The ABC News journalist who helped rescue Vietnamese employees of the network and their family members, more than 100 people, as Saigon fell in 1975 has died at the age of 87. Kevin Delany passed away Jan. 15 in Bethesda from complications of Alzheimer's disease, his family said.
His exploits in Vietnam on behalf of the employees of the ABC News bureau and their families were remembered as “heroic” by ABC News vice president Bob Murphy.
"He was always a gentleman and what he did to save our Saigon staff was heroic and amazing," Murphy said. "It set a standard for professional responsibility and human care that we have tried to follow ever since."
But Delany's wife, Joan Kennan, said that her late husband never sought the spotlight himself.
"He was a very modest person. He didn't brag really about things that he had done, that were part of what he considered the job of being a journalist," Kennan said. "He felt strongly that if there was a story, you just went and got it. It was not the job of the journalist to have the glory reflected on him."
Delany served as an ABC News bureau chief in Asia in the early and mid-1970s and was in Saigon in late April 1975 when the North Vietnamese were bearing down on the city.
“No one could predict what would happen after a North Vietnamese takeover, but everyone assumed that anyone who had worked with Americans would be dealt with harshly,” Delany wrote in an alumni publication for Williams College in 2006. “The decision was made that ABC wished to assist all Vietnamese who had worked so earnestly and in many cases at great risk during the war years.”
“These were people who worked long and hard for us as cameramen, as sound men, as drivers, taking a substantial risk on a regular basis. We didn’t want them to be a target,” Delany said in an interview on ABC News in 2000.
Originally, 58 people were to be rescued, but Delany wrote in the Williams publication that the number grew “as families ‘discovered’ sons and daughters they had overlooked.” Delany arranged with the U.S. Embassy to get the people out in groups on different days via CIA-run aircraft -- a dicey operation the whole way.
“Crammed into two large vans, we arrived at the main gate only to have a nasty looking Vietnamese MP [military police] officer ignore our pleading and document waving and order us away from the gate,” Delany wrote of one attempt. “We drove around the base to a back gate only to be waved off again. Time was running out to get to the CIA terminal, and we went back to the main gate for one last try. I asked the heads of households to give me all of their Vietnamese piasters [currency] – soon to become worthless.”
Delany gave the money to an ABC cameraman who was able to slip it to the guard at the main gate. With a fistful of cash, the guard let them through.
“’Thank god for corruption,’ I thought, ‘The system still works,’” he wrote.
Overall Delany said there were a “few close calls” but everyone made it out. Delany didn’t leave until the day before the city fell.
“When our turn came, we ran out to the helicopter, jumped on and lifted off and Saigon began to get further and further in the distance,” he said in 2000. “I could see a number of the Vietnamese on board choking back tears and crying and getting their last look at their city.”