(Advance warning - this is long, but overdue.)
Ken [Kalish] has posted a very eloquent essay about the reunion and also hinted that we should learn some things about one another. So, here is the never before revealed story of how I managed and manipulated my way into AFVN. I've been working on a book about my strange exploits in VN (that will probably never see a press) but I've put together a precis. I arranged it a couple of weeks ago and let it fester for a bit, then sent to Joe Ciokon who thought it was pretty OK.
Here's the thing about the AFVN Group, Reunions and Memphis. I'm dealing with family issues right now. It looks like I may be having grandkids for an extended (like REALLY extended) stay. So time is an issue.
But (and this is just the impression I get) it seems as if most of the group members were career military or in the technical side of things and have known one another over many years and postings; though I could be way out of line (and please let me know if I am). I just don't want to be that short-timer who was only in AFVN for 6 months and really doesn't know anyone other than my hootch-mate on Monkey Mountain (also for only 6-8 months). He's the poster boy for PTSD and has become a recluse, so he certainly won't be coming. I'm not a big drinker, so hanging out at the bar isn't an attraction for me; and I'm single. I've been promising Cape Cod cousins a visit for three years now, so if I go anywhere I really need to have the funds for that trip (fixed income; `nuff said).
Though I wasn't drafted, it was real close, so I enlisted with a guaranteed stateside-assignment and an office job. The HR guys at Ft. Polk said I could skip school, pick up my E-3 and work for them; which I did for a couple of the most boring months in my life. I was feeding IBM punch-cards into a reader all day. Then I pissed them off by transferring into a CCTV job and E-4 (71R10) through a chance encounter with the GS-12 who ran the new CCTV Station and was testing this new way to train soldiers at outlying areas for the Army.
So instead of AIT & the personnel job at Ft. Polk, I ran a camera and sound equipment (I'd been the AV guy at Jr. College) in a nice air conditioned studio. The two guys in personnel had just finished training me were really upset. They swore they'd have me in VN before the end of the year and they succeeded. I'd forgotten their threat until orders showed up and I found myself in The Big Muddy - but I had my MOS. I DEROSed and went home after 32 months active duty (10/67-6/70) - including two tours in 'Nam, of which one was AFVN (and I fell into it - no DINFOS).
My first tour wasn't AFVN, I was a correspondent out of the Cam Ranh Bay IO and was the only one available to fill an E-5 slot when it came up, so I got a stripe over my patch with my promotion to E-5 (funny thing about hitting E-5 in the Army ? nobody messes with you anymore `cause you're an NCO). I was in the field at least three days a week. Sometimes I'd get to follow a USO Tour, but mostly I was on a chopper at dawn and in the field doing Hometown Interviews; mostly at FOBs and mostly Marines. And, often as not, I'd get stuck overnight. And they always got hit at night. So when the mortars started, I'd go to a sandbagged area in the back of the bunker where I couldn't get in anyone's way. But there were some hairy times when I was needed and was right up on the sandbags with them. They'd hand me a weapon (usually covered in the previous owner's blood) and told me to just aim for the wire and don't stare at the flares. I saw some rough stuff during that first year. I never knew you could sword-fight with severed limbs.
Anyway, when the weather cleared, or whatever caused me to have to spend the night with a bunch of Jarheads, I was out of there. I'd catch the next Huey headed toward Cam Ranh. But I have memories of these guys laughing their asses off as the rockets and mortars rained down. They'd pour everything the USA could provide at the wire, with arty swooshing overhead: "Danger Close!" I can't count the number of times I was made an "Honorary Marine;" but I had to draw the line when the biggest Marine in the bunker would pull out a Globe & Anchor pin, crunch up his fist like a hammer, and tell me to take off my shirt. By then I outranked most of them, so we'd all have a good laugh at the Army puss and I'd be gone at dawn (chest intact) and never see them again.
Then, to go back to Cam Ranh and escort Johnny Grant and a couple of his Gold-Dust Dancers for a day, then take a day off and go sailing was completely surreal.
Still, in order to entice me to stay for another (short) tour, I asked and was allowed to audition for AFVN. No one was more surprised than I when I got it, but having people with some college, in-country experience and a bit of the customs and language was very valuable to the Army at the time. I took my 30-day leave, came back for a month in Saigon for training, then was assigned to the morning show at Monkey Mountain; that's a total of 7 months with AFVN of which 6 were on-air for an hour a day. That's a part of my reluctance in attending the reunions, I was a glorified transmitter watcher. Thank God for my hootch-mate who'd been a jock in the states taught me the ropes.
I am very proud of those months and continued in various roles in radio in civilian life; everything from jock to PD, GSM & GM. I also worked for both of the major trade pubs for radio (R&R and Radio Ink) then eventually started my own business selling direct mail, coupon promotions and listener magazines to radio stations. I retired officially on 12/31/2011.
So, just like the ads said: "Go Army, Get a Career." I did. But I pursued mine as a civilian - if we could go back, and I knew then... I probably would have stayed for 20+. I was even offered OCS with a guarantee of a continuing with AFRTS. But, as we all know, things were different back then; and there have been many RIFs after Vietnam, so who knows how long I'd have stayed?
This is a very long answer to what should have been a quick, "Nope, sorry I can't make it." But though I've been a member of this esteemed group for many years, I've never opened up to the group about myself and figured now's as good a time as any - and there's an even longer story if you want to hear it. But stories are like ...um, noses - everyone's got one.
I feel like I know you guys, though we've never met. But, that having been said, I won't be able to make the reunion; but I'll be there in spirit and I'm sure there will be other reunions and I'll be in a better position by then. If things change prior to the reunion, I may just make it to Memphis and finally meet you guys in person; if you don't hold it against me that I wasn't career (notice I haven't used that other word that's sometimes applied to career military folk - I should get extra credit for that).
Two photos received from Dick on July 5th, 2014 follow.
Individual Photo Albums & Stories
There's also a photo taken in Nha Trang of the "First Skateboard." I suspect the boy saw an American magazine and made it himself.
Dick holding a copy of the Stars & Stripes announcing the death of Ho Chi Minh on September 2, 1969.
Here's a couple of interesting links for you: Dong Ba Thin Airbase in 2007
As I remember, the AFVN-Cam Ranh was actually located in Dong Ba Thin, across the bridge linking the mainland with the peninsula.,
Here's a photo of me editing a weekly Donut Dollie's show at that location. This was before i was officially assigned to AFVN.
And another of me holding a headline announcing Ho Chi Minh's death. Dick Downes's photo.
[NB: With apologies to Dick, this posting left me a little confused. In spite of the plural "links," only one link was posted.
Also, that can't be Dick in the Red Cross uniform--she has too nice a smile. Therefore, if that is a "photo of Dick," where is he? Webmaster]
The following were posted as part of a Facebook thread on Steve Starnes in August 2015.
Dick holding the detonator to an IED that blew up the first truck in our convoy. I was supposed to be on that truck.
The close-up above appears to have been taken from this photo.
S1C Frank Holler, USN and Dick in Da Nang.
Dick Downes SP5, USA Saigon / Da Nang 1969-70
Note: This was written prior to the 2012 Reunion in Memphis.