Laurence wrote Castan's obituary for LOOK.[7]

Laurence left Vietnam in late May, 1966, returning to the U.S. and working out of CBS bureaus in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. He covered racial/police violence in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966, the civil rights movement in the South and other domestic stories in the United States.[2]:421–5, 432

Laurence returned to Vietnam in August 1967.[2]:435 He covered the Battle of Dak To, the Tet Offensive, the siege of Con Thien, the Battle of Khe Sanh, the Battle of Hue, corruption among the Vietnamese, and the plight of South Vietnamese civilians among other combat stories. With cameraman Keith Kay, they were the first TV crew to report on the siege of Con Thien in September, 1967 and Kay and Laurence received a cable from Walter Cronkite congratulating them on their work.[2]:466[8]

In February 1968 Laurence and Kay were the first TV team to reach Hue on the third day of the battle and first to get their film on the air in the U.S.[2]:3–90 Laurence later had dinner with Walter Cronkite the night before the CBS anchorman returned to the U.S. following his two week tour of Vietnam to study the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. He tried to impress on Cronkite his belief that the war had reached a stalemate and that America was wasting the lives of its own troops and those of the Vietnamese people by continuing the war. Soon after, Cronkite broadcast a special report on CBS calling for negotiations to end the war.[9][10]

Laurence reported the 1968 documentary "Hill 943," an hour-long special report on CBS News, recounting the lives (and death) of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment trying to capture Hill 943 during the Battle of Dak To. "The grim and unpublicized routine of the war in Vietnam—the dangerous assignment of an American company to penetrate the jungle and take Hill 943—was related with unusual intimacy in last night's news special of the Columbia Broadcasting System," New York Times TV reviewer Jack Gould wrote.[11]

Laurence's second tour in Vietnam ended in May 1968. Based in New York, he covered racial violence in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Kansas City and San Francisco.

Sigma Delta Chi, the U.S. professional journalism society, made its television reporting award for Distinguished Service in Journalism to Laurence for his coverage of the Vietnam war in 1967.[12] Laurence received an Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his 1968 series of investigative reports called "Police After Chicago" on the CBS Evening News.[13]

In 1969, Laurence reported an hour documentary on what had become known in the United States as the "Generation gap," the difference in attitudes between young people and their parents. "People are so much more interesting than statistics, a fact demonstrated once again last night on the Columbia Broadcasting System's superb television study of the generation gap, "Fathers and Sons" wrote George Gent in the New York Times.[14]

In March, 1970, Laurence returned to Vietnam to produce and report a documentary that would later become The World of Charlie Company.[2]:527 Along with his cameraman, Keith Kay, and sound technician James Clevenger, they spent four months recording the daily lives and experiences of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, in Tây Ninh Province in War Zone C near the Cambodian border. They lived, ate and marched with them, while sending reports for the CBS Evening News. In April 1970, Laurence and his team accompanied C Company as they conducted a helicopter assault into Memot District at the start of the Cambodian Campaign attempting to engage the North Vietnamese military headquarters known as COSVN.[2]:763 For his work, Laurence received a Columbia duPont Silver Baton award.[15]


In 1970, Laurence moved to London to take over as bureau chief from Morley Safer.[2]:816 He and Keith Kay covered the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 from East Pakistan.[2]:817 As a London-based correspondent, he covered the conflict in Northern Ireland for the next 20 years. He covered the October War (Yom Kippur War) between Syria, Egypt and Israel in 1973. In 1974, he covered the wars in Cyprus, Rhodesia and Ethiopia and the continuing artillery, air force and terrorist incidents between Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Other wars and revolutions he covered in the 1970s, 80s and 90s included Portugal, Angola, Lebanon, Iceland, Afghanistan, South Africa and Yugoslavia. He covered the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and reported from Kuwait for a month after the war for ABC News Nightline. In 2003, Laurence accompanied a rifle company from the 101st Air Assault Division into Iraq at the start of the Iraq War. He returned to Iraq with the same rifle company to make a documentary and was embedded with it for 16 months in 2005-06. The film was called, "I Am an American Soldier."[16][2]:807

In 1977, Laurence left CBS News and began working on his book, "The Cat from Hue: a Vietnam War Story." In 1978, he joined ABC News as a London correspondent at a time when its new president, Roone Arledge, was building the TV news division to make it more competitive with CBS and NBC.[2]:818

In July 1982 Laurence returned briefly to Vietnam for the first time since 1970.[2]:825

Laurence's memoir of his years covering the war in Vietnam, "The Cat from Hue: a Vietnam War Story," was published in 2002 by PublicAffairs Press in New York. It received positive reviews in The New York Times[17] and in other major U.S. newspapers and magazines.[18] The book received the Cornelius Ryan Award from the Overseas Press Club, its sole annual book award, for "Best Non-Fiction Reporting on International Affairs".

The documentary film Laurence produced and directed, "I Am an American Soldier" was shown at film festivals in New York, Orlando and Traverse City, Michigan in 2007. It received a Founder's Award at Traverse City given by Michael Moore, and a Certificate of Appreciation from the 10th Mountain Division at its base in Louisiana for a screening of the film for troops about to embark for a year in Iraq.[16]


  1. ^ "C.B.S. Team Wins Award for a Vietnam Project". The New York Times. 27 March 1971. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Laurence, John (2002). The Cat from Hue. Public Affairs. p. 425. ISBN 1586481606.
  3. ^ Young, Perry (2009). Two of the Missing: Remembering Sean Flynn and Dana Stone. Press 53. ISBN 9780981628097.
  4. ^ Page, Tim (1990). Page After Page. Paladin Books. pp. 100–5. ISBN 0689120885.
  5. ^ Shulimson, Jack (1982). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1966, an Expanding War. History and Museums Division, USMC. pp. 62–3.
  6. ^ Yarborough, Thomas (2016). A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963–1971. Casemate. ISBN 9781612003542.
  7. ^ Christie, Michael (17 September 2012). "The decision to leave a mortar platoon alone at Hereford sealed the fate of its men and journalist Sam Castan". Vietnam Magazine.
  8. ^ Arlen, Michael (1969). Living Room War. Viking Press. pp. 86–102.
  9. ^ "50 years ago, Walter Cronkite told America the bitter truth. We need more Cronkites today". Philadelphia Inquirer. 22 February 2018. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  10. ^ Brinkley, Douglas (2012) Cronkite. Harper/Harper/Collins (New York)
  11. ^ Gould, Jack (5 June 1968). "TV: The Agony of War 25 Years Ago and Today" (PDF). The New York Times.
  12. ^ "News Awards Made by Sigma Delta Chi" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 April 1968.
  13. ^ "C.B.S. Hunger Show Wins an Emmy" (PDF). The New York Times. 27 May 1969.
  14. ^ Gent, George (13 August 1969). "TV: Poignant Study of Generation Gap" (PDF). The New York Times.
  15. ^ "duPont Winners Archive". Columbia University. December 7, 2017. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  16. ^ a b Am an American Soldier
  17. ^ Kutler, Stanley (21 April 2002). "Apocalypse Then". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Press Reviews". 10 August 2003.

External linksEdit