HONOLULU — Edwin Q. White, who served as Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press as the United States committed massive numbers of combat troops to Vietnam, died Thursday in Honolulu, his daughter said. He was 90.
Rachel White Watanabe said her father, who had heart failure, died in his sleep at home, where he moved after retiring.
‘‘Ed White led an extraordinary AP bureau that covered the American involvement in Vietnam from its start through the fall of Saigon in 1975,’’ said John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news. ‘‘He embodied accuracy, dispassion, and objectivity in his reporting, and his contribution to the telling of that history will never be forgotten by his colleagues.’’
Mr. White, known among colleagues as Quigley, his middle name, was on emergency duty in Saigon when South Vietnam fell to Hanoi’s communist forces on April 30, 1975. He left on one of the last evacuation helicopters from the roof of the US Embassy.
The usually imperturbable journalist — who had planned to retire with his family in Vietnam — later said the biggest regret of his career was ‘‘joining the big bug-out from Saigon in ’75, something . . . I think about almost every day.
‘‘Going off of the roof of the embassy wasn’t the greatest happening of my life.’’
Born in Tipton, Mo., Mr. White was skeptical, careful, and a stickler for accuracy, with an acerbic wit and a no-frills writing style that stressed facts over drama. In a 1997 oral history interview for AP, Mr. White said his love of journalism began in boyhood, when he ‘‘got kind of interested’’ in how Tipton’s weekly paper was printed.
He graduated from the University of Missouri’s journalism school and served in the Army during World War II. In the Philippines when the war ended in 1945, his unit was sent to Korea to help handle the repatriation of the defeated Japanese troops.
Volunteering for postwar duty in Japan, Mr. White joined Pacific Stars and Stripes, an Asian edition of the military newspaper. ‘‘I figured I’d never see Asia again, so I did that.’’
Back in civilian life, Mr. White spent five years at newspapers in Missouri and Kansas.
But he talked of returning abroad, and a boss told him to consider the news service. In 1949, Mr. White joined Associated Press in Kansas City, moved after five years to New York, and in 1960 to Tokyo, as news editor.
The growing conflict in Vietnam led international news agencies to expand their staffs, and Mr. White soon was commuting between Japan and Vietnam.
As the United States shifted to a full combat role in 1965, Mr. White was named chief of AP’s Saigon bureau.
In 1979, Mr. White left Tokyo for Hawaii. A year later, however, he was dispatched to Seoul, where AP’s all-Korean staff had come under severe government pressure.
He retired in 1987 and returned to Hawaii with his wife, Kim, a native of Vietnam, and his daughter.
In four decades with AP, Mr. White saw his craft evolve from typewriters to computers — but felt strongly that the digital revolution should not be the doom of traditional journalism.