- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

Edward Neilan, columnist and Asia-based correspondent who covered some of his generation's most tumultuous events from the Vietnam War to Tiananmen Square, died Tuesday at his Tokyo home of a heart attack. He was 68.

At the time of his death, Mr. Neilan's syndicated column on Asian affairs appeared in more than 30 newspapers in the United States, Asia, South America, Australia and New Zealand. They included the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, El Mercurio in Chile, the Japan Times, the Straits Times in Singapore, and the Korea Herald.

He also served as a special correspondent for The Washington Times, contributing occasional articles including daily coverage of the groundbreaking summit in May between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

"Ed was a fine, knowledgeable journalist and an innovative editor. He could turn a phrase with the best of them," said Patrick Killen, a 30-year veteran of United Press International.

Mr. Neilan's history at The Times goes back to the very beginning of this newspaper. Shortly after The Times began publishing in 1982, it hired Mr. Neilan away from the Alexandria Gazette, where he was both president and publisher.

Within weeks, he became The Times' foreign editor and set about building a world-class foreign news desk.

During his tenure, he opened 12 overseas bureaus. He also traveled the globe, writing a column, "Perspectives on the World," and interviewing world leaders such as China's Li Peng, Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino of the Philippines and South Korea's Chun Doo-hwan.

In 1986, Mr. Neilan realized his dream of returning to the other side of the Pacific when The Times sent him to Tokyo as its Northeast Asia Bureau Chief.

Except for brief visits to the United States, he settled in Tokyo and never returned.

Edward Arthur Neilan was born in 1932 in Los Angeles, where his father was a screenwriter. He graduated from the University of Southern California, where he was editor of the Daily Trojan student newspaper.

He first visited Asia in 1957, to advise the Korea Herald, then a new English-language paper based in Seoul. He then wrote for the Christian Science Monitor from Tokyo.

In 1962, he landed a position as the China and Southeast Asia bureau chief for Copley News Service. Based in Hong Kong, he made frequent reporting trips into Vietnam to cover the war.

From his days there, he kept a photograph of a bullet hole in the floor of a helicopter a bullet that had just missed his foot as he sat in the flying chopper writing a story.

In Vietnam, he broke a story about the Viet Cong using a huge network of underground tunnels to protect themselves from B-52 carpet bombings.

In the 1970s, he wrote from Washington as a diplomatic correspondent for Copley News Service before founding the Asia Mail, a monthly tabloid-size journal of American perspectives on Asia and the Pacific.

While covering Asia for The Times, he followed South Korea's transition to democracy in the late 1980s and made his mark at the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

At Tiananmen, when reports surfaced of a split within the military, with some divisions reportedly backing the protesters, Mr. Neilan got into a rented car and drove around Beijing. He saw soldiers relaxed, chatting with each other, as if waiting for the signal to charge to the center of Beijing.

"On the basis of that, he filed a story that reports of a possible civil war were simply false," said Martin Sieff, managing editor of UPI and former assistant foreign editor of The Times. "He was one of the finest, shrewdest and street-smart reporters of his generation."

Mr. Neilan began writing his syndicated column, from his home in Tokyo, in 1993. Two years later, he joined the Hoover Institution as a media fellow and for the past year served as a senior fellow for the Heritage Foundation.

He was "a superb writer, a clear thinker and a straight shooter," said Heritage President Edwin F. Feulner.

Mr. Neilan is survived by his wife, Masae Sato, and two daughters, Carolyn Neilan of San Francisco and Andrea Neilan of Boston. Memorial services are pending.

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