Saturday, April 5, 2014

talking to the guys in Nam

USS Hancock


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, Cleveland, 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:   
                  WMEX BOSTON, 
                  WNEW NEW YORK CITY, 
                   WTOP WASHINGTON DC, 
                   WFAS LONG ISLAND, 
                   WIP PHILADELPHIA, 
                   WCBM BALTIMORE, 
                   WUBE CINCINNATI(TV) 
                   WDGY MINNEAPOLIS, 
                   WIXY CLEVELAND, 
                   KMOX ST. LOUIS 
                   KMBC KANSAS CITY (Later,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.


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