Born and raised in the melting pot of Brooklyn, New York, Kevin Delany learned a sense of tolerance and understanding of different cultures at an early age. This certainly paid off later in life when he worked as a foreign news correspondent and traveled the world as an evaluator of Peace Corps missions. As a young man, Kevin entered the Navy during World War II and later found himself at Williams College where he excelled as a track and field star. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Kevin applied and was accepted to Harvard Business School but, in the wise words of Yogi Bera, “When he came to the fork in the road, he took it.” He declined Harvard and attended Columbia University’s journalism school which sparked his career as a foreign news correspondent for CBS and ABC news. When not traveling the globe, Kevin returned home: to Georgetown. He first encountered Potomac Street as a young Navy ensign in 1952 and bought his first home on Orchard Lane in 1968 (he rented that home out to Peter Jennings of ABC news during a trip to Vietnam). In his interview with Elizabeth Maloy, Kevin Delany recounts a remarkable and exciting life as a world traveler who always found home in Georgetown.
Elizabeth Maloy: This is Elizabeth Maloy, interviewing Kevin Delany on February 14th, 2012, for the CAG Oral History Project, at his home, 3143 O Street, in Georgetown. Kevin, let’s start from the beginning. Where and when were you born?
Kevin Delany: I was born in 1927 ‑‑ wow, sounds pretty far off ‑‑ in Brooklyn. I think in those days, for a very long time I thought everyone was born in Brooklyn, but it turns out not quite so.
I feel the older I got the more I realized how lucky I was to be born in Brooklyn, because it was a wonderful society. We had a tamer, easier society I guess, in those days anyway, a simpler living and less major issues to deal with.
But, it being multi‑racial, multi‑ethnic, you were thrown in with all range, broad range of people in your schools and you learned how to deal with that range of people. It gave you a tolerance and an understanding of social fabric interweaving that you might not have had in a lot of other places.
Elizabeth: Mm‑hmm. Right.
Kevin: The smaller the community, at times I suppose, the more narrow it becomes. In a larger… like Brooklyn you can handle much more as a result, so I’m grateful for that.
We were a very ordinary, middle‑class family I think. I hope not too ordinary. My father was a physician. He was in the NYU Medical School from class of 1909. Oh boy, we got this one right. He did not practice medicine too long. Early in his career he was asked by his father and others to help out in the family business, which was manufacturing flush valves, plumbing supplies. They had a factory in Brooklyn and my father went and did that.
He was one of those who ran the company along with my uncle, and my brother worked there eventually. So, that was his career. He was a remarkable man himself. I won’t bore you with all the details, but he was my hero because he was such an incredible guy. He gave medical care to all his friends, as well as family, and everyone called him just “Doc.” And “Doc” was a hell of a guy who lived until 102. And was remarkable.
After my mother died, he lived alone in Florida in Key Biscayne by himself, and clipped the hedges and did everything to keep himself busy. And he was a character. He had advice for all kinds of things. He says, “It’s OK to have an open mind as long as your brains don’t fall out.”
Little aphorisms like that he was full of. And I learned so much from him. And he was the least bigoted person I have met in my entire life. He as a very open person. And so that was my father. And there was my brother, my older brother, who was three years older, Jack Delany. And my sister Joan Delany, who was a year older than me.
Elizabeth: OK. So the three of you.
Kevin: The three of us. Yeah. Small unit. That was the basic unit.
Kevin: And that’s a single‑family house in the Flatbush part of Brooklyn. As I mentioned before we started the tape recorder, the Glenwood Road School, PS 152, which as a heavily Irish, Jewish, Italian kids all on the same school. And many, many became close friends.
And it was a terrific school. And I was again fortunate. I mentioned to you, Paterno [Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach] was a classmate. I’m not sure exactly where he lived, but he lived nearby in Flatbush, and he also became a classmate of mine in Brooklyn Prep High School I went to. It was a great start. Good elementary school and onto a very good high school.
Elizabeth: Oh cool. So then from there, from Brooklyn Prep, where you were a track star, from there did you enter the Navy right from high school?
Kevin: I did enter the Navy right from high school. By the way I didn’t mention at PS 152, Barbara Stanwyck went to PS 152 a few years before me.
Elizabeth: Oh wow.
Kevin: Her name was then Ruby Stevens. She changed it for Hollywood. But that’s a minor, minor bit of information.
Kevin: Yes. I went to Brooklyn Prep where my brother had gone.
Elizabeth: Is that a private school?
Kevin: It’s a Jesuit‑run school.
Elizabeth: Oh, a Jesuit school. OK.
Kevin: It was very good. All the priests and the scholastics were your teachers. And they didn’t hesitate to use the ruler when you stepped out of line. But it was a very good place for an education. And I did pretty well as a student and getting the gold honors or whatever. I didn’t realize until I got to college that I didn’t have as great an education or strong a foundation as some of the kids from Andover and Deerfield and all the other great prep schools that showed up in my college class. Then I realized I did all right.
They taught me well. But it wasn’t quite in that level. After high school, yes, the war was on. My brother had been in the Pacific in the Navy for about three years by that time. Everyone wanted to be in the service, in those days.
Elizabeth: In World War II?
Kevin: Oh yeah. You didn’t have to persuade people very much. There was an ingrained patriotism by that point, because a lot of people had already lost members of the family and so on, in different parts of the world. When I got out in June of ’45, along with my best friend, Wilson Seabert was his name, in Flatbush, we went down to the recruiting station and signed up for the Navy.
I was admitted. He was not right away, because he was colorblind. So they said, “Sorry, we don’t accept you in the Navy. You’re color blind.” He was so disappointed that there was something like 72 different numbers in the colorblind test that they would use. He sat down and memorized as many as he could. So when he saw 34, he knew he should be seeing 47. Or he should be identifying… His 34 was actually the 47 in the basic book that they had…
Elizabeth: Because they were different colors?
Kevin: Yeah, they were different colors. So it wasn’t so much the number. All the numbers would tell people, at a glance, the people who were testing you out… They’d say, “You should have said 47 there if you were not color blind.” But if you were colorblind you got the wrong number. So he did it and finally on, I think, the third try, he passed.
He ended up going as a Navy mailman in Hawaii. I said, “God, what a cushy job.” I ended up going to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to be a submarine tender. It didn’t matter. We both were only in for less than a year, I guess. So that was the start. I would take my weekends and thumb rides down to Boston to go to the Buddies Club. Which was a club for servicemen.
I’d go in and have coffee or whatever, hot chocolate and wander around Boston, see the place and hitch a ride back to Portsmouth. Not having many bucks in those days. Whatever. It was a good experience. They threw us out and, as I said already, I did apply and was taken in to the freshmen class at Williams.
There I was a pretty good student. But I didn’t bowl them over. Track and field happened to be very important in this case. I was a pretty good runner in high school and then I continued to do well enough in college that that was my entry point, my passport for acceptance. This was a pretty, shall we say, different group of guys in my college class, that came from much wealthier families.
Many of them, they had a very good education. They were a little bit narrow, I thought, in some cases. Since then, I found how many who I thought were more conservative… That turned out not to be. Much different in their thinking. I joined a fraternity, which was the same one that my brother belonged to at RPI, which is the Decals, the Delta Kappa Epsilon.
They’re famous for being heavy drinkers and carousers in most colleges. So getting into the Decals was easy, because of my brother. I had that behind me. And also, I was doing well as an athletic performer and that helped.
Elizabeth: OK. Was Williams all male?
Kevin: It was all male then. It wasn’t until 1968, I think it was, that it became co‑ed. It was all male. The fraternity system was very strong. As much as I enjoyed it, I became the president of the Decals in my last year. I had a great experience. I met a great group of guys and we became very close in many instances. That continued on after graduation.
But, I turned against fraternities. You had all these fraternities, then you had one club, The Garfield Club, for everyone else who wasn’t taken in the regular fraternities. And that included anyone was Jewish. There were one or two, maybe a few Jewish guys did get into fraternities. Damn few. There was that kind of latent prejudice that existed in that period.
I thought people were too young to have that kind of rejection. I thought, if you went to Wisconsin or you went to Ohio State or somewhere and you wanted to join a fraternity and didn’t get in, too bad. But you could get by without it.
But the whole social life centered around fraternities in Williams. So it was very hard to ignore it. To not be part of that meant you had a much lesser social life. I thought, “That’s wrong. That’s not right for somebody who’s 17 to be told ‘you’re a barbarian’ or ‘you’re not up to being with our group.'”
I thought it was wrong. We all voted as the presidents of the various fraternities, and I think almost everyone, and I certainly voted that we have full‑time rushing. In other words, everyone should be allowed to go into a fraternity who wanted to.
That was the beginning of the end of the fraternity system at Williams. It was just a few years later that the college said, “We want them all ended. No more.” They just said, “That’s it.”
Elizabeth: Oh wow.
Kevin: And started clubs and that sort of thing. That’s the story. Where are we?
Elizabeth: So after college, then, I know that you went into journalism obviously.
Elizabeth: So when was that?
Kevin: I got out in 1950.
Elizabeth: Oh, so you graduated from Williams.
Kevin: I graduated in 1950 from Williams.
Elizabeth: OK. So when did you start there?
Kevin: In 1949, ’50, ’51, ’52. I’m sorry. I got out in 1950 but we started in 1949, 1950, 1951. What am I saying wrong here?
Elizabeth: So you must have started in ’46?
Kevin: We started in ’47 I guess it was. ’47, ’48, ’49, ’50. Or ’46, it had to be ’46.
Kevin: You’d think I’d have that figured out by now.
Elizabeth: But you graduated in ’50 then, for sure.
Kevin: I graduated in ’50. It had to be ’46 was our freshman year.
Elizabeth: Whatever. [laughs]
Kevin: My brother had finished RPI where he was president of his class.
Elizabeth: Oh wow.
Kevin: He was always president or the leading guy in everything he did. He had a dynamic personality. So Jack had gone off to Harvard Business School. He had applied, and he was in the class of ’49 at Harvard Business School which became known as THE class because they turned out more titans of industry than any class they had had up to that point. It was Tom Murphy from Capital City who became the head of ABC news.
What’s his name, I’ll think of it in a second here, but he became head of the… well, I’m doing a senior moment here, but they had a lot of dynamite characters in that class. My brother was president of that class. That shows you how well he could stand out.
I thought I would like to go to Harvard. I applied when I got out of Williams. They turned me down and then I went back and I worked in the family firm for a year and I worked doing everything, making boxes, I worked on lays. I did it all and I worked in the foundry, bringing the hot molten lever and pour it in and make flush valves out of it. It was all the idea I’d get a little background if I went into the business.
Well, I guess I might have been expected to by my father and all but when I got out after a year I applied for Harvard Business again and they accepted me.
I had a roommate, a guy I knew, Bill Sparry, I knew him from Williams, and we were all set to start the freshman class. Belatedly, a guy who was in my fraternity said, “Kevin, I’m just finishing up at Columbia Journalism School and boy it’s been a great experience. I just mention it to you,” because I’d been on the college newspaper and that sort of thing.
I showed I had an interest in news and media. I thought about it. I said, “You know, I don’t think I’m cut out for business. I really don’t.” I’m not as excited as hearing about Columbia and what that means and preparing you for a career in the news world. So I went to my father and I applied late for Columbia and they accepted me so I went and I said, “I think I’m going to take Columbia over Harvard.” He said, “It’s your decision. OK, that’s what you want to do, so go for it.”
I went to Columbia. It was a great exposure. Now we’ve been out for 60 years. I’m going up this year to Columbia to celebrate our 60th anniversary and be on some panel about changes in TV news over 50 or 60 years.
That was quite a big step. When you come to the fork in the road, as Yogi Berra says, take it. Well, I took it and I realize it defined my whole career and life. If I had gone to Harvard I don’t know what I might have done or what I might have been doing but I didn’t and I don’t think I have much room to look back and regret that I haven’t spent any time doing that.
I just took that fork in the road and went with it. Again, a great group of guys. There were 65 in our class and got to know many of them. One of my best friends was an Australian Catholic priest who was a real character. He was wonderful, Father Bremna. John Bremna, from Brisbane, Australia. We became great buddies. He wore a Roman collar and all.
He had some friends who were on stage, performers and so on. He was a really wonderful character. Very engaging, and the smartest guy in our class, by far. We would go off to Broadway shows and he would change from his Roman collar into a sports jacket. We’d go to see all kinds of performances and what‑have‑you. He was one of the standouts.
Then he went to University of Kansas. He finally married a nun. He left the Catholic Church, married an ex‑nun and moved to the University of Kansas, where he taught journalism and was a great favorite of the students. Because he had a quick wit, great sense of humor. We stayed in touch. He died pretty young, it seemed to me. I went to his funeral, out in Lawrence, Kansas.
It was the most moving funeral I have ever been to. Because when the funeral started they wheeled his casket down the aisle. All the family and friends were there and it was quite a packed church. They had a baritone singing. He sang… Tell you about that… He sang, “If I Should Ever Leave You,” from Camelot. “If I should ever leave you, it wouldn’t be in summer…”
It wouldn’t be at all, basically is what it ends up saying. So his wife was there. I’ll tell you. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, by the time the guy… I thought, “Wow, what a way to go.” At any rate. So much for Columbia. Then I went in the Navy, right after Columbia.
Elizabeth: And they had drafted you, you said?
Kevin: No, they hadn’t drafted me. That’s when they threatened to draft me and the Korean War was on. So I decided I would do it the other way. So I signed up for OCS in Newport and went through that period. And then graduated as an ensign in 1952, in the middle of December of ’52. That’s where Georgetown begins to take over.
I applied for a special designator in the navy which was for air intelligence, and I was accepted in that group. So I was in a small group at Newport where Officer’s Candidate School of 1355 people they called designator were Naval intelligence.
Air intelligence is what it was. Air intelligence meaning you briefed the pilots in the ready room before they would take off on their missions on all the necessary information about the enemy, where you were going, and blah, blah, blah.
That was quite exciting. I thought that sounded like an interesting job, so I signed up for that. When we got out after four months, or was it six months? I think it was a four‑month OCS. I’ve got a stack of books this high and can’t remember that. That’s when five of us got in a car and we drove down to Washington, five newly minted ensigns.
Kevin: You can imagine what a group that would be. We drove down to Washington, and we got a house on Potomac Street, 1220 Potomac Street. The house is still there. I walk by it fairly regularly.
Kevin: And for $200 a month we rented this house, the five of us. We would drive up to the Naval Observatory where the Navy intelligence school was.
Elizabeth: It’s still right here?
Kevin: Right up where the Vice President’s house is.
Kevin: It was three‑month course, and we were given a housing allowance because we were living off of the Naval base and so on. So we were floating in money.
Kevin: For a bunch of young ensigns it was like… Mitt Romney has this famous photograph of he and his buddies trying to stuff dollar bills into their pockets and they’re coming out of every pocket. Well, we were sort of like that photo.
He’s got a lot of gaff for that silly photograph showing his wealth. Anyway, it was a great experience. It was very nice. Georgetown, I have to say, in 1952 wasn’t exactly a cow town, but it wouldn’t bowl you over with its dynamism.
It was a much slower pace in those days. I can only remember about two good restaurants in the whole area. There was the Rive Gauche down on M Street, the corner of M and Wisconsin Avenue. It was a nice French restaurant called The Rive Gauche. It closed about 10 or 15 years ago I guess.
Then there was a Jockey Club in the old Fairfax Hotel down that way toward downtown. Those were the best restaurants by far. There were just a couple of others here and there. So it was pretty slow going.
Kevin: It was still the seat of government. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on.
Elizabeth: Were there a lot of government people? It seems like if you were working in the government you would live in Georgetown.
Kevin: Yes. There were. Because of the government’s presence, Washington is always a busy place, has always got things going for it. It’s just, socially, it was not as upscale in those days. Or as active as it certainly is now. So we went off to… After we finished our three months, we were assigned to Jacksonville, Florida for another Naval school.
Then we had another Naval training school in California, at Alameda Naval Air Station. So we got a few more months of training in the Atlantic Fleet and the Naval Air Arm, is what we were assigned to. Then we got our assignments. I wanted to be a squadron air intelligence officer. That sounded very glamorous, with the flyboys and the squadron and so on. But I was given the job of being a ship’s air intelligence officer.
Which didn’t appeal to me as much. It didn’t seem quite as glamorous. But it was a job. I went to the USS Kearsarge, which was in dry dock in Long Beach, California. We stayed in dry dock quite a while. But it gave me a chance… Wasn’t that far from San Francisco, went back and forth. A lot of liberty time in San Francisco to get to know that. So that was fun.
And then eventually, after dry dock was over, we went to the Pacific and joined the seventh fleet in the Pacific. But two days out of arriving in Yokohama, where we were headed, that was going to be our homeport, the Korean War ended. They declared an armistice. So everything changed overnight. Suddenly a lot of us were elated. Now we’d probably… Short service, we’ll probably get out sooner and blah, blah, blah.
So there are some positive things here. But our air group, the four squadrons in the air group, all the flyboys, they were crushed. They were so upset. They had had all this training for so long, for a year or two, and they were going to shoot up the Korean peninsula. These guys are gung‑ho. They just pictured themselves arming and shooting up everything. They tend to be that way.
They were crestfallen. It took them a while to get over it, that the war was over, my God. That was the end of Korea. We went through our time at sea and went to Manila, went to Hong Kong, went to various places and I kept trying to send letters saying can you put me in a squadron please?
They got even with me after about the third letter. They said, “You can report to the USS Wasp, which is another aircraft carrier, and it’s just leaving for overseas.” I had just gotten home from the first trip…
Kevin: …abroad and suddenly I’m on another assignment to go overseas for another seven or eight months on the USS Wasp so I did that. On the first one I was a public information officer as well as air intelligence officer so that meant I was turning out all these wonderful stories because I knew in my news background with Columbia training.
Elizabeth: Right, your journalism.
Kevin: I made our Captain Neblitt, our captain onboard the Kearsarge, into a credible hero. It was a Kearsarge led by Captain Neblitt doing this and doing that, so on. I got his name in so many papers and so many stories that he made Admiral. I’m sure he knew that I may have had something to do with that. On the Wasp I was still public information officer and we had a couple of movies shot onboard.
“The Caine Mutiny” was one movie. There was another one with Mickey Rooney and, I don’t know, some other. We had some excitement and we had the Touchin Island evacuation, which is off of China, so we had a little action here and there. Then we went back. I left the ship. My time was up. The last four months I did get into a squadron at Moffett Field in California which is Palo Alto near Stanford. It was a cushy job. I spent more time in officer’s clubs at these wonderful, polished bars and it was not exactly a demanding time.
I knew it was an easy time in my life but it was about time to get a job, too. I was drummed out and I went back to New York. I got an apartment with a couple of my Navy buddies who had been out, centric and near public places in Greenwich Village and we had a great time. Then I eventually moved to Bank Street.
That was West 12th Street and then to Bank Street in Greenwich Village. Do you know the village at all?
Elizabeth: Not really.
Kevin: OK. It was an exciting place to live except for Bohemia, et cetera. Very nice. That was a great time. I had to look for a job, of course, and one of my professors at Columbia recommended me to the editor of the New York World‑Telegram and Sun as a starting cover reporter. So I went and I got an interview. I was hired, and that was a Scripps Howard newspaper. It was one of a chain, and it was a respected paper. It was a good paper.
I was started as beginning reporter, wrote obituaries for a few weeks or whatever. They end up to be one paragraph and something like that. But you get the experience. Then they would give me a few feature stories, and then I’d go out covering assignments. After four months, I was enjoying it. It was good, and I was having a grand time in the village. After four months the editor called me in and said, “Kevin, we’ve got something else for you to do.”
“So OK, what’s that?” Well, Harriet Van Horne was our television reporter. This is the early days of television. She was not the television reporter. She was the critic. Excuse me. She would write critiques of the programs that were on the air, and she was quite respected. She was good. He says, “We’d like a television column opposite Harriet Van Horne.” She had a column. Her critique column was over on this side.
I ended up writing a television news column on this side of the page, a byline column. It would be Harriet Van Horne and then my column by Kevin Delany. Basically, for the most part I would interview people, so either TV luminaries or Hollywood types who were in town. I would take them out to the best restaurants.
That wasn’t a no‑no. It would be 21 or Sardi’s or something, and I would say, “I’ll meet you at Sardi’s at noon.” “OK,” and they’d come. I’d talk to them through lunch. Then I’d go back and I’d write the interview. Usually that would cover about two‑thirds of the page.
Then I’d write a lot of what we called “three dot items,” such as Walter Winchell would write about latest news about so‑and‑so in Hollywood or so‑and‑so in the television world. “Here’s the latest” or some important new show that was coming up or whatever it related to. It’s TV. So I did that. I did that for a year. Forget the navy, but that had to be the cushiest job I had ever in my life.
Kevin: And all the press agents would be calling and saying, “Kevin, you’ve got to interview so‑and‑so and you’ve got to…” They were all over your back, and I’d say, “Oh, oh, oh.” They would try to send you gifts and so on, and you’d try to say, “Ah, take it easy.” Whatever. But I had a lot of good meals. I can tell you that. It was wonderful training for me.
At the end of the year I stopped doing that, and they put me back on general assignment, which was OK because I had enough of that. It was time for something new. Then I got a call from CBS news, and they said, “Would you like to maybe join CBS? We’ve seen and read your stuff, blah‑blah‑blah.” So I did. I joined CBS News. Well, I was at World‑Telegram from ’55 to ’57. So this was 1957 I joined CBS News. I was a reporter assignment editor, was my title.
I’d have a stint of four hours or so or more on the assignment. They started me on the overnight which was midnight to eight a.m. I did that for months. I would go out occasionally. At eight a.m. I’d go out and do an assignment, but for the most part I’d just go home and crash. By now I think I was living in Bank Street in the village.
I was sleeping all day and getting up and having breakfast and then going home and having breakfast. It was nothing but having breakfast at both ends of the spectrum.
Kevin: But it was an interesting period. Then when I finished up doing that, well, CBS was the best news operation of any in those days. They had all the greats… Ed Murrow was the star. Edward R. Murrow was the top‑notch journalist anywhere. He was so respected and revered. And Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, and Charles Collingwood. They had the best lineup of newsmen anywhere, so I was in some awe.
Ed Murrow, I only met him briefly, maybe once in that period because he was always off in the higher reaches in his private offices and so on. But still it was a great experience. But after a year and a half there I guess it is… No, I know what it was. I was there about a year, and then they had a cutback, a budgetary problem.
They called me and said, “Kevin, we’re perfectly happy with the job you’re doing, but we have to cut somewhere. We’ve been told by the people up in the top floors that we have to cut our budget. You’re the latest reporter, the last one to come in, so we’re sorry but we have to let you go.”
Elizabeth: Oh, no.
Kevin: I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Not a problem. Could you give me a letter to the Pentagon just saying those things, that you’re happy with what I’m doing because I’d like to cover the World War II battlefields as a role, and I would like to continue to contribute any material to CBS news if I can.
I did the same thing, I went to NBC and they had a program called “Monitor” then which was very popular which was on weekends. I said the same thing to them and they said, “No problem.” I said I’d like to send taped stories to “Monitor,” and I did.
I got those letters and I went to the Pentagon, and I said, as I mentioned, I want to cover the World War II battlefields. Could you give me some orders to go to the Pacific so I can do that? I don’t know why, but I must have hit them on a good day or something so they gave me these orders and they said I could fly anywhere. Anywhere in the Pacific on military aircraft, and I had the rank of Major, or something like that.
I took off with a tape recorder. I bought one of these early tape recorders which were really pretty junky, thinking back on it now, but it worked. At the time, it was the best I could find. A little handheld, a little box ‑‑ that’s all.
I went off on the military aircraft and went to Tokyo. I went to the Sanno Hotel which was reserved for officers from Major right up. I had this wonderful special hotel, and I settled into just exploring Japan. I had been there, of course, in the Navy, but I’d never seen enough of Japan. I was always fascinated by the place. Of course we always had to go back to the ship at various times. Never any real time.
Now, I could go on weekends skiing in Hokkaido and do all kinds of things and move around. And spend a lot of time in Tokyo and Roppongi area and Mekenza area. I was fascinated by Japan. I did get to know it, but then I would travel… In the first four months I don’t think I left Japan at all. And then I went down to Hong Kong and to Manila and other places in Asia.
And then after about a year or so of this, I got a call from CBS in New York, and they said Guy Cyrils, who is the CBS correspondent in Hong Kong, has just been awarded a CBS news fellowship so he’s going to go to Columbia for a year. Would you consider taking over Hong Kong for a year while he’s gone? So I said, “Hong Kong. Yes, that sounds great!” So I trotted off as a CBS correspondent in Hong Kong for one year.
Hong Kong was and still is my favorite city in Asia. It’s a wonderful place. The Chinese, I enjoy being in their midst, and they make great friends.
I went down there and I got a new apartment, in Happy Valley across from the racetrack. I did have a job at the racetrack. I befriended a British guy who was in the film laboratory there. And so I would go around with a camera and he asked me to film various things for background or color or something.
I went around and you’ve never seen Chinese girls in their cheongsam, probably. In those days, they wore these high‑collared, if they were from Shanghai you could tell right away, they’d wear these very high‑collared, tight‑collared, up to here. And then they wore cheongsams which were slit right up the leg to here. They were so dramatic!
All these very lithe Shanghai girls would be running around at the races with their friends or boyfriends. And I would be there getting some photos. I think I got the wrong kind of photos, but it was amusing ‑‑ it was amusing stuff.
Those were great days in Hong Kong. While I was there, there was a big flap over the Quemoy islands which are right off of China. Off of Amoy is Quemoy. This is way before your time so you’ve probably never heard of Quemoy.
Quemoy and Matsu were two islands that the Chinese communists had their eyes on. They wanted to get them back from the Taiwanese who were the Nationalist government who were holding these island groups. The nationalists had already fled to Taiwan and were very hostile to the communists on the mainland, and vice versa.
I went to Quemoy and covered that several times. Quemoy was a big issue between Kennedy and Nixon during their battle in 1980 which of course Kennedy won.
Elizabeth: Nineteen sixty.
Kevin: They would argue at the debates for a lengthy time about who was going to be tougher, or who was going to be the softer, on the communists in Quemoy and Matsu. And they’d be all, “Oh, I’ll be as tough as anyone.”
I was going back and forth and landing in Quemoy and so on. I didn’t tell you, but it was an odd‑day war that was going on. It was very nutty. The Chinese were shelling Quemoy and Matsu on odd days. They were mad. They wanted the Taiwanese to give up the island. The Taiwanese with our help, they were getting aid from us, would not of course. We would do a lot of coverage of it as a result. It was fascinating. Shells killed the occasional Chinese soldier, but there was not much damage being done.
We would fly over to cover for a few days, and we’d get out of the DC‑3s and we’d run for the cover. The island was nothing full of caves. Quemoy was an island which was nothing but caves that the soldiers would hide out in. They would fire back at Amoy too, but they would also get a lot of shells coming their way. So when we got out of the plane, we had to hustle for about 60 yards to get into a cave. It was crazy.
Elizabeth: So you were over there doing this stuff for…
Kevin: For CBS news, yes. I would file stories about…
Elizabeth: And send them back to the US.
Kevin: And ship them back. Because they’d be on tape in those days, and video tape. And also radio stories. A lot of radio stuff.
Elizabeth: How long were you over there?
Kevin: A year. A year came and this guy Cyrils came back from his fellowship. They called me and said, “We’d like you back, Kevin.” I was thinking, “Oh!” because I was going to go on a trip around the world as I came back. They said, “We need you right away.”
One thing I’ve always regretted is that I said, “OK, I’ll come back.” I came back right on the overnight from midnight to eight a.m., but I should have stood my ground and said, “I’ll come back, but I need a couple of months to travel home,” but I didn’t.
Elizabeth: Then you were back in New York again?
Kevin: I was back in New York ‑‑ back at the job. While I was out there, I did do a couple of stories for Ed Murrow. He had a program called “Person to Person,” where he would take you through Marilyn Monroe’s apartment and say, “Over here is a beautiful living room. Tell us about this, Marilyn.” He would do this every week. It was a very popular show.
They called me a few times and they said, “Han Suyin, who wrote, ‘Love is a Many‑Splendored Thing,’ we want to do a piece on her, so would you get in touch and set it all up.” I’d set it up, and there comes the day for the taping. They’d call and they say, “Kevin Delany there? This is Ed Murrow. Everything all set, Kevin?” And I’d say, “Y‑y‑y‑yeah, sure Ed.” I was quite afraid of but…
We’d do that, and then I did another one in Manila of the gun‑toting mayor, Lacson of Manila, who carried a gun in his belt. He was an infamous mayor. He held court in a bar with dark glasses. He was something else. We did another piece on him. Those were nice little asides. Then when I got back, back on the overnight, I did that for a period of time, but friends call who was working for the Peace Corps. This is 1980 and Kennedy was just taking over.
Elizabeth: Was it ’60?
Kevin: 1980. Yeah, the Eighties. Not the Sixties. It was beyond that. Oh, I’m sorry. You were right. It was the Sixties, yes.
Kevin: Because Kennedy took over, and the Peace Corps started in 1961.
Kevin: OK. And I got calls from my friends who were working for the Peace Corps. They were working as evaluators which were something that was very cleverly set up by Sergeant Shriver who was the director of the Peace Corps. The first director and the most famous one. He did it for a number of years and he was a colorful guy.
He hired a bunch of reporters because the Peace Corps was brand new. He was afraid. The volunteers. There was a Margery Michelmore who dropped a postcard in Nigeria, I think she was assigned. She said something about, on the postcard, she was going to have it mailed, but she hadn’t quite mailed it and she lost it. It fell to the ground and some reporter picked it up, and on the postcard she said, “I’m so bored with this place, and I’m having so much trouble with some of the Nigerians I’m working with,” a lot of negative stuff, “I hope I can hang in here.”
That became the worst flap, and some of the right‑wing Republicans, they were even then, said, “The Peace Corps is just bad news. It should be done away with. They’ve got a bunch of young kids over there who don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” This was just what Shriver didn’t want, so he hired all these reporters to go overseas to the programs and then come back and write a report to him.
He’d go over the report and say, “What’s this about this director of so‑and‑so. Get rid of him. What about this volunteer over here?” And the volunteers were into a lot of crazy things. Some of them were fomenting revolutions. Believe me ‑‑ I’ve encountered some of them. You’d say, “What are you doing? I can’t believe you’re just…”
We would report back to Shriver and he would take action. No more Margery Michelmore incidents or else they’d be blown out of the water. No more budget period. They would have killed the Peace Corps. It worked beautifully because he would get it and he would move on it, and there would be all these terrible things the media never heard of because he’d get rid of them before they could.
That’s what I joined as a Peace Corps evaluator. One of the cadre of news types. And they were awfully good people. I went to a lot of countries. I started in Liberia for my first evaluation. Then I went to India and did one there. Then Nepal and Venezuela. We’d go to training programs all over the place ‑‑ mostly in Hawaii. It was an interesting, very interesting, job. We’d write our reports. I have them upstairs still, some of the reports I wrote.
Elizabeth: Wow! So you’d send them all to Washington?
Kevin: We were in Washington. We’d come back to Washington. It used to take two or three weeks to go to Nepal or somewhere, India. We’d write these reports and they’d be very candid. Then they’d go right up to Shriver, he’d look them over.
Elizabeth: I didn’t realize that. So then you moved to Washington.
Kevin: I moved to Washington. That was the second time I moved to Washington. The first time was…
Elizabeth: In the Navy.
Kevin: In the Navy.
Elizabeth: So when you came back…
Kevin: So I came back, I moved to Washington, I had an apartment on the East Side of New York. I sublet that, rented it out and just left in a hurry for Washington, and lived all over Georgetown. Basement apartments were the first place I had, 30th and P Street. Then I moved somewhere. I moved to some Admiral’s big house on… What’s the big, expensive road?
Elizabeth: In Georgetown?
Kevin: In Georgetown, yeah. W Street? Well, it’s the most expensive houses in Washington anyway. It’ll come to me.
Elizabeth: So when you moved, was it this place then where people… If you were going to move to DC, you would live here? Did people not live downtown?
Kevin: They lived downtown, but Georgetown had a lot of cache, was very appealing.
Elizabeth: So now it was cool?
Kevin: It was very cool. Before it was slow going. But now, it was a very popular place. And I’ll have to say… This was one of the profound things that I remember about Washington. This was the most exciting time… I’ve lived in Washington since ’63, right up to now. Other than the time I was overseas, working for CBS or ABC. I haven’t even gotten to ABC News yet.
But for a number of years, for seven or eight years or more, I was overseas. I wasn’t in Georgetown or Washington. But this time I arrived in Washington. I got myself a flat. I lived in a number of places all over Georgetown, at different times. Before I bought a house in ’68, on Orchard Lane, which is a very small lane up here if you’ve ever seen it. That was a charming little place.
I rented it out to Peter Jennings, of ABC, when I went over to Vietnam. He stayed there for about four or six months, I think it was. He was a friend from ABC. And at any rate, here I am back in Georgetown. But I know I started to say was that period during the Kennedy years was the most exciting time I remember of Georgetown or Washington. And the Peace Corps was a good part of the reason.
Because you had all these very, very idealistic straight‑arrow, enthusiastic, dedicated young people coming to work for the Peace Corps. And what brought them there was the same ethic that they thought that the idea was great, and that they wanted to contribute to it. That young people going overseas, helping where they could, making their contribution, and then returning and so on.
What better way to spend your young years right out of college and what have you. It was very sought after and everyone was so motivated. But they not only worked hard. People would work late. Nobody would ever say, “I’m going home.” It’s only seven o’clock. “Oh, well I probably won’t go just now.”
You didn’t want to look like you were not as gung‑ho as the rest of the crowd. So people would work late and then they’d go out together. They would party hard. It was really… I don’t know when they slept.
Elizabeth: Yes. So no one slept then.
Kevin: They didn’t care. They just kept going. Because they loved what they were doing and caught the fervor. And that extended to just the whole atmosphere of Washington. Wow. This is a place. Because Kennedy or Sergeant Shriver, could pick up the phone and call anywhere in the country, call any person who was running a company or whatever, and say, “Mr. Jones, we need you here in Washington.”
Elizabeth: And they would come.
Kevin: “Could you be here by Thursday?” And they’d pack up everything and they’d be there.
Kevin: That’s the way it was.
Elizabeth: That’s what they did to you. Pretty much.
Kevin: Well, yeah. That’s true. Yeah. And I had the same bug. And CBS news, I said, “I need a year’s leave. A sabbatical.” And a lot of my fellow CBS reporters would say, “What a weenie Delany. Peace Corps.” And they would sneer at me. And I said, “You do your thing. I’ll do mine.”
Kevin: And I had no regrets. The fact is it was so exciting. And there was a feeling among young people, among people at Peace Corps that anything was possible in those days for young Americans. Anything.
As long as you set your nose to it, and did a good job, nothing we couldn’t accomplish. And it was so positive and so upbeat. I’ve never felt that kind of feeling since then.
And Kennedy inspired it. Because he was a glamorous figure. He cut a wonderful swath.
He was bright and also dedicated, and had idealism just coming out of every pore. So everyone else wanted to go in the same direction. And that’s left a lasting… if I remember one time that would have been the Kennedy years. I was just as taken with him as anyone else at the time.
So I did the evaluation thing for quite awhile. And then I was also asked to be the deputy director of the East Asian Pacific region. They knew that I spent quite a bit of time in Asia. And a guy name Ross Pritchard who was a former great star halfback for the University of Arkansas. A colorful guy. Very confidant. Very hard charger. “Get it done now” type.
He was made the director of the East Asian Pacific region. And then he called me up and said, “Would you be my deputy?” I said, “Sounds good.” So I left the evaluation area, and I moved over to the East Asia division. And Ross had a plan. Are we going on to long here?
Kevin: Oh. OK.
Elizabeth: Yeah. We’re good. I just wanted to make sure that this was still going. It is.
Kevin: All right. Well we’re getting closer. [laughs]
Kevin: So Ross said, “Look Kevin, here’s how I think is the best way for us to work together. I’d like to identify the countries that Peace Corps should be in. And I’ll bounce that off of you and we’ll discuss that and see where we come out.” It didn’t happen this way right away, but it eventually evolved this way.
We started with Korea. And we thought Korea would be an excellent place for the Peace Corps. So he said, “Kevin, you go out there and talk to somebody in charge out there in Korea.”
Elizabeth: Like who would that be?
Kevin: Well, there’s the Prime Minister.
Elizabeth: Oh. OK.
Kevin: So I went out there and I got in touch through the Korean Embassy. I said, “We’d like to talk to the authorities in Seoul about bringing the Peace Corps to Korea.” And they said, “OK.” And eventually they said I could probably, no guarantees, probably could see the Prime Minister about this.
I went out there to Seoul and I did get to see him. He seemed like an amenable guy. I explained the whole concept. Young people coming. Programs would be identified in advance that they could contribute to. English teaching. Community development. All kinds of things.
Elizabeth: So those are the types of programs that the Peace Corps would do?
Kevin: Yes. Yes, teaching was a big thing, whether it was in teacher training colleges or regular just in schools, a regular school.
Elizabeth: And it would be in English.
Kevin: It would be in English. And most of the world, a lot of the world wanted to have their young people learn English. They knew it was the lingua franca. It was going to be the language that the rest of the world was going to depend on.
Elizabeth: OK. I’m curious; it’s interesting that these countries would welcome the Peace Corps.
Kevin: Well look, Kennedy had terrific reputation. He was very good, as is Obama, in dealing with foreign leaders. Very persuasive. And Sergeant Shriver would also occasionally travel to some of these countries and talk to them. And he would talk up the Peace Corps. He was very good at that.
And here it was a gift. It didn’t cost them anything. The Peace Corps paid like, by the Peace Corps volunteers were got an allowance. And they got so many hundreds of dollars when they finished their service to start their new careers. So it was not a hard sell in a lot of areas.
Some places, yeah, balked if they were Muslim countries and so on. Peace Corps had bad luck with a few Muslim counties. Women volunteers would be spat at and insulted and what have you. So there are a couple of countries like Afghanistan and Iran…
Elizabeth: Because the culture is so different.
Kevin: They had to be withdrawn. The volunteers had to just be pulled out because this wasn’t working. But for the most part… so I went to Korea. And the premiere said, “OK, we will take X number sounds fine.”
I would go back and I would tell Ross Pritchard. Ross was a numbers guy. He wanted to send as many people as possible no matter where it was. But we gave him a reasonable number to start. And the program expanded and it was there for many years.
And turned out mostly in the teaching area, but there were other jobs as well. Then after Korea we talked about… see the next place was going to be, oh yeah, the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific. I went over there. And then Fiji which is right next to Tonga. And then British Somalis.
Then we did, oh yeah, Micronesia. The Micronesia Islands spread thousands of miles in the Pacific. It was a trust territory run by the US government. And that was quite an interesting challenge. Because we put out a brochure that said, “Peace Corps goes to paradise.”
It had pictures of palm trees, desert islands. Palm trees swaying. And only at the bottom, which nobody seemed to have read, was a little line saying, “However there are problems in paradise.”
But nobody seemed to even note that. They were so taken. Hundreds of people signed up to go to Micronesia. Hundreds didn’t go but a whole lot did. Actually, there were a couple of hundred before too long, come to think of it.
Some were Peace Corps lawyers. These were people with law degrees who signed up. They would go to… Oh boy, did they shake things up. I have to back up and say, the Interior Department ran the trust territory. They had run it as a fiefdom for many, many years. These people in these island groups, and there were a lot of them, were run by these old hacks from the Interior Department who’d been there too long.
But ran these things as though they belonged to them. That these were there property, almost. It was a bad scene. So the Peace Corps lawyers went in. They would go and say, “Do you know, here in Palau or in the Yap Islands, you have a lot of rights? Let me tell you some of your rights.” They would spell them all out. Pretty soon you had people going to the head guy on island saying, “I’m telling you you’re not allowed to do this to us.”
Or, “You’re not… We need to be compensated for this and that.” God, things began to change. So I went out with a group to do the programming, the original programming. We divided the islands into several places. I did do Palau and Yap Islands. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Others Pohnpei and others did Cypan, which was the headquarters.
We divided it up. They would each come up with programming ideas for each of these areas, and then we all went back to Washington and said, “Here it is.” That’s how we came out with the proper number that would be fair. Every volunteer was supposed to have a good job, a very important, busy job. Not just sit around and gather dust or sit under a palm tree for two years.
That’s the way it played out. What’s the point I’m leading up to? That’s how we covered all these areas. It was very satisfying and good results for the most part. There were always flaps or some kind of problems here and there. But it was a very satisfying kind of involvement. Ross eventually left. He went up to be president of a couple of colleges. I took over as the director and I did that until, well, I did it for quite awhile. And I kept wanting to go back to news. And I kept saying, “I can’t stay too much longer.”
I had already been in the Peace Corps by that point about four or five years. You were supposed to only serve about at most five years. There was a five‑year limitation supposedly. But here I’d been in for quite awhile. Nobody bothered me. Because I was doing interesting things.
I never went back to CBS obviously. They just called me after a year and said, “Well, what about it Kevin?” I said, “I’m doing too many interesting things. I can’t leave now.” And they said, “Well that’s it.” So I had no job as well.
Next thing I know I got a call from Bill Moyers, who was a friend. He was one of the people that started the Peace Corps when I moved up. And Bill said, “Kevin. I got a job possibility for you. If you’d be interested.”
Bill Bundy, the famous Bundy Brothers. William P. Bundy and there was McGeorge Bundy. They were some of the more colorful people of their era. “Bill Bundy needs a speechwriter. Would you be willing?” At first I said, “No.” And the later on, now the war in Vietnam was already picking up pace.
And after the attacks on Pleiku in 1950… I have to come up with the year. At any rate, he called me and said, “Look.” 1962. He said, “We’re going to go in big soon or get out. We’re leaving Vietnam. One or the other.”
And he said, “I think we’re going in big! And I suggest you take that job with Bill Bundy.” So I did. And I did some speeches for him, which was a new experience for me, but I learned a lot.
And then I also suggested things like, I said, “You’ve got a lot of issues you’re not selling to the public very well. I’d like to come up with a question and answer pattern. All the tough questions people are asking about the Vietnam War and I’ll come up with the answers.”
We did that. And they sent it to all the embassies around the world. “If you got a question about this, here’s your answer,” and so on. And that was my answer, that was my idea.
So they liked that. So we went on. And eventually it was time for me to leave because I… oh, I know what happened now. Here I had taken over the East Asia region. And we’d occasionally have to put in new directors here and there and so on.
Well we needed new director in Thailand. And I offered it to a guy. Actually it was a good close friend of mine. But Jack Vaughn who was then the director, said, “I offered that guy a job somewhere else, and if he doesn’t take that job, he’s not going anywhere.” So I had to call my friend Dick Richter and I said, “Sorry Dick. It’s no go for Thailand.” He was upset. I couldn’t come up with the right person. So I said, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to Thailand.” So I picked myself and I did go as director.
This was 1968. I went from ’68 to ’70. I went to Thailand and ran the program there. We had 350 volunteers. We were the Peace Corps and the War Corps was there. The military were very entrenched in Thailand. They ran about four or five air force bases there. They had 40,000 troops and we had 350 volunteers. So we were a drop in the bucket.
But they were important. I took that job. It was very interesting. Thailand is a beautiful country and the Thais are wonderful people. What do they call them? The land of smiles. Mostly very happy. They love to be around people who are upbeat and aren’t sour and so on. So it was a great experience. What am I leading up to here?
I took the job for two years and we had a lot of different groups come in, fresh groups, every so often. I also travelled around to visit volunteers. I went to almost every province in Thailand, 40 of them. Visit the volunteers, keep on top of things and entertain them different times of the year. I’ve got a nice little lacquered house in Bangkok and I could entertain them there and so on.
It was a wonderful experience. There’s a story. I’m trying to remember the story I was about to tell you. If I think of it I’ll get to it. At any rate, I ran out at the end of the two years… I told them in Washington… I know. One of the problems we had was we had volunteers who were… Now the war was on and a lot of people came as volunteers who were dodging… Some were dodging the draft probably.
There’s no question. But most of them were very dedicated. But people started speaking up and protesting the war in different ways. We had a volunteer magazine. Finally, Vice President Agnew came one time to visit Thailand. The volunteers heard about his arrival and a whole delegation went to the airport with signs saying things like, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
And things like this. The Thais finally came to them, some of the Thais at the airport, and said, “That’s not a good idea, to welcome people that way.” So they put their signs away and they stopped. But Agnew had a very right wing character running his affairs. And he came along with him.
He was his top personal assistant. No, Chief of Staff, excuse me. So the Chief of Staff heard about it. We had a reception that night, the embassy had, for Agnew. I was on line at the reception, this guy came up to me and said, “You’re the head of the Peace Corps, isn’t that right?” I said, “Yeah.” “I heard about the demonstration at the airport today against the Vice President.”
I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I assume you’re going to fire those volunteers.” I said, “I’ve already spoken to them.” They said it was the wrong thing to do and they will not do it again. That’s been taken care of. “What?” He said, “You’re not going to fire anyone?” I said, “I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s been dealt with.” He said, “Will you have them apologize.”
I said, “It’s already been taken…” He said, “Will you apologize to Peace Corps in Washington and to the Vice President’s Office?” I said, “I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s necessary.” We became a big flap in Washington and in Thailand, but we held our ground and they finally backed off. I said, “Look, these people know what’s going on, in terms of demonstrations at home. My job is to keep a lid on them, this program. If you force me to fire people and all, there’s going to be a revolt here. And it would be the wrong thing.”
So that was what I told them. I said, “That’s why I’m not doing anything more. We’ve got to keep the lid on this program.” Meanwhile people were marching on the Pentagon and all kinds of things at home. People were dead set against the war. At any rate, we got through that. It was time for me to leave too. So at the end of two years, I left. I went back to Washington.
Congressman Friend, from Brooklyn, gave me a job, some health project he was trying to promote. I worked for about six months for him. Then I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I was on unemployment. I was picking up my unemployment every week. That was going to eventually run out. A friend of mine who was working for ABC News called me and said, “Kevin, we just lost our bureau chief in Vietnam.”
“Because he was fooling around with changing the program’s funds into black market money and making money off it, a real no‑no. So he’s gone. We need a new bureau chief in Vietnam. I recommended you. What do you think?” I said, “I just got back from Asia.” But I said, “Why not? OK.” So I was hired to go Vietnam. That is 1971. I went there and I stayed until ’73. The troops had mostly been withdrawn by then. There was just a handful.
But there was Air Force still providing cover for the Vietnamese army, South Vietnamese army, that is. In 1972, the year after I got there, some of the heaviest fighting in the war, the North Vietnamese launched something called the Easter Offensive.
They came pouring over the border into South Vietnam, and we had to go cover up in the northern area. At times we had five or six camera crews and correspondents. We had a lot of people invested from ABC.
They would go, and I would send them down different highways every day. It wasn’t my job to go out. Once in a while I would go out and see some of it, because I didn’t want to appear as though I wasn’t ready to take a chance. But they were taking our cameramen and the correspondents were taking great risks. Eventually we had two of our terrific cameramen from Singapore killed in an ambush in the last stages of the fighting.
Elizabeth: Of the war.
Kevin: Yeah. That was a low point. They were terrific guys. They were zapped in an ambush. They thought the area was clear, and they weren’t. Some of the guys stood up with machine guns and killed them. So that was that.
I was there through that heavy fighting, and then things quieted down. They still had air cover in those days. That’s one reason the South Vietnamese Army fought valiantly against the North Vietnamese and held them off.
I thought we might have a truce, that the war could end, that both sides would see the futility of going any further. The North still had help from China, and they had help from Russia. They were getting full of supplies.
Meanwhile in Congress they were saying, “End the war,” and they were cutting off support to the South Vietnamese. And they cut off air support finally. And boy then it was pretty clear what would eventually happen.
The North came charging in a new offensive, and, of course, there was no air support. There was no way to deal with them. Eventually they had 20 divisions surround Saigon at one point. The ambassador was the only one who thought there could still be a truce possibility.
Everyone else knew the end was very close. So we were worried about getting out our… not just the American staff. I wasn’t worried. I knew they would take care of us, but the Vietnamese staff and their families were a big concern.
Yet people started hiring boats to take out their staff and so on. They went to all kinds of crazy things. And finally the Embassy called us all and said, “Look, we’ll work with your team to get everyone out if you don’t do crazy things and put us all in jeopardy.” OK. Everyone said fine. They said, “We’ll keep you informed as to whether there’ll be full evacuation in a hurry.” They were supposed to have played the song “White Christmas” when that happened. People were supposed to stay tuned in.
I never remembered “White Christmas,” but any rate it came to be the last days. I will say this, too, they said, “If you can get me staff and their families to the MPs at the checkpoints to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, get them through there, then they can proceed to the Air America.” That was the CIA airline, their airfield. They had a little separate airfield on Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon.
Then they’ll be flown out to Guam and to safety. We finally got the call saying all right, we’re ready for a batch of ABC News staff and family, meaning some cameraman and other people and soundmen and what have you and their families. We had I think it was 35 in the first batch. We got them in a big van and we drove up to the head entrance to Tan Son Nhut Air Base and we gave the cameraman some official looking orders and so on and some papers.
I said, “First, before you go, everyone here, do you have piastres,” which is South Vietnamese money, “give me all your piastres.” I said, “They’re not going to be worth much soon.” They all piled up this big pile of Vietnamese money. They gave it to me and I said, “Here,” to this man that was going up to the see the MPs, “take this,” and they took the papers and so on. So they did.
He went out and we watched them very carefully. He walked up. They said… No, I’m getting this out of order. Before I collected the money he went up there with just the papers and they said…no, no. What’d they say? “No, get away.” The MPs were mad that some people were getting out of the country and they weren’t. There was no guarantee for them. A lot of people were trying to flee.
Vietnamese were using anything they could do to get out of the country because they knew there was going to be bad things ahead. Then we went around to the back gate to the MPs there and he went through the same thing. “No, no, no.” He came back. That’s when I said, “Give me all your piastres. This is our last chance.” He went back up to the front gate again with this wad of money in his hand and he had the paper in front of it in his left hand or whatever it was, waving these orders. And the guy started to shake his hand, but in his other hand he kept edging closer and closer.
Finally the money was touching the head MP’s hand. And he realized what it was. And we could see his hand open and close. Close on the money. I said, “Thank God for corruption. It still works.”
Kevin: Then the MP said, “Oh, yeah, these are fine. Come right through. Come right through.” Well we did that for about a week with different batches of people…
Kevin: …until we got out 101 Vietnamese. That that thing from Williams, that magazine piece, that was all about those 101 people that we got out.
Kevin: After that I could relax, because I knew they’d get us out. We were now sure that they were. They went out to Guam. They went and got jobs all over the country. ABC gave them all jobs.
Elizabeth: Oh good.
Kevin: To the credit of the network, I was very proud of them. And then not too long after, about a week or so after, maybe five or six days come to think of it, the word came out that it was really getting close. Then we were told to report to a bus stop a couple of blocks from our bureau.
We were in the big hotel in Vietnam, so we got rid of all of our money and everything else we could. We just gave it to the people who were still in the hotel and what have you. Then we went to the bus stop.
I was with a cameraman named Tony Hiroshiki and we decided we’d stick together because maybe we could shoot a story while we were on our way out. So we did. We actually got on the last bus to Tanzania and got there.
We got there and there was firing going on at the airport. They were shelling it. It was under attack from the North Vietnamese. Tony was filming away, and I was saying, “Look out, Tony. Over here, don’t forget to film that.”
We shot a story, and then eventually came our time. Then the jolly green giant helicopters, the Marines, came flying in to give support to the airport. They were the ones flying out the newsmen and other people.
So our turn came. They said, “Come on,” and we ran for the helicopter, the jolly green giant. Then we could fly out and we could see Saigon underneath us and we knew we were going to be out of there.
Elizabeth: That you were out.
Kevin: The end of the war for us, and it was still tense. When we got to the decks of the carrier Midway, a lot of people had already gotten on board and also helicopters had landed on board. The Vietnamese military helicopters. What they were doing was leading them to the edge of the deck and just pushing them over into the ocean.
There was a lot of helicopters that went into the ocean that day. And sometimes people would fly in who didn’t have a chance to land because there was so much going on. So they would dive out of their helicopter into the sea and let the helicopter just plunge in.
Kevin: Oh it was dramatic stuff. I have upstairs. We did do a piece and was able to get it out through Clark Field in the Philippines. And it was sent over to Hong Kong. It was satellited. It was edited, film edited. And then we satellited it to New York and it got on the air that night.
Kevin: So we were able to have our story and be represented. I have a copy upstairs.
Elizabeth: Yeah, oh neat.
Kevin: So that was the end of…
Elizabeth: Your Asian campaign.
Kevin: My part of Vietnam. I went back, and to tie the loose ends up, I decided… then it ended for me. I was asked to come back to Washington and become director of news in the Washington bureau, and then a year or two later, I was asked… a year later, 1981. No. This was 1975.
So by 1981 I was asked to be director of news for Asia, based first in Hong Kong and then Tokyo. I stayed there through ’84 and covered Ronald Reagan’s trip to Shanghai, set that up. And then I went back. And then I left ABC news.
Elizabeth: Oh wow.
Kevin: So it was…
Elizabeth: Good run.
Kevin: It was a great run. Exactly. A great run. It was time to move on. Two things I’ll briefly say. We still have time?
Elizabeth: It’s still there. Yep.
Kevin: All right. OK. Two things, one, that I, one has to do with the running and the other has to do with politics. I’ll start with the running first. When I get back and all. I want to make sure I get my time frame right. When I went back, I became a runner for the New York AC. That would have been earlier. Now what was the date of this thing?
Elizabeth: That would be after college, right?
Elizabeth: Nineteen fifty?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah. In that period… well when I came back I stopped running. That’s right. I already told you about my, I think, about being… oh no, the New York AC I did run for when I came back. I guess, but if I haven’t gotten the time frame. At any rate, I did enter a lot of those meets.
Then it came time when I really think I’d had all the running I could. My last college race was the National AAU’s in 1950, my graduation year. That’s when I did finish that sixth place.
If I had gotten in at fifth place, I would have gotten onto track trip to Europe and so on. That was when I did my equivalent of a 4:13 mile, my best mile that I did do, except for maybe I did better. Then I did get into the NY AC at that point. I’m sorry. Here, now we’ve gotten it straightened out.
That was a very good experience, but after a period of time and enough running for New York AC I just stepped aside. I figured I’d done enough. Later on more into the 1950s in that period I started running again. I had been away from it for some time, and I started doing 5Ks, particular up around the farm. But Gettysburg had a 5K every year, running around the monuments and that sort of thing, and Joan did some later, too.
But I did well in my age bracket, so I would win the 60 and over or the 65 and over, whatever it is, 70, 75. At my age bracket I would run the 5K and get an award.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Oh, cool.
Kevin: That was fun. But then I decided, “Been there, done that. I’d like to run a marathon.” I did my first marathon at 65.
Kevin: I forget the year now, but it doesn’t matter.
Elizabeth: Which marathon?
Kevin: It was the Marine Corps.
Elizabeth: Oh, OK.
Kevin: So I did that at 65, and it took me over four hours. I was doing very well. I was running eight‑minute miles up to the time I hit… what’s the name of the place above? It’s that spit of land…
Elizabeth: Hains Point?
Kevin: Hains Point.
Elizabeth: I hear Hains Point is horrible…
Kevin: Oh, it was a killer. It was a killer.
Elizabeth: …during that marathon. [laughs]
Kevin: I was really holding my own. I really was averaging eight‑minute miles till right to the point of Hains Point, and that took it out of me.
Elizabeth: It’s cold and windy and lonely.
Kevin: Yeah, it just seems like it never ends. So I did finish, but I lost a lot of ground in the last half dozen miles. Actually, the last four miles is what it was really. It’s about four miles from the end of Hains Point to the finish line. But that didn’t deter me too much. 1970 came, and I did my second marathon, another Marine Corps marathon. I did better on that. I placed tenth in my age bracket. Yeah, tenth in runners 70 or over.
Kevin: I have those up in a little plaque upstairs. But the trouble is I knew going by the book I had to train for six months to be ready for these marathons to do it right. What’s his name? He was one of those gurus of marathons. Anyway, every other weekend you run a little further. One more lazy weekend run.
I would do that until you get up to about 22 miles or so. Then you know you can last sufficiently. You have enough training to get through the 26 miles if you get through 22 or something. So I would go out, hit the farm on weekends, and I’d go on those back country roads. There are a lot of them. I’d take a big usually like a Seltzer bottle full of water.
I’d hide it somewhere so I’d get it on the way back and run up to various places around the farm. Once Joan two or three times came out in the car looking for me because I’d been running for three or four hours to get my miles in, to get my distance in. But that took its toll. What’s this down here in our ankle? Not the carticle. Cartilage. I wore out the cartilage in my left ankle from 50 or 60 years of running is what it was.
I could feel it. I had it operated on twice, and each time the surgeon would say, “In a month you’ll be back running again. You’ll be in great shape.” No. I felt like saying later, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Later on when I said, “It doesn’t feel right.” He said, “Well, how can it feel right? You’re bone on bone for Pete’s sakes!” “Well, you never said anything like that before.”
So that was the problem. But since then, not a real problem because I ice it every two or three or four days, whatever and it’s fine. It lasts till the next one. So you carry one. I didn’t jog after that.
Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Kevin: The last thing I’ll bore you with is politics. I mean if I’m going to mention meaningful things in one’s life, I have to say that I became… Howard Dean made an activist… Well, actually George Bush made us activist of us. When Howard Dean was against the war in 2000, one of the first to speak out, Joan and I became big followers of Howard Dean.
We followed him right to De Moines, were there when he made the famous scream in that ballroom. We gave him great support because we thought he was the best man, but he didn’t make it. Well, fast forward to October of 2006. A friend of mine in Chicago said, “There’s an interesting guy here in Chicago with a funny name that you ought to keep an eye on.”
So I started following this guy, Barack Obama, who I’d seen, reading stories where they turned up. I thought, “He sounds more and more interesting.” Then the senator in Virginia, who was then running for office, running for President, decided for family reasons he wasn’t going to run. He dropped out. I said, “Well, no candidate. Jesus.” So I said, “Obama. Obama could do it.”
So in October of ’06 I got a few friends. I must admit it was mostly my impetus, but we decided we would start a website urging Obama to run in 2008. We did. It totally went online October of ’06 and it read, “DraftBarackin2008.com.” I tell you, we were amazed at the response we got. It just kept building and building.
We would say, “Do you want to be a volunteer?” We’d get more and more a list of volunteers and this and that. It was an interactive thing. You had a lot of things going on in it. “What attracts you to Barack?” I’d say, “God, look at this. This is a movement.” They’d say, “I’ve never been this excited and I think he’s the next,” and so on.
The response was wonderful, and we were in touch with some of his campaign. We said, “When he decides to run,” we told the people that were on our website, and there were a lot of them by then, thousands, “we’ll give the material to his campaign, and we’ll go out of business.”
Well, he finally said in 2007 that he was going to run, and we did that. We said, “Here’s the material to the campaign.” They gave us a pittance. We said, “We don’t do it for the money.” “Oh, well. Legally you have to take something.” Anyway, so we said OK. Then we got a call from one of his aides. He said, “Kevin, could you come up to The Hill on Thursday?” or whatever. “Yeah, yeah. Sure.”
“Well, the senator” then, “Obama, would like to meet you and thank you.” So we went up, and I brought Joan along. A small number, we were four or five of us, and then there were a couple of other websites. There were about 10 in the room altogether. He came in and he spent 45 minutes with us. It was electrifying. It was just marvelous. Then he said, “I’ve got to go, guys. Good luck.”
I remember saying the last thing I did say to him that day, I said, “I have a feeling, Senator, that this is going to have a happy ending and outcome.” He said, “I do, too.” That was the last thing he said before he left the room. At any rate. It was funny.
Kevin: Then I met him a couple of times after that.
Elizabeth: After he was elected?
Kevin: Well, no. Before. I was on the volunteer committee, the inaugural committee was what it was. He came to see everyone there. I remember saying to him, I was backed against the wall, and I said, “Senator, we met once. My name is Kevin Delany, and I was urging you to run.” He said, “Oh, yeah. I remember.” Then he turned and he said, “This is one of the guys that got me to run.”
Well, the same thing happened after he was sworn in. We were invited the next day to his first gathering, first reception, he had in the White House. By the way, I could back up and say that, when we had that private meeting with him, I said, “Senator, I hope you don’t mind. I brought my wife along today because in your book you mentioned her father’s name several times.”
He said, “Oh, anyone here too young not to know the name of George F. Kennan?” which is Joan’s father, who now, a big new book has just been written about him and is getting quite a play. So we’ve been going to these book parties and book events. Two more later this week actually.
At any rate, the fact is we went to this reception on the first day, and we could see a receiving line down at the other end. We finally got there. I got there and I said, “Senator, we met before.” He said, “I know! I know!”
Kevin: Then he turned to Michelle and he said, “This is one of the guys that helped, urging me to run.” She said, “Oh, you’re the one I have to blame.”
Kevin: At any rate, so that was fun, and we had our moments anyhow. I have a website now for this run. It’s called DraftBarackin2012.com, and I have done blogs for it. So it’s websites, blogs what keeps…
Elizabeth: Keeps you busy.
Kevin: And right now I feel pretty confident about the outcome here, too. I think that’s probably all you need to hear. That’s more than enough.
Elizabeth: Well, thank you.