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Vietnam reporter and historian Karnow dies in Maryland at age 87

Stanley Karnow, the award-winning author and journalist who wrote a definitive book about the Vietnam War, worked on an accompanying documentary and later won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of the Philippines, died Sunday morning. He was 87.

Karnow, who had congestive heart failure, died in his sleep at his home in Potomac, Maryland, said son Michael Karnow.

A Paris-based correspondent for Time magazine early in his career, Karnow was assigned in 1958 to Hong Kong as bureau chief for Southeast Asia and soon arrived in Vietnam, when the American presence was still confined to a small core of advisers. In 1959, Karnow reported on the first two American deaths in Vietnam, not suspecting that tens of thousands would follow.

Into the 1970s, Karnow would cover the war off and on for Time, The Washington Post and other publications and then draw upon his experience for an epic Public Broadcasting Service documentary and for the million-selling “Vietnam: A History,” published in 1983 and widely regarded as an essential, even-handed summation.

Karnow's “In Our Image,” a companion to a PBS documentary on the Philippines, won the Pulitzer in 1990. His other books included “Mao and China,” which in 1973 received a National Book Award nomination, and “Paris in The Fifties,” a memoir published in 1997.

A fellow Vietnam reporter, Morley Safer, would describe Karnow as the embodiment of “the wise old Asian hand.” Karnow was known for his precision and research — his Vietnam book reaches back to ancient times — and his willingness to see past his own beliefs. He was a critic of the Vietnam War (and a name on President Richard M. Nixon's enemies list) who still found cruelty and incompetence among the North Vietnamese. His friendship with Philippines leader Corazon Aquino did not stop him from criticizing her presidency.

Bernard Kalb, a journalist, former State Department spokesman and longtime friend who met Karnow when they were both working in Hong Kong in the 1950s, said Karnow described journalism as the only profession “in which you can be an adolescent all your life.”

“You never lose your enthusiasm and the depths of curiosity to engage with the world. That's what it means,” Kalb told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Stanley took those particular drives of adolescence all through his life.”

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