The phone calls went out from Saigon's Xa-Loi Buddhist pagoda to chosen members of the foreign news corps. The message: Be at a certain location tomorrow for a "very important" happening. The next morning, June 11, 1963, an elderly monk assumed the lotus position. Aides drenched him with aviation fuel, and the monk calmly lit a match and set himself ablaze. Of the foreign journalists who had been alerted to the shocking political protest against South Vietnam's US-supported government, only one, Malcolm Browne—who died yesterday at a New Hampshire hospital at age 81 after suffering from Parkinson's disease—showed up.
The photos he took for the AP appeared on front pages around the globe and sent shudders all the way to the White House, prompting President John F. Kennedy to order a re-evaluation of his administration's Vietnam policy. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Browne spent most of his journalism career at The New York Times, where he put in 30 years of his four decades as a journalist, much of it in war zones. By his own account, Browne survived being shot down three times in combat aircraft, was expelled from half a dozen countries and was put on a "death list" in Saigon. Click for more on the fascinating life of Browne, who worked alongside Hunter S. Thompson and once brandished a souvenir submachine gun at South Vietnam government agents.