Leon Daniel Obit



Xuan Loc, Vietnam, 4/16/1975, two weeks before fall of Saigon.

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Leon Daniel - UPI Foreign Editor -- By Lewis Lord, with Al Kaff

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Veteran UPI War Correspondent/Foreign Editor Daniel dead at 74 (March 19, 2006)

Leon Daniel, 74, a wire-service journalist who fought in one war and covered two more plus the civil rights revolution, died at a hospital in Glen Ellyn, Ill., from a blood clot in his lung Sunday night (March 19, 2006), five days after undergoing angioplasty.

Daniel spent 36 years with United Press International, working out of 11 bureaus on three continents before retiring in 1993 from its Washington headquarters. He twice was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, once for his dispatches in the Vietnam War and a second time for work in the United States.

Leon Daniel, 74, a wire-service journalist who fought in one war and covered two more plus the civil rights revolution, died at a hospital in Glen Ellyn, Ill., from a blood clot in his lung Sunday night (March 19), five days after undergoing angioplasty.


Daniel spent 36 years with United Press International, working out of 11 bureaus on three continents before retiring in 1993 from its Washington headquarters. He twice was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, once for his dispatches in the Vietnam War and a second time for work in the United States.


"Among wire service reporters, Leon Daniel was the gold standard," said former UPI war correspondent Joseph Galloway, his colleague in Saigon, Tokyo and New Delhi. "He was a tough competitor," added former rival Peter Arnett, who covered the Vietnam War for the Associated Press, "and also was the most amiable of men, endearing him to colleagues and soldiers alike."


Daniel was born in Etowah, Tenn., the son of a train dispatcher and a school teacher, and grew up in Knoxville, Tenn. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 19 and became a rifle squad leader in the Korean War. Returning home with a Purple Heart and an ankle maimed by shrapnel, he attended the University of Tennessee on the GI Bill, then jumped into journalism as a reporter at the Knoxville Journal. He joined UPI in Nashville in 1956, became its Knoxville manager in 1959, and went to Atlanta, UPI's Southern headquarters, in 1960. For six years, he roamed the South, reporting on the civil rights movement, the story he considered the most important he ever reported.


In Philadelphia, Miss., he covered the search for three missing (and murdered) civil rights workers. Philadelphia, he recalled, was "a very dangerous town for any outsiders, not just civil rights workers." On his first trip there, he and a New York Times reporter stopped at a roadhouse for food. The Times reporter, Daniel said, ordered "a pastrami on rye with mustard or some impossible thing you could never get in the South." Amid hostile stares, "we left in a hurry."


While vacationing in Florida in 1961, he got word that a group of anti-Castro Cuban exiles--the Intercontinental Penetration Brigade--was about to practice parachuting over an abandoned air field near Fort Lauderdale. He and a photographer showed up, and the brigade commander asked which of the two wanted to jump first. They flipped a coin, Daniel would recall, "and I won, or lost, depending on one's point of view." He wound up leaping from a small plane at 2,500 feet. He landed on a concrete runway and was dragged by high winds, an ordeal that busted the ankle that was wrecked in Korea. He limped for the rest of his life. UPI, forever frugal, refused to pay his medical costs. Jumping from a plane during a vacation, the company explained, was not an assignment.


In 1965, Daniel was in the Dominican Republic, witnessing a rebellion. In 1966, he was reporting from the battlefronts of the Vietnam War. One night, a mortar shell killed a young lieutenant in a foxhole three feet from a hole in which Daniel and UPI photographer Kyoichi Sawada slept unharmed.


In 1975, after a series of assignments across Asia from Afghanistan to Okinawa, he was back in Vietnam, covering the fall of Saigon. From the windows of the UPI bureau, he and bureau manager Alan Dawson saw Communist tanks rumble victoriously through the capital. "As darkness fell, we watched ammunition dumps exploding in the distance and tracer bullets leaping into the flare-lit sky," Daniel wrote. "As the shooting subsided we awaited a visit to the bureau by the victors. They never came. So, we ventured out into the street, grinning at the Communist troops we'd only seen before on battlefields. We were relieved when some of them grinned back."


When the U.S. pulled out, nearly all the reporters left too. But Daniel remained in Saigon. Weeks later, expelled by Vietnam's new rulers, he showed up in Tokyo and was asked why he had stayed in Saigon so long. "I had to," he said. "The AP correspondent was there."


During the late 1970s, he served as UPI's Hong Kong-based editor for Asia and then its London-based editor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Among his overseas proteges was future New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who applied with both AP and UPI for a job in London. "AP said, 'Forget it, kid. You haven't even covered a fire,' " Friedman later recalled, "but a wonderful, grizzled, really, really fine newsman named Leon Daniel . . . said, 'I'm going to take a chance on this kid.' So Leon Daniel hired me and I learned how to be a journalist."


In 1977, while Daniel was vacationing in Knoxville, a rookie answered the phone in UPI's Atlanta bureau and then shouted across the newsroom: "Does anybody know a Leon Daniel? Says he's got a hot story." Daniel's story turned out to be the escape of Martin Luther King's assassin, James Earl Ray, from East Tennessee's Brushy Mountain State Prison. After dictating a bell-ringing story, Daniel rushed to the prison and for three days helped put UPI on front pages across America.


In 1980, Daniel moved to Washington, where he would serve as UPI's national reporter, roving the U.S. for news, then for two years as its managing editor for international news. As its chief correspondent in 1990, he flew to Kuwait to direct UPI coverage of the Gulf War.


After retirement, Daniel continued to write. In an op-ed page article in the Chicago Tribune last September, he said America's "preemptive invasion [of Iraq] has landed the U.S. squarely in the middle of a raging war that may prove unwinnable and bears a remarkable resemblance to a Vietnam-style quagmire."


Daniel lived in Washington until 1997, when he moved to Charlottesville, Va. Last summer, he and his companion for the past 10 years, Judith Paterson, a retired journalism professor at the University of Maryland, moved to Glen Ellyn, where his daughter, the Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel, is pastor of the First Congregational Church. Other survivors include a grandson and a granddaughter. His marriage to the late Carobel Calhoun Daniel ended in divorce.


"He always said his obituary should say he was in A.A.," said Paterson. "He was in it for the last 20 years." During most of his earlier years, he was a fan of what he called "loudmouth soup."


Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery, with a memorial service to be held in Washington on April 1 at Christ Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.

 

 

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