George J. Esper (‘53 BS)
George J. Esper was born and raised in Uniontown, Pa. In 1953, he graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.
While attending the University, he was manager of the freshman football team and also worked in the Sports Information Office. The coaching staff named him their “All-American Manager” and he was inducted into the WVU School of Physical Education Hall of Fame.
Esper began his career as a journalist writing a column for the University’s student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum. During his senior year at WVU, he worked as a sportswriter for the Morning Herald newspaper in Uniontown and later as a police reporter for The Pittsburgh Press.
Esper joined the Associated Press (AP) wire service in 1958 and has observed more than 30 years of service with their international press corps. He is one of only 12 individuals designated by the AP worldwide as a special correspondent.
From 1965 to 1975, he covered the Allied Forces during the war in Indochina and was named AP bureau chief in Saigon in 1973 where he reported on the demise of the South Vietnamese government. While the war raged and Saigon was being evacuated, Esper refused to leave until he was expelled five weeks later by the Communist government.
He returned to Vietnam in 1984 for the first time since he was expelled. His three-week reporting trip covered more than 3,000 miles by land and air from Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta to Lang Son at the Chinese border.
In 1989, he returned again to cover American veterans who were going back to walk their old battlefields and to write a series of stories on Vietnam’s other victims, including Amerasian and Vietnamese children, Vietnamese veterans and Americans missing in action.
Esper also covered the Bermuda riots in 1977, the People’s Temple murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, the Miami race riots in 1980 and the presidential primaries in 1980 and 1988. In 1985, he was named a member of the new AP regional reporting team, covering the northeast.
He covered the war in the Persian Gulf, heading AP operations in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.
Today, you will find Esper in the classroom at West Virginia University where he is a professor with the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.
His honors and awards include: AP Managing Editors Top Performance Award for Vietnam Coverage, 1975; Oversees Press Club Citation for Vietnam Coverage, 1975; National Easter Seal Society’s Communication Award for a story on a handicapped man born with cerebral palsy, 1981; New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Yankee Quill Award for his contributors beyond the call of duty in the performance of his job and for having a broad influence for the good of journalism, 1985; and Heifer Project International Northeast Region Special Media Award for an article on one of its volunteers, 1987.
Esper is the author of a book, The Eyewitness History of the Vietnam War, an accounting-of-soldiers story.
George Esper passed away February 2012.