Saturday, July 11, 2015

lst trip to Nam.....what are "hometowners?"

Guys in Nam

But wait...there’s more!
 For my first Vietnam experience...hometowners became easy as I traveled to non-hotspots where large PX’s (post exchanges) drew lots of soldiers.  I’d just set up outside the PX with a sign 
“If you live in these areas stop and say “hello” for the folks back home”  and then list the St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, etc.  I found a letter I wrote to my folks just before leaving and it listed the radio stations I was getting interviews for and it's more impressive than I remembered:   KRLA LOS ANGELES, 
                                     WMEX BOSTON, 
                                     WNEW NEW YORK CITY, 
                                     WTOP WASHINGTON DC, 
                                     WFAS LONG ISLAND, 
                                     WIP PHILLY, 
                                     WCBM BALTIMORE, 
                                     WUBE CINCINNATI, 
                                     WDGY MINNEAPOLIS, 
                                     WIXY CLEVELAND, 
                                     KMOX ST. LOUIS 
                                    KMBC KANSAS CITY (I would go to work as a talk host here) 

For hometowners from the Navy they offered to fly me out to the Aircraft Carrier Hancock...assuring me of a dozen or so short interviews to send back home.
What they failed to tell me was that we would be making what is called an “arrested” landing on the deck.  I can  understand why.  They really like to jam it to press people when they get the chance!
So...I’m a guy who detested those fast rides at the carnivals or Disney.... and as we circled the carrier for a landing an officer whispered “ever hit the catapult on a deck before?”  I nodded I hadn’t so he just recommended that as they touch the deck...I just hold on for dear life.
They did and I did...but it did no good.  I hated it! say the least.  It’s no fun making an immediate stop from over 100 mph.
      I didn’t throw up...but I didn’t eat much later in the officers mess either.  
I saw the same officer later who smiled the good news that for my benefit they would NOT use the catapult to get us off the deck to Saigon.  It would be a normal full deck take off.  Thank god.
I did get a bunch of interviews and they were well received back home.
There was a tough one later in a hospital near Danang.  
The hospital info office had set me up with a couple of interviews of soldiers who were being treated who were from two of the cities on my list.  The first went well...but the second was heartbreaking.  
The guy was in bad shape but insisted on saying “hi” to his family back in the St. Louis area.
It was broadcast AFTER the soldier had died and the family had been informed of his death.  Someone in the family heard the interview and called the radio station to plead for a copy which, of course, the station manager agreed.  He wrote me a letter to my company in Chicago and enclosed a note from the soldier’s family thanking me and telling me how wonderful it was to hear their son’s voice for the last time.
War is hell.

    Returning home to the U.S. this first time was challenging in a few ways.

    First, the plane from Hong Kong to Tokyo was late so the airline had to put us up overnight.
My "roommate" turned out to be a CIA guy from Saigon...and down at the desk when we were paired for a room he was speaking fluent Japanese!  
    The desk clerk was most impressed and after we had been in the room a bit the phone rang and he answered (in the local language) and had a brief conversation.  He said that was the hotel manager who has invited us to see the sights at his expense!  He went on to explain that he had been in Tokyo on General MacArthur's staff and he'd mentioned that to the desk clerk. 
    So instead of sleep we spent the next few hours sampling night life in the Ginza.  That is one "fun" city!

    Next morning the flight to San Francisco awaited...but my roomy had a problem.  Actually we all had a problem as there was a general airline strike in the United States and so no connection flights were available.  the CIA guy had an important meeting in Washington D.C. but couldn't get there.  He ended up re-booking his trip back this way:

                       Tokyo direct to Madrid, Spain
                        Madrid to Washington D.C.
   That took care of his meeting problem although he said he would be a little late!
As for myself..I had already determined my agenda.  Upon arrival in San Francisco I would rent a car and drive to Las Vegas.  I looked forward to to drive out west with the mountains and re-boots my mind and body.
   I got a room at the Desert Inn (Howard Hughes had the penthouse) and while playing the slots I overheard a VERY familiar voice playing on the next row (which I couldn't see).  But I didn't need to see the gentlemen...(and I never did as he moved out quickly)  It was the "Darth Vadar" James Earl Jones (voice only)...commenting to a companion while dropping his quarters in a slot that he had never played slots before.  With Jones...the voice is a sure fire giveaway.
   Another "give away" voice was that of Julia Roberts...whom my son Chris and I passed in the downstairs cafeteria at the Dolphin Hotel at Disneyworld.  But that story comes later.

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