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Jewish World Review May 9, 2001/ 16 Iyar 5761

Wesley Pruden

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Some war stories are better than others -- ROBERT E. LEE was right. "It is well that war is so terrible," Marse Robert remarked wistfully as he watched from Marye's Heights as the battle of Fredericksburg unfolded beneath him. "We shouldn't grow too fond of it."

The guys at CBS News love it so much, in fact, they took a crew back to Vietnam 32 years later to fight again at Thanh Phong. The New York Times loves war so much that the editors even signed on to soldier along with the battle-hardened guys at CBS News, to soak up tips from really authentic journalists about how to cover a big story. That was so much fun CBS even rebroadcast an old "60 Minutes" look at My Lai.

That's how the campaign to get Bob Kerrey, an authentic hero of the Vietnam War no matter how loud the pygmies howl, was expanded over the weekend to link him to William Calley and the massacre at My Lai. Mike Wallace took his crew to My Lai along with two American helicopter veterans now gone a bit gray to reprise what they saw and didn't do on that long-ago day of infamy.

This allowed Mike and his guests to wax long, if not poetic, about what a dirty rotten country America was and probably still is, despite exceptions like themselves. Not until the end of "the piece," as TV journalists call "an entertainment," did the star of "60 Minutes" concede that Lt. Calley and his men were court-martialed for what they did at My Lai. Their court-martial was perhaps the first time in the history of warfare that an army stopped a war to court-martial, in full view of the world, an officer and his men for shooting people on a battlefield.

Then came Andy Rooney to tell us how awful war in general is, and how awful Bob Kerrey was. But because he, Andy Rooney, is such a generous guy he's going to regard Bob Kerrey as a hero, anyway (but maybe with an asterisk), since he won a Bronze Star, and, by the way, he, Andy Rooney, won a Bronze Star, too, at Normandy, and if Bob Kerrey wants to give his medal back, well, heck, ol' Andy will just send his Bronze Star to Bob, because, gee, that's just the way war heroes are with each other. You don't have to leave a leg on the battlefield to win a medal, and besides, television correspondents are pretty brave guys. Just look at what Dan Rather and Mike Wallace have been through, sometimes even without makeup.

Mike wants us to know how terrific he was, and is, and that's the part that was unnecessary for me, because I know what a debt I owe to him, and to CBS News. A man never forgets some favors.

I was assigned to fly off to the Dominican Republic after Juan Bosch, the pet rock of the American media elites, had returned from exile in Spain, where he had bravely fled when his leftist government was overthrown, to stand -- unsuccessfully, as it turned out -- for election once more. When I checked into the hotel in Santo Domingo the clerk handed me an invitation along with my room key. CBS News was throwing a party on the roof.

No sooner had I walked through the door but the most beautiful girl I had ever seen looked at me from across the crowded room, flashed a smile as wide as Moon River, and came straight at me on legs long enough to reach Port-au-Prince. She pasted herself to me and when the party began thinning out, with the stars of print and tube heading off to dinner, she asked what I wanted to do next.

It happens this way only in the movies, so I imagined how Cary Grant would have answered. "It's your town," I said. "Anything you like."

"As long as it's with you," she replied, and winked. Her eyes grew soft and luminous.

I've never had a more pleasant week. She not only showed me her town and country, but laughed at my jokes, listened patiently to war stories, kept my glass topped up. She reminded me of Sophia Loren, and often.

Too soon, alas, with my story filed, it was time to return to Washington to collect my traps and head back to Saigon. We were lounging by the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel and the waiter arrived with one last round. He put down the tray and handed the bill to her to pass to me for a signature. I signed and handed it back. She glanced at it and gave it to the waiter. A look of puzzlement clouded the luminous eyes. "Why did you sign that name?" she asked.

"Well," I replied, "that's the name I always sign. It's the only name I've ever had."

The look of puzzlement turned to horror.

"Oh ... my ... G-d," she exclaimed, slowly. "You're not Mike Wallace."

Mike doesn't have to impress me with what a great correspondent he is, of how thoughtful CBS News can be to its stars. I've owed 'em both ever since Santo Domingo. Big time.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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