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Where Are They Now? Ken Kashiwahara

KKashiwaharaToday, TVNewser begins a multi-week series where we’ll catch up with some tvnewsers of yesterday to learn about their lives now, and their perspectives on the industry.  We start with former ABC newsman Ken Kashiwahara.  Next week: former CNN anchor Bobbie Battista.

Ken Kashiwahara most certainly has used up some of his nine lives.

Take his harrowing escape from South Vietnam while on assignment for ABC News in 1975. “It was anarchy, chaos,” he tells TVNewser about the fall of Saigon.

Kashiwahara was trapped in a mob of humanity trying to flee the country via helicopter at the U.S. Embassy.  He knew he had to scale the compound’s wall to safety.

“U.S. Marines were on top of the wall, pulling people up,” he recalls.  Kashiwahara was one of the lucky ones literally lifted up and over.

The story is just one of many experienced during a quarter-century with the network.  Another moment had Kashiwahara showered with shrapnel while covering the Lebanese Civil War.

“In the very beginning,” he says about his 25-year tenure with ABC, spent as a correspondent and as a Hong Kong and San Francisco bureau chief, “it was very exciting, the travel and not knowing where you were going to be from one day to the next.

“But after a while it got a little tiring. You could never plan your life.”

And so in 1998, at the age of 58, Kashiwahara retired.

It all began in 1969 when, after a stint in the Air Force, Kashiwahara got his big break in journalism in his native Hawaii, at Honolulu’s KHVH radio.  The station’s news director “took a chance on me.  I mean, I was terrible!”

But the young reporter quickly honed his skills, and within months, was on-air on KHVH-TV.  After a second Honolulu gig – with KGMB-TV – he was snapped up by KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

Soon thereafter, ABC News came calling.  Kashiwahara joined NBC’s Connie Chung as the first Asian-American correspondents on network television.

Over the years, stories would take Kashiwahara across the globe, to countries like New Zealand and the Philippines.  It was in Manila, while reporting on opposition to dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1978, that he interviewed the sister of political prisoner Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino.  The woman, Lupita Aquino, would become Kashiwahara’s wife.

Ninoy Aquino wound up exiled.  He returned to his homeland a final time in 1983, accompanied by his brother-in-law.  Kashiwahara was traveling as a private citizen, and not for ABC, on a trip “we all knew was risky.”

Aquino deplaned first, wearing a bulletproof vest, and quickly was assassinated on the tarmac with a shot to the head. Blocked by authorities inside the aircraft, Kashiwahara did not witness what happened, but heard the shots ring out. A traumatized Kashiwahara soon was inundated with interview requests.

“I’m not a newsmaker,” he remembers thinking.  Inaccurate reporting, though, prompted him to change his mind, and he began talking with the press to set the record straight.

In time, Aquino’s widow, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, went on to become president of the Philippines, and their son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, is the nation’s current president.

More than two decades after that journey to Manila, Kashiwahara, now 74, is not surprisingly ”enjoying the quiet” of his life today.  With homes in California and Hawaii, he stays busy doing voiceovers and volunteer work, and spending time with his wife, two children, and three grandchildren.

He remains a regular network news viewer. “I watch CBS News every night,” he says, citing the Scott Pelley-led newscast’s more “traditional” approach.  “It’s kind of the closest to the way news was when I was working.”

Kashiwahara also likes traveling to places he’d been to as a reporter, but never truly got to explore.  His next major trip will be a 2015 cruise to Vietnam, putting him back in the country 40 years after his dramatic departure from Saigon.

“I enjoyed it, it was exciting,” Kashiwahara says, looking back on his career. “I got to see history in the making.”

Watch Ken Kashiwahara’s report on the evacuation of Americans from Saigon, on the “ABC Evening News” in May, 1975.

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