WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Some people make an impression, and Jurate Kazickas made an impression on me.
The striking six-footer, with her high cheekbones and mane of reddish-brown hair, stood out like a rose among thorns at the dusty U.S. base at Dong Ha in the summer of 1967.
The free-lance reporter was on her way to the hills that rose to the west, where infantrymen of the Third Marine Division were locked in fierce combat with the North Vietnamese Army.
The scale, intensity, and duration of infantry combat in Vietnam are still not understood by the American public.
I met Kazickas only briefly and in the company of other servicemen. I quickly forgot her unusual name, but she stayed in my mind. Periodically, I wondered what had happened to her -- until Wednesday night at a reception for the new book "Wartorn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam."
Kazickas wasn't at the party, but I found her when I opened the book to the chapter titled "These Hills Called Khe Sanh."
On Thursday I tracked her down on vacation in Wyoming. She thought she remembered me, but I told her this was impossible. My name seemed familiar, however.
"Are you cute?" she asked over the phone.
"You wouldn't pick me out of a crowd."
"Well, welcome home. Glad you made it out of there."
Kazickas, like many of her co-authors, almost didn't make it out. In March of 1968, at Khe Sanh, she was wounded by North Vietnamese artillery. She stayed in journalism, eventually married and raised a family. But for decades she was haunted by a memory.
In late June of 1967, in the highlands between Khe Sanh and Laos, Kazickas went out on a long-range patrol with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. The brass insisted that she have an official escort; otherwise, she couldn't go. The overweight, out-of-shape desk sergeant assigned that duty pulled a groin muscle on the second day out and said he could no longer walk. The company commander, who was forced to called in a helicopter, said that if the escort was evacuated, Kazickas would have to leave, too.
Kazickas protested, but the captain was insistent. "No escort, no reporter."
She reminded the officer that breaking radio silence and calling in a helicopter would reveal their presence to the enemy -- to no avail.
The Marines hacked a clearing in the thick brush just big enough for Kazickas and the escort to be hoisted up to the hovering chopper on a cable. "I became so angry, I could hardly look at (the escort)," she wrote. "I resented having to leave that patrol."
A few days later, she learned that the patrol had been hit and the company commander had been killed. Fear and grief prevented her from checking into the details and completing the story.
"Back home in the States, years later, one frantic night I became obsessed about the fate of the men I had interviewed so long ago," she wrote. She went to her basement and rummaged through her musty files, notebooks and photos. Via the Internet, she located a veteran of the patrol and asked him how the captain had died.
She learned that Lima Co. returned to Khe Sanh three days after she had left it. Almost immediately, it was sent out to relieve India Co., which "was in big trouble on Hill 689." Her evacuation had nothing to do with subsequent casualties or the captain's death.
This is just one element of one chapter of "Wartorn," a powerful collection of memories by nine remarkable women. One need not agree with every political opinion expressed or implied in "Wartorn" to say that this is a terrific book, parts of which will rank with Michael Herr's "Dispatches" (1977) in capturing the atmosphere of the American experience in Vietnam -- probably with more factual accuracy. The understated account of UPI's Kate Webb of the 23 days she was held captive by the North Vietnamese in Cambodia alone is worth the price of the book.
Other contributors are Tad Bartimus, now a radio commentator in Hawaii; Denby Fawcett, a television political reporter in Honolulu; Edith Lederer, the Associated Press's chief correspondent at the United Nations; Ann Bryan Mariano, who retired from The Washington Post in 1996; Anne Morrissy Merick, a former ABC news producer; Laura Palmer, an independent television producer; and Tracy Wood, editor in chief of Ms. Magazine. Gloria Emerson, who covered Vietnam for The New York Times from 1970 to 1972, provides a brief introduction.
And Kazickas? She's still a writer and lives in New York with her husband and three children.
She visited Vietnam in 1995. "When I saw that red communist flag flying over the Rex (hotel) in Saigon, I was very sad," she said. Kazickas returned to Khe Sahn and Con Thien, marveled again at the beauty of the countryside and admired the industry of the Vietnamese people.
"It's peaceful, but we can't kid ourselves. Those people are not free," she said.
She also is active in refugee work, traveling around the world in that cause.
"Are any current pictures of you on the Internet?" I asked, typing her name into Google.
She didn't think so.
("Wartorn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam." Random House, 291 pages, $24.95)