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Obituaries

John Sack, 74; War Correspondent for Leading Magazines

March 31, 2004|From Associated Press

John Sack, a war correspondent who wrote for Esquire, Playboy, the New Yorker and other publications during his 50-year career, has died. He was 74.

Sack died Saturday in San Francisco of complications from a transplant for myelodysplasia, a bone marrow cancer, Esquire announced Tuesday.

Sack wrote 10 books and covered all of the United States' wars from Korea to Afghanistan.

After he interviewed Lt. William Calley for an Esquire cover story about the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai, Sack was indicted on federal felony charges for refusing to surrender his notes and tapes to prosecutors. The case did not go to trial.

Esquire Editor in Chief David Granger called Sack "one of the rare giants of magazine journalism."

A native of New York City, Sack volunteered for Army service in Korea after graduating from Harvard University in 1951 and was assigned to the Army newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes. He also wrote for Esquire and Harper's while a soldier.

He worked for CBS News after his discharge, resigning to become Esquire's Vietnam correspondent in 1966. His first article, which at 33,000 words remains the longest the magazine has published, ran behind an all-black cover with the inscription "Oh My God -- We Hit a Little Girl." The article, about an infantry company in Vietnam, was expanded into the book "M."

Esquire's founding editor, Arnold Gingrich, called it "one of those landmark events of which there can never be more than a comparative few."

"Probably 'The Crack-Up,' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro,' by Ernest Hemingway, would come to mind soonest," he said.

Critics called "M" a powerful portrayal of men and war.

"One must go back to [George] Orwell for appropriate comparisons of journalistic excellence," Dan Wakefield wrote in "Book Week."

In the early 1980s, Sack worked in Los Angeles as a writer and producer for KCBS-TV.

In 1993, Sack published a book called "An Eye for an Eye," which claimed that Jewish concentration camp survivors in Russian-occupied Poland ran concentration camps for German civilians. His most recent book, "The Dragonhead," was a portrait of a Chinese Mafia godfather in the U.S.

Sack is survived by a sister, Lois Edelstein, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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