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John Sack 74; correspondent helped redefine war coverage

NEW YORK -- John Sack, a war correspondent who wrote for Esquire, The New Yorker, and other publications during his 50-year career, died Saturday in San Francisco. He was 74.

Mr. Sack died of complications from a transplant for bone marrow cancer, Esquire said.

Mr. Sack wrote 10 books and covered all US wars from Korea to Afghanistan.

Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger called Mr. Sack "one of the rare giants of magazine journalism."

Mr. Sack volunteered for Army service in Korea after graduating from Harvard University in 1951, and he was assigned to the Army newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes. He also wrote for Esquire and Harper's while still a soldier.

He worked for CBS News after his discharge, resigning to become Esquire's Vietnam correspondent in 1966. His first article, which at 33,000 words remains the longest the magazine has published, ran behind an all-black cover with the inscription "Oh My God -- We Hit a Little Girl." The article, which was about an infantry company in Vietnam, was expanded into a book called "M" and is considered a pioneer work of New Journalism.

Esquire's founding editor, Arnold Gingrich, called it "one of those landmark events of which there can never be more than a comparative few. . . . `The Crack-Up,' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and `The Snows of Kilimanjaro,' by Ernest Hemingway, would come to mind," he said.

After Mr. Sack interviewed Lieutenant William Calley for an Esquire cover story about the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai, the journalist was indicted on federal felony charges for refusing to surrender his notes and tapes to prosecutors. The case did not go to trial.

In 1993, Mr. Sack published a book called "An Eye for an Eye," which asserted that Jewish concentration camp survivors in Russian-occupied Poland ran concentration camps for German civilians.

His most recent book, "The Dragonhead," was a portrait of a Chinese mob godfather in the United States.

According to Esquire, Mr. Sack's other jobs included Boy Scout nature director, a Boston department-store Santa Claus, and a Michigan ski-school director.

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