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Ex-reporter films Vietnam documentary

By A.J. McWhorter


Former KHON reporter Pete Pepper has a gripping new documentary, "Killing Memories," about five Vietnam War veterans who revisit the battlefields they fought on and the men they fought against. The 85-minute film was written, produced and directed by Pepper.

Pepper was born in Santa Cruz, Calif., and at age 17 he joined the Army during the Vietnam War era of the 1960s. He attended officer candidates school and volunteered for duty in Vietnam, arriving there in August 1966 with the 101st Airborne.

He spent 18 months in Vietnam and eight years in the Army, climbing to the rank of captain. After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in creative communication, Pepper visited Bob Sevey and Bob Basso, news directors at KGMB and KHON, respectively. Basso suggested he try radio first, and Pepper landed a news job with KCCN, working with Doug Mossman and Krash Kealoha.

"They were both very generous with their time and helped me master Hawaiian pronunciation, among other radio skills," Pepper said.

Although he enjoyed working in radio, Pepper still had his sights set on a job in television. Basso ended up hiring him as a news writer in 1972 for the 6 and 10 p.m. KHON newscasts. The former news director remembers Pepper as "a spit-and-polish professional who took the time to learn his craft and worked assiduously to perfect it. ... (I) never gave him an assignment he didn't complete with creativity and depth. ...

"He had the rare ability to subjugate his ego and make the story the star. He turned out to be a premier reporter right out of the box," Basso said.

Pepper worked with BJ Sams, Les Keiter, Ray Lovell, Scott Shirai, John Stromquist and Barbara Tanabe as part of the KHON Eyewitness news team. He covered Honolulu politics, crime and other beats during the Burns-Ariyoshi era.

"Bob Basso was instrumental in getting me into TV, mentoring me in writing for broadcast and also pointing me in the direction of my first job at KCCN. I kept bugging him for a job. He had me rewrite 90 (United Press International wire) stories, and he finally brought me on as a part-time writer and after a couple of months he offered me an on-air job as a reporter," Pepper said.

His many highlights while in Honolulu include interviewing then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, the Kukui Plaza scandal, Aloha Stadium construction and the Hokule'a's maiden voyage.

In 1976 Pepper left the islands and ended up working for news stations in Los Angeles and San Diego. Some of his news colleagues include notable broadcasters Pat O'Brien, Brent Musburger and Connie Chung. While in Los Angeles, Pepper served as San Fernando Valley bureau chief for KNXT (now KCBS) as well as the CNN Los Angeles bureau. In 1984 he moved to Northern California to live closer to his son, and worked as an anchorman at KNTV in San Jose.

He left the news business in 1988 to form his own company, Pepper Communications, working with educational institutions in the Silicon Valley, eventually selling the business in 1996.

In 2004, when his wife committed suicide with Pepper's gun from Vietnam, his former Army comrades reached out, helping him through this dark period of his life. To help repay them for their loyalty and support, Pepper decided to travel with his men back to Vietnam to help them with their own haunted past.

"Killing Memories" is being showcased as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this month and in his hometown of San Luis Obispo as part of the 17th International Film Festival in March.

"I'm most proud of the fact that Vietnam veterans who've seen it say that it has helped them immensely. A few have said that they got more out of watching it than all the (post-traumatic stress disorder) counseling they've gone through over the years. I think the guys who went on the trip with me got a lot out of it, and it made us closer than ever," said Pepper.

He has visited the islands in recent years, including to attend his son's wedding in 2008, and has never forgotten his time spent here. "Hawaii will always have a special place in my heart," Pepper said.

A.J. McWhorter, a collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for local and national media. His column runs on the second Sunday of each month. E-mail him at

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