‘The Journalist’ — Story of a Gloversville native
Sister writes her brother’s story about his time in Vietnam
Fischer will release a book based on her brother’s experiences in Vietnam, “The Journalist: Life and Loss in America’s Secret War,” in August written in the form of a memoir co-authored by herself and Rose drawing from her brother’s published stories, journals, letters and a semi-autobiographical novel he was working on at the time of his death.
“It’s really his story,” said Fischer who mingled her brother’s own writing with passages ghost written in his voice. “It’s a pretty interesting story, it’s a story people don’t know about, about these very early years of the Vietnam War. People my age lived with Vietnam on their television sets, every day there would be a count of how many people were killed. My brother was there mostly before it became so known.”
According to Fischer, Rose originally went to south Vietnam in 1959 to teach English at a relatively new university before the conflict in the north began heating up. The Gloversville native had worked as a professor and was a published author before taking the teaching position in Vietnam where he later stumbled into an opportunity to become a freelance reporter.
“One of his journalist friends there was leaving and asked if he wanted to take over his position. He figured if he liked it, he would stay and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t. He was very quickly quite successful and had articles published in Time, the New York Times and various journals,” said Fischer. “He was one of the first journalists writing about the war before most Americans knew about it.”
Rose became an early war correspondent, embedding with deployed soldiers, as well as traveling the country speaking with Vietnamese citizens to report on the full impact and scope of the war in stories that were published around the country and in local publications, including The Leader-Herald
“He saw it as really important to be able to tell their story about what was happening,” said Fischer.
Fischer said her brother sometimes got himself in trouble with the U.S. and Vietnam governments while investigating stories and providing early coverage on the build of troops and supplies. Fischer said she and her family back home were understandably worried about her brother when reading his articles covering battles.
“There were 170 journalists killed in Vietnam. Journalists today are very much at risk, especially these war correspondents, they are at risk with the soldiers that they’re writing about,” said Fischer.
Fischer was able to spend time in Vietnam with her brother and his wife who worked as his assistant about a year before he died.
“I spent the summer there, that was really pretty amazing. He saw it as his job to help educate me and broaden my mind,” said Fischer.
Rose, who was 11 years older than his sister, had since their youth in Gloversville taken his younger sister under his wing acting as a mentor, encouraging her to read and write throughout her childhood and continuing after he left the area when Fischer was seven to pursue his education and then his career.
“We were very close despite the fact he was away a lot,” said Fischer. “We had a very special relationship, when he came home, he would read poetry with me, when I was a little girl encouraged me to write … When I was a little older, he gave me a reading list to read, a long list.”
The siblings maintained a close relationship despite the distance until Rose died in a plane crash in September 1965 on Fischer’s 21st birthday.
“There’s a kind of unreality about it because he was so far away. I kind of fantasized maybe he wasn’t on the plane,” Fischer recalled. “We don’t know exactly why or what happened. We don’t know if it was shot down, if it was the condition of the plane or if it might have been sabotage.”
“Nobody completely gets over it, you live with that, but it was a huge loss for my mother, my sister, other people in my family and of course his wife and children, they were maybe one and two and a half when he died. They don’t remember him. They grew up with this blank,” she continued.
It was partially with the idea of forming an image of her brother for his children that Fischer in the 1980s set out to turn Rose’s story into a biography after earning her PhD in sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and becoming a published author in her field.
“I had been in a conference, I was giving a paper down in San Antonio, Texas and just by chance there was a keynote speaker talking about his experience as a soldier in Vietnam. There had been a lot of books about soldiers in Vietnam since then and I thought my brother’s story would be different, that it would interesting to write about a journalist in Vietnam,” recalled Fischer.
Fischer’s sister-in-law had saved her husband’s papers from that period of his life and Fischer worked with the documents for several years while taking some time off from her own work before completing a first draft of the biography around 1990 written much like her previous books as a sort of research study.
Fischer said the book still needed a lot of work when she had to get back to her paid career, although she said the unpublished first draft was meaningful to her niece and nephew who were able to learn more about their father from the work.
It wasn’t until after Fischer’s sister-in-law passed away and her niece and nephew, now grown, were preparing to donate their father’s papers to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University that Fischer returned to the book, changing its format completely.
“When I went back to it, I decided I needed for him to tell his own story,” said Fischer of the decision to rewrite the book as a memoir in his voice. “He had a way of writing that was very beautiful and a sensibility that was interesting to people.”
“It was as if he trained me to do this for him,” she added. “Doing this I was writing it with him, it was sort of an odd thing, it’s as if he was with me writing this book and I could hear his voice in my ears.”
Fischer said writing the book led her through a complicated mix of emotions, but now that it’s finished she hopes her brother’s story will resonate with those who lived through the Vietnam War era and that those who remember the war and the younger generations that have come along since will gain new insight into what transpired through his work.
“As long as I was writing on it, he was with me, so it was difficult and wonderful at the same time,” said Fischer. “It’s a way to honor him, but it’s also a good story.”
“The Journalist: Life and Loss in America’s Secret War,” by Jerry Rose and Lucy Rose Fischer comes out on Aug. 11. It is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com.