Sam Summerlin, First Man to Report The End of The Korean War, Dies Age 89

U.S. Army poster illustrating the en:Battle of Chipyong-Ni, a part of the Korean War.
U.S. Army poster illustrating the en:Battle of Chipyong-Ni, a part of the Korean War.

Sam Summerlin was an Associated Press foreign correspondent. He was the first to report that the Korean War was over. His career also covered Latin American revolutions and US race riots. He died at the age of 89 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Summerlin successfully transitioned from reporter to New York Times executive and then to producer of documentaries about historical figures and entertainers. It was his time as a reporter that meant the most to him, he said in 2004.

In that capacity, he had a front-row seat to historic events. He was able to meet Ernest Hemingway and Che Guevara.

Summerlin was born January 1, 1928, in Chapel Hill, NC. He graduated from the University of North Carolina and started working for the AP in 1949. Two years later, he was covering the Korean War at the age of 23. He was one of the youngest correspondents in Asia.

On July 27, 1953, the two Korean nations signed an armistice – Summerlin was first with the news. He attributes that success to only weighing 125 pounds at the time and able to outrun the other 200 reporters to the only phone available at the signing ceremony.

He was only allowed 15 seconds to file his report, so he simply said, “Flash: The Korean War is over,” before being required to hand the phone back to a military official.

After the war, he was assigned to cover Cuba. It would be several years before Fidel Castro’s revolution. Hemingway was living and working from a lighthouse on the outskirts of Havana.

Summerlin, knowing the author’s desire for privacy and how he hated for people to barge in unannounced, called before visiting. Hemingway appreciated the courtesy and invited Summerlin over, leading to several more visits in the future.

When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954, he allowed Summerlin the first interview and agreed not to speak to anyone else until Summerlin filed his story. He also asked Summerlin to organize his press conference after winning the award.

Summerlin left Cuba to take the AP bureau chief position in Buenos Aires before Castro came to power.

While in Argentina, Summerlin covered several Latin American revolutions. He was one of the first to report the capture of Nazi Holocaust architect Adolph Eichmann in 1960.

In 1965, he took the AP deputy news editor position in New York. In 1975, he left AP for the New York Times. He was the president and chairman of the paper’s news service and syndicate.

Later, he founded Hollywood Stars, Inc., which produced video programs, and SAGA Agency, Inc., which provided still photos and interviews of celebrities. He produced television shows for cable channels, including documentaries on Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

He was the author or co-author of several books, including “Latin America: Land of Revolution” and “The China Cloud,” a look at China’s nuclear weapons program, Los Angeles Times reported.

Summerlin’s wife Cynthia passed away in 2000. He is survived by his daughter, son, and three grandchildren.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE