Seven Years a Correspondent: The story of a Nebraska journalist covering the Vietnam War
By Barney McCoy
May 17, 2023, 2:17 p.m. ·
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Fifty years ago, the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris ending America’s direct military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Eighty-eight-year-old Nebraskan Beverly Deepe Keever knows that war better than most Americans. She was America’s longest-serving Vietnam War correspondent.
Born in Hebron, Nebraska, Beverly Deepe Keever earned her journalism degree from University of Nebraska and a master’s from New York’s Columbia University. At age 26, she bought a one-way ticket to Asia to teach English and sell freelance stories to the Associated Press.
“I went into journalism because I wanted to understand people and culture in other countries,” Deepe Keever said.
Author, journalist and scholar Brooke Kroeger said Deepe Keever had something special as a reporter.
"This is someone who's got a halo, you know,” he said. “There's something really marvelous about her in her sense of herself, even coming from a small Nebraska town.”
A year after arriving in Asia, Deepe Keever came to Saigon as fighting began heating up between South Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong guerrillas backed by Communist North Vietnam. The U.S. government sent 500 military advisors to help South Vietnam, and more U.S. troops began pouring in. In 1962, Deepe Keever sent a letter to her friend in Nebraska describing her experience.
“I am undergoing a shock treatment here,” she wrote. “All those professional and personal ideals which had never been shattered until I reached here seem to be under constant bombardment. The things that happen in the country would be a bombshell to the American public.”
Friends and family read Deepe Keever’s newspaper reports about all the fighting in Vietnam from 8,600 miles away.
“Paul would call up Dad,” she said. “’Get that girl out of there. Get that girl out of there.’ And Dad said, ‘We don’t even know how to contact her.’”
Writing under the newspaper byline Beverly Deepe, her stories often gave the American public truths about the Vietnam War that U.S. officials were unwilling to admit. This includes the flawed “falling dominoes theory.” Historian and author Larry Berman said President John F. Kennedy and leaders from both political parties used this theory to justify sending more U.S. troops to fight in South Vietnam.
“That doctrine became one of containment and falling dominoes,” Berman said. “So if the dominoes fell in Vietnam, they’d fall all the way to San Francisco.”
In 1963, 16,000 U.S. military advisors supported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his troops fighting against the Viet Cong. Diem's Catholic-led government also clashed with South Vietnam's majority Buddhist population, leading to civic unrest.
“Americans never realized how fragile it was for the leaders to balance all of these conflicting forces,” Deepe Keever said. “The generals themselves were divided.”
On November 1, 1963, several South Vietnamese generals broke away from Diem and staged a military coup, which resulted in Diem’s assassination. Forty years later, declassified documents revealed Diem’s overthrow was secretly approved by the Kennedy administration and backed by America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
“It's still not clear to me why they went ahead with it,” Deepe Keever said. “But they did.”
Weeks later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as America’s new president, inheriting a Vietnam conflict that was quickly worsening. In a private phone call with Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, Johnson admitted their situation had intensified since Diem’s assassination just months earlier. Seven months later, the U.S. Congress approved the Tonkin Gulf resolution, putting U.S. troops on a war footing in Southeast Asia.
“Johnson pretty shortly wrote out the memorandum to get prepared to bomb the north,” Deepe Keever said.
Vietnam became America’s war. It would stay that way for 11-more years. A half-million U.S. troops were fighting and dying in Southeast Asia, and Deepe Keever was watching it happen.
“It turned out to be more than I bargained for,” she said. “I got a war with it.”
Learn more on Beverly Deepe Keever’s Vietnam War reporting experiences Thursday night when “Seven Years A Correspondent” is featured in “Nebraska Stories” on Nebraska Public Media television at 8 p.m. Central Time and 7 p.m. Mountain time.
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