David Mason, AP Veteran and Saigon Chief, Dies at 85

By: David Mason, who reported for The Associated Press on the Suez crisis, Charles de Gaulle's rise to power and the Vietnam war in a 37-year career, has died following a long illness, his son said Wednesday. He was 85.

Mason, who had been in declining health from a variety of ailments, died at the Manor Care Home in Taunton, southwestern England, on Sunday, said David Mason Jr.

"The most remarkable thing, looking back on the parts of the world that I know and know of, is the number of permanent conflicts and confrontations that exist and will probably exist forever," Mason told the magazine of his alma mater, McAllister College, St Paul, Minnesota, in a 2000 interview.

"You end up judging countries by the number of people who are violently killed," he added.

Mason began his career in journalism at age 13 setting type at the Northern Light newspaper in Williams, Minnesota.

In World War II he was a still and motion picture photographer with the First Combat Camera Unit based in Bari, Italy, and flew a score of combat missions over northern Italy, southern France and the Balkans.

Returning to his studies, he worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press as a police reporter while completing a bachelor degree in 1946.

The following year he joined The Associated Press in Fargo, North Dakota, transferred to Minneapolis in 1950, then began his career as a foreign correspondent in London in 1954. He was assigned to Paris the following year.

He covered the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez Canal Zone in 1956, and de Gaulle's rise in 1958. De Gaulle, Mason reflected in retirement, was "the only honest politician I ever ran into."

Mason also covered the Belgian Congo's struggle to gain independence in 1960.

During the Vietnam War, he moved to Saigon in 1968 and was appointed chief of bureau there in 1969.

"In 1970, Dave became suspicious of two Americans who suddenly showed up claiming to be news correspondents but didn't pass his 'smell test,'" said Richard Pyle, who succeeded Mason as Saigon bureau chief in 1970.

"He confronted them and managed to expose them as frauds, allegedly planted by the U.S. Command to keep tabs on the Saigon press corps. Details of what this was all about never became clear other than it was a hare-brained idea by some unknown officials ? and not the first one," Pyle recalled.

Mason collided with the AP's general manager, Wes Gallagher, in 1970 after editors in New York refused to use a report of looting and raping by U.S. troops.

Facing a staff rebellion, Mason informed Gallagher that there was a crisis of confidence in the bureau, and Gallagher relented.

"It was a display of journalistic forthrightness and skillful diplomacy by David Mason," Pyle said.

Gallagher later said he regretted his initial decision to kill the report. "I just did it on the spur of the moment and I shouldn't have," he said.

Mason was appointed chief of bureau in Moscow in 1970, reporting on the Brezhnev era, then moved to London with the same title in 1977.

In 1980, he returned to reporting as chief European correspondent, covering NATO and the diplomatic beat until retiring in 1987.

"Dave was quiet-spoken but witty and wise, the sort of gentleman journalist who did our profession proud," said former AP staffer Mort Rosenblum, who worked with Mason in France and Vietnam.

"As an editor, he always got the best work possible out of every reporter he dealt with because he understood the humanity and reality in every story that crossed his desk."

"Dave Mason was the quiet professional who always demonstrated high standards and earned the trust of diplomatic and other sources," said Myron Belkind, who succeeded Mason as chief of bureau in London.

Mason is survived by his son and a granddaughter. His first marriage ended in divorce; his second wife, former French diplomat Andree-Paule Cuerlet, died in 1991.

A funeral service was planned for July 2 at St. George's Catholic Church in Taunton, followed by cremation. Mason's ashes will be interred beside his parents in Williams, Minnesota.


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