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On April 7, 1971, UPI Phnom Penh bureau manager Kate Webb was captured by Viet Cong while covering a battle 56 miles south of Phnom Penh. She and five others captured with her -- a Japanese newsreel photographer and four Cambodians including two driver-interpreters, a photographer and newspaper cartoonist -- were held for 23 days. On May 1 Webb called the Phnom Penh bureau from Kompong Speu to report that she and the others had been released and were "alive and well" (though she contracted malaria during her captivity). Ten days later UPI ran a four-part, 7,000-word account of the ordeal. Webb wrote of being questioned at one point:
"'Do you realize,' said the old man in civilian clothes, 'you are a prisoner of war, and that one shot through the head could finish you, just like that?'
"'I'm in your hands,' I said, grinning. 'That's up to you now, there's nothing I can do about it. Besides I don't consider myself a prisoner of war, I'm not a soldier.' 'Then consider yourself an invited guest,' he said.
"They all laughed, harder, at this, and the old man commented that I seemed very confident about release. There had been no threat in the tone of his voice. The interrogation often fell into a humorous vein. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, the Vietnamese, but then it would suddenly twist.
"It ended on a serious note. The Finger [a nickname Webb gave to a young soldier with a wounded index finger] looked up and said, 'If you really are objective, as you say, you must want to stay with us, having spent so much time with the other side. Do you want to go back to your family or stay with us?
"I felt the question was serious. I sat and thought. I was in a quandary, afraid and fascinated, physically weak and aware of the worry there would be on 'the other side.' They were taking me up on my own statements.
"I thought of my own dictum, 'Dead men don't write stories.' Then I answered seriously, 'I'd like to stay with you a few weeks, and then return home.'" (Photo = Kate Webb)
Minutes before nine a.m., September 11, the employees of United Press International's Santiago office began another day of work, unaware that they would soon witness one of the turning points in Chilean history.
As some eight employees began work, the Chilean Armed Forces, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, led a bloody coup that ended 1,000 days of government by the "Unidad Popular," a leftist movement that had been marked by violence, chaos and bitterness.
Guillermo Villota, a UPI technician, remembered that day. "Around 20 minutes before nine o'clock in the morning, we heard something like heavy machinery. We thought it was something related to the construction of the subway. Nevertheless, we realized that there were army tanks heading towards La Moneda." La Moneda, the government palace, was across Santiago's main avenue, Alameda Libertado Bernando O'Higgins, from the UPI bureau. From their vantage point in the UPI office, staff had a clear view of the events unfolding below.
"Little by little, the Alameda got full of army men. They were armed like it was a war," said Villota, who was also a civilian employee for the Chilean Air Force.
"After the military took position, the shooting began," he said. "We all threw ourselves on the floor.
The bullets went and came. They even shot towards the UPI office. They were automatic weapons, M?user guns and tanks shooting."
Villota also remembered the moment at which the bullets destroyed the UPI telephone plugboard. Although the connections were damaged severely, Villota risked his life to crawl to the shattered board and with bullets whizzing around connected parts of cables to try to restore communication with the outside.
"Give me a line," yelled Roberto Mason, the bureau manager who had come in early to review the day ahead. Within moments that seemed like minutes, Mason was dictating to the UPI bureau in Mendoza, Argentina, giving the world the first eye witness accounts of what was happening in the Chilean capital.
Meanwhile, outside, throughout the neighborhood of La Moneda, troops were engaged in a pitched battle. Around 10:30 a.m., the Air Force announced it would bomb the palace at noon. Nevertheless, from La Moneda, the occupants continued to resist. Shortly before noon, a Hawker Hunter squad flew over downtown and minutes later the bombing began. In the meantime, at UPI, Mason continued dispatching the details of the assault.
For the employees, hours of turmoil at the epicenter of a coup became agonizing because they could not learn of the fate of their families.
At the bureau, UPI continued to provide the world the details as President Salvador Allende committed suicide and the military came into power it would hold for the next 17 years.
Within the Santiago office three bullet holes remain in the wall facing the windows. When the walls were recently redecorated those holes were framed as a rememberance.
Helen Thomas, a White House correspondent for several decades pictured here with LBJ. (UPI file)
In 1973, Helen Thomas's exclusive interviews with Martha Mitchell helped expose the Watergate scandal. Thomas's report filed on Aug. 26, 1973, detailed how the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell said she had seen the Nixon campaign strategy book that included plans for Watergate-style operations. Thomas, who began covering the White House in 1961, also was the first woman to conclude presidential news conferences with "Thank you, Mr. President," a tradition that had started when Merriman Smith covered Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1984, when Thomas received the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award, President Reagan said: "You are not only a fine and respected professional; you have also become an important part of the American Presidency."
On April 30, 1975, Communist troops entered Saigon. As the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops using tanks, trucks and captured American Jeeps, entered the city, UPI photographer Hoang Van Cuong rode one of the Russian-made tanks into the presidential compound surrounded by smiling soldiers who shouted, "Press guy, good." At the presidential palace, now the Viet Cong headquarters, UPI Saigon bureau manager Alan Dawson attempted to make contact with senior Communist officials to discuss news and photograph operations. A noisy fight broke out and Dawson spent 10 minutes tucked between two Viet Cong behind a tree. He was able to pull out after about 10 minutes. UPI continued to file, and Dawson was one of the last correspondents out of Vietnam.