Re­porter nar­rowly avoided death in Cam­bo­dia

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - RICHARD DUD­MAN, 99 BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­

“If we get out of here alive,” Richard Dud­man said to two other jour­nal­ists as they were be­ing marched into the Cam­bo­dian jun­gle at gun­point, “we’re go­ing to have one hell of a good story.”

It was May 7, 1970, days af­ter Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon an­nounced that U.S. forces would en­ter Cam­bo­dia as an out­growth of the war in neigh­bor­ing Viet­nam. Mr. Dud­man, on as­sign­ment for the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch, left the South Viet­namese cap­i­tal of Saigon for the Cam­bo­dian bor­der, less than 40 miles away.

He was ac­com­pa­nied by El­iz­a­beth Pond of the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Michael Mor­row of Dis­patch News Ser­vice International.

Mr. Dud­man, who died Aug. 3 in Blue Hill, Maine, at age 99, was the Wash­ing­ton bureau chief of the Post-Dis­patch and had made sev­eral pre­vi­ous trips to Viet­nam.

Af­ter the three re­porters crossed into the Par­rot’s Beak re­gion of Cam­bo­dia, they reached a bridge that had been de­stroyed. As they at­tempted to turn around, armed Viet Cong-aligned guer­ril­las emerged from the for­est and or­dered the re­porters out of their Jeep. They were forced to sur­ren­der their press cre­den­tials and were put into the back of a truck.

“The sol­dier with the au­to­matic ri­fle kept it pointed at my chest,” Mr. Dud­man later wrote. “When I mo­tioned po­litely to him to point it to one side, he waved it an­grily at me and put the gun to my head. He kept it there all the while the truck bounced along jun­gle roads.”

Bald and be­spec­ta­cled and rarely seen in Wash­ing­ton with­out a bow tie, Mr. Dud­man was then a 52-year-old fa­ther of two girls. He may not have had the im­age of the in­trepid international re­porter, but he had al­ready cov­ered wars and rev­o­lu­tions from Cuba to Burma to the Mid­dle East for the Post-Dis­patch, which then had a national rep­u­ta­tion for am­bi­tious jour­nal­ism. He knew how to re­main calm un­der pres­sure.

“In 1954, when he was cov­er­ing a Gu­atemala rev­o­lu­tion,” his wife, He­len, told The Wash­ing­ton Post in 1970, “his ed­i­tor told him, ‘A dead cor­re­spon­dent is no use to us — and an in­jured one is worse.’ He’s used that as his guide.”

He and the two other jour­nal­ists were ac­cused by their cap­tors of be­ing CIA agents and were taunted as pris­on­ers of war. Mr. Dud­man and Mor­row, then 24, were tied by a rope to a mo­tor­bike and forced to run be­hind it through a gant­let of an­gry vil­lagers. They linked hands to keep each other up­right.

“Blind­folded, stum­bling, fear­ful of break­ing an an­kle, we ran as fast as we could to keep up with the bike,” Mr. Dud­man late wrote in an ac­count for the Post-Dis­patch. “Fists and hands hit and shoved us from both sides.”

The mo­tor­bike stopped af­ter half a mile. Mr. Dud­man and Mor­row, still blind­folded, were taken to a dark­ened build­ing.

“I heard a mut­tered con­ver­sa­tion,” Mr. Dud­man wrote, “then a sharp crack and a moan. I felt Mike slump to the floor. I thought he had been shot.

“Some­one struck me on the back of the head with a club and I dropped to the floor.”

Pond fended off an at­tempted rape.

As the re­porters feared for their lives, a higher-rank­ing guer­rilla of­fi­cer came to their res­cue. The of­fi­cer, known to the re­porters as Anh Ba, as­sured them that they would be safe. They were shut­tled from one place to another in the Cam­bo­dian coun­try­side, eat­ing rice, wild or­anges and, on at least one oc­ca­sion, roast dog.

They were some­times at risk from U.S. bomb­ing mis­sions and he­li­copter at­tacks. One time, the Amer­i­cans were in a house cam­ou­flaged by tree boughs while a U.S. he­li­copter hov­ered over­head.

Dur­ing the six weeks of their cap­tiv­ity, a kind of rap­port de­vel­oped be­tween the jour­nal­ists and their cap­tors.

“Be­fore we were re­leased,” Mr. Dud­man wrote, “they were de­scrib­ing us as ‘not pris­on­ers of war but trav­el­ers who lost their way.’ ”

In Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Dud­man’s wife, a one­time Wash­ing­ton Post ed­i­tor, en­listed help from high­rank­ing po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic fig­ures.

Late on the night of June 15, 1970, the three re­porters were re­leased on a high­way in Cam­bo­dia. They hitched a ride with a South Viet­namese mil­i­tary con­voy and turned up in Saigon the next day, thin­ner but oth­er­wise in good con­di­tion.

His wife was awak­ened by a 4 a.m. phone call, with an op­er­a­tor say­ing, “This is Richard Dud­man, call­ing from Saigon.”

Mr. Dud­man pub­lished a well­re­ceived book about his ex­pe­ri­ences, “Forty Days With the En­emy,” in 1971.

Af­ter sev­eral years in Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Dud­man re­turned to Cam­bo­dia in De­cem­ber 1978 as one of three West­ern writ­ers granted an au­di­ence with Pol Pot, the leader of the Kh­mer Rouge, a to­tal­i­tar­ian Com­mu­nist regime that rav­aged Cam­bo­dia and mur­dered a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion.

The night af­ter the meet­ing with Pol Pot, a gun­man en­tered the guest­house where Mr. Dud­man, Wash­ing­ton Post cor­re­spon­dent El­iz­a­beth Becker and Bri­tish scholar Mal­colm Cald­well were stay­ing.

Becker con­fronted the in­truder, then es­caped into her room.

“Over my head on the stair­well,” she wrote in The Post, “I heard rub­ber san­dals run­ning up to the sec­ond floor.”

The gun­man shot at Mr. Dud­man in a hall­way.

“I rushed into my room and slammed the door,” Mr. Dud­man wrote in the Post-Dis­patch in 2015. “It was good luck that I dodged to one side, be­cause two bul­lets ripped through the door.”

As Mr. Dud­man crouched be­hind his bed, more shots were fired. He and Becker later learned that Cald­well had been killed and had to iden­tify his body. The Cam­bo­dian gun­man had also been shot dead by un­known as­sailants.

Becker, the au­thor of a book about Cam­bo­dia, “When the War Was Over,” de­scribed Mr. Dud­man in an email as a “rock solid col­league dur­ing those two weeks when we were kept un­der con­stant armed guard and es­pe­cially dur­ing our fi­nal night when we were at­tacked by Kh­mer Rouge as­sas­sins.”

Richard Beebe Dud­man was born May 3, 1918, in Cen­ter­ville, Iowa, and moved as a child to Port­land, Ore. His fa­ther was a gy­ne­col­o­gist.

Mr. Dud­man ma­jored in jour­nal­ism and eco­nom­ics at Stan­ford Univer­sity and grad­u­ated in 1940. He then served in the mer­chant ma­rine be­fore be­com­ing a Navy of­fi­cer dur­ing World War II.

Af­ter work­ing at the Den­ver Post, Mr. Dud­man joined the Post-Dis­patch in 1949. He came to the pa­per’s Wash­ing­ton bureau in 1954.

He cov­ered the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, then two days later wit­nessed the killing of sus­pected as­sas­sin Lee Har­vey Oswald by Jack Ruby.

In 1971, Mr. Dud­man ob­tained copies of the se­cret Pen­tagon Papers, de­tail­ing the back­ground of the Viet­nam War, and pub­lished por­tions in the Post-Dis­patch. The New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post had pre­vi­ously run ex­cerpts, only to be tem­po­rar­ily blocked by a court or­der. Ul­ti­mately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the news­pa­pers’ fa­vor in a land­mark de­ci­sion sup­port­ing free­dom of the press.

Mr. Dud­man’s fi­nal day in the Post-Dis­patch Wash­ing­ton bureau came on March 30, 1981. In­stead of at­tend­ing a re­tire­ment party, he rushed out of the of­fice to cover the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and the ar­rest of as­sailant John W. Hinck­ley Jr.

Mr. Dud­man then moved to Ellsworth, Maine, where his wife owned a group of ra­dio sta­tions. He con­trib­uted to the Post-Dis­patch and other papers and wrote ed­i­to­ri­als for the Ban­gor Daily News un­til 2012.

His death, from con­ges­tive heart fail­ure, was con­firmed by a daugh­ter, Iris Dud­man, for­merly known as Janet, of Hast­ings-on-Hud­son, N.Y.

Other sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 69 years, He­len Sloane Dud­man of Blue Hill; another daugh­ter, Martha Tod Dud­man of North­east Har­bor, Maine; and four grand­chil­dren.

Among other hon­ors, Mr. Dud­man re­ceived a Ge­orge Polk jour­nal­ism award for ca­reer achieve­ment. In the 1990s, he re­turned to South­east Asia to meet Anh Ba, the Viet Cong of­fi­cer who saved his life in 1970.

Af­ter his visit to Cam­bo­dia in 1978, when he met Pol Pot, Mr. Dud­man noted that the cap­i­tal city of Ph­nom Penh seemed de­serted, with “the eerie quiet of a dead place — a Hiroshima with­out the de­struc­tion, a Pom­peii with­out the ashes.”

De­part­ing from the re­port­ing of Becker and oth­ers, he wrote that, un­der the Kh­mer Rouge, the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple were “clearly not be­ing worked to death and starved to death.”

The “killing fields” of Cam­bo­dia, he con­cluded in a 1990 New York Times es­say, “cer­tainly do not prove geno­cide.”

In 2015, two se­nior Kh­mer Rouge of­fi­cials were put on trial in Ph­nom Penh for crimes against hu­man­ity. Tes­ti­fy­ing from Maine, the 97-year-old Mr. Dud­man re­vised his ear­lier views and ad­mit­ted he had failed to grasp the full hor­ror of the Kh­mer Rouge.

“From ev­ery­thing that I have read since then,” he said, “I think there was geno­cide un­der the Pol Pot regime.”

The mem­bers of the Kh­mer Rouge were found guilty.


Richard Dud­man of the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch and El­iz­a­beth Pond of the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor in Saigon af­ter their re­lease.

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