Malcolm Wilde Browne was born in New York on April 17, 1931. He graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with a degree in chemistry. Working in a lab when drafted in 1956, he was sent to Korea as a tank driver, but by chance got a job writing for a military newspaper, and from that came a decision to trade science for a career in journalism.
He worked first for the Middletown Daily Record in New York, where he worked alongside Hunter S. Thompson, author of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Browne then worked briefly for International News Service and United Press, the forerunner of United Press International, before joining the AP in 1960. A year later, the AP sent him from Baltimore to Saigon to head its expanding bureau.
There, he became a charter member of a small group of reporters covering South Vietnam’s U.S.-backed military struggle against the Viet Cong, a home-grown communist insurgency.
Within the year he was joined in Saigon by photographer Horst Faas and Arnett. By 1966, all three members of what a competitor called the AP’s “human wave” had earned Pulitzer Prizes — one of journalism’s highest honors — for Vietnam coverage.
In his 1993 memoir, “Muddy Boots and Red Socks,” Browne said he “did not go to Vietnam harboring any opposition to America’s role in the Vietnamese civil war” but became disillusioned by the Kennedy administration’s secretive “shadow war” concealing the extent of U.S. involvement.
Tall, lanky and blond, Browne was a cerebral and eccentric character with a penchant for red socks — they were easy to match, he explained — and an acerbic wit befitting his grandfather’s cousin, Oscar Wilde.
Overall, associates saw him as complex, rather mysterious, and above all, independent.
“Mal Browne was a loner; he worked alone, did not share his sources and didn’t often mix socially with the press group,” recalled Faas, who died this year. “And stubborn — he wouldn’t compromise on a story just to please his editors or anyone else.”