Matthew Franjola, a reporter and photographer for the Associated Press during the Vietnam War who was among the last Americans in Saigon as it fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, has died.

He died Jan. 1, 2015 at age 72 at Danbury Hospital after a long illness, said Grace Franjola, his ex-wife and a resident of Washington.

Franjola had lived in Washington for many years and served as chairman in 2007-08 during his tenure on the Region 12 Board of Education.

The couple's daughters, Alexandra and Claire, were respective graduates of Shepaug Valley High School in 2006 and 2009.

`"He was truly, truly a renaissance man," said his ex-wife.

Franjola spoke Vietnamese and other southeast Asian languages, was a pilot, avid tennis player, writer and photographer, she said.

A former UPI colleague, David Hume Kennerly, said Franjola's fluency in Vietnamese saved their lives.

Franjola overheard South Vietnamese soldiers speaking among themselves that they would leave the two Americans pinned down as Viet Cong fighters approached, he recalled.

"That information led us to get out," said Kennerly, who later became White House photographer for President Gerald Ford.

Franjola trained for the United States' Peace Corps in 1964, but he wasn't selected, Grace Franjola said.

Instead, he went to South Vietnam to work for a war supplies company as U.S. military involvement began escalating.

He met journalists and soon became a stringer for the AP, she said.

"He was kind of a cowboy," said Grace Franjola. "He wasn't going to report to an office, wear a tie and all that."

She said her ex-husband also mined for gold in Zimbabwe as it transitioned from white-ruled Rhodesia and worked in South Africa.

His return to New York after decades in Asia and Africa was a difficult transition for Franjola, she said, because he was unfamiliar with the culture.

She likened it to bringing "King Kong out of the jungle."

Kennerly said Franjola "was a man's man, an adventurer, a really great guy."

"I think he found journalism to be the ultimate adventure," he added.

Franjola was born in The Bronx, N.Y., in 1942 and was raised in Franklin Square, N.Y., Grace Franjola said.

He studied at the state university in Cortland, N.Y., with the intent of becoming an athletic coach, she said.

In addition to his ex-wife and daughters, he is survived by three brothers and three sisters.

Norm Cummings contributed to this story.