Part 8: End Notes and Comments
(1) A memorable personality around AFVN was the TV Weather Girl known simply as Bobbie [Keith]. She was a very attractive, shapely, blonde, young, single civilian employee who was AFVN's television weather girl. She lent glamour and sex appeal to the station, and was agreeable to posing for cheesecake photos, taking publicity tours up-country and providing comic relief. She once allowed a bucket of water to be poured over her when she remarked that "rain is in the forecast." I also remember her, in high heels and mini-skirt, climbing up the station tower to deliver a slice of birthday cake to one of the Army spotters in his sandbagged observation perch.
(2) A mysterious AFVN episode involved purloined audio tapes of Chicken Man, a campy, satirical radio character invented by a DJ in Chicago, who frequently burst into the lyrics to "Give My Regards to Broadway." The Chicken Man tapes were not officially provided by American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) headquarters, so should not have been aired. But they had been broadcast before I arrived and they were so popular and entertaining that I ignored the regulation to ban them. Then the tapes went missing, not to be found. I was sad at this development, but they were unlawful material in the first place, so I had no reason to order an investigation into their disappearance. I later heard a rumor that one of our draftee DJs from the Chicago area, who had illegally copied and brought the tapes to Saigon in the first place, had reclaimed his tapes when he rotated back to the States.
(3) When our FM station in Saigon began airing high-fidelity tapes of Broadway show tunes my Navy friend Russ Harney stated asking me for dubs of the copyrighted music. This was illegal and would have caused raised eyebrows among my DJ staff. I wanted to please Russ so I would schedule the tapes he liked at a time convenient to him, and he would record them on a hi-fi tape set-up in his room at the Rex Hotel.
(4) My visit with nephew Greg Wentz was not without incident. Unattended, unsecured motor vehicles were ripe for street-wise GIs to drive away and enjoy on their own. I used the AFVN jeep at Tuy Hoa and left it outside the orderly room at company headquarters while I swapped war stories with Greg . When I was ready to leave my jeep was nowhere to be found. Someone had hot-wired the ignition and drove off. Greg's First Sergeant sprung into action and got my jeep returned.
(5) To many of us, the best Navy PAO billets in Vietnam were considered to be those at 7th Fleet Detachment Charlie and at Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV) headquarters. They were strictly Navy jobs, with none of the joint inter-service intrigues of MACV or AFVN, where Army and Air Force officers were also on the staff. The NAVFORV assignment took on added stature when the top job was elevated to the three-star, vice admiral, level, and was filled by Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt, a contender to be a future Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The PAOs at NAVFORV during my time in Vietnam were Commander Jack Davey, assisted by Lieutenant Steve Taylor.
(6) Show business celebrities came to the AFVN station as part of the USO's morale-boosting program. During my year I met film actor James Stewart, Tippi Hedren (famous for her part in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "The Birds") and Georgie Jessel, an old time vaudeville, stage and TV personality. I was also confronted by Los Angeles radio celebrity Johnny Grant, who was upset that I scheduled his program during early morning hours. My audience survey showed little appreciation for his show.
(7) The only Navyman on my announcing staff was gunner's mate third class (GMG3) [1968-1969] Ken Kalish. Most Navy broadcasters were in the journalist rating, but Kalish had been hospitalized after a skirmish in the Mekong Delta and was relegated to light duty. Because he had civilian experience in radio broadcasting he was made available to AFVN. When the battleship USS New Jersey arrived with much fanfare to add additional shore bombardment capability to American firepower I sent Kalish aboard to record interviews for feature stories. He did that, but when the Commanding Officer of New Jersey learned of his in-country combat experience, he used him as a spotter on the bridge. "I was the only one aboard," Kalish smiled, "who knew what a Viet Cong target looked like."
(8) President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam would sometimes come to the Vietnamese broadcast facility that was adjacent to our station, and separated by only a chain link fence. On those occasions I would join other from the station in catching a glimpse of the president. On at least one occasion he noticed us and nodded in our direction.
(9) My perspective on the Vietnam War was short-term and personal-I wanted to serve honorably and come out alive. I did not question the nobility of our effort or the way the war was conducted. It was only later that I come to three conclusions about this conflict: (1) Americans cannot win wars of attrition. We are too impatient a people for long-term commitment to seemingly open-ended conflict. (2) The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam not militarily, but politically. Our politicians/statesmen/diplomats were not equal to the task. And (3) Only by invading and occupying the land of the enemy can a war be won. While North Vietnam was selectively bombed, it was not invaded and there were no American soldiers saying to the enemy on their own territory, "This ground is mine, and you can't have it."
Part 7: R&R in Yokohama
I had only been back in Saigon for a short time when I had the opportunity to take a rare second R&R trip. Ray Nash had signed up for his leave in Tokyo, but was unable to go because of some conflict. He asked if I wanted his week in Tokyo. I jumped at the chance. Having left MSTS duty in Yokohama just six years before, I knew the area and could visit some old friends and my old command.
When my flight landed at Yokota AFB near Tokyo I took a train to Yokohama and checked into the Navy BOQ at Bayside Courts. I had fabricated a set of official orders so I could stay free-of-charge there. After checking in I called Cheri in Sun Prairie and told her where I was staying. She was pleased that I was in a familiar setting. She also asked that I go to the nearby Navy Exchange and buy her a Minolta camera she craved. I telephoned our old maid Tomoko and exchanged pleasantries. I also visited Len Pollak, my former baseball and golf buddy, but just generally relaxed around the BOQ and Officers Club.
Back again in Saigon I was nearing the end of my year-long tour. I would be transferred to the Navy Office of Information (CHINFO) in the Pentagon in Washington. My replacement, Navy Lieutenant Scott Pitzer [1969-1970], arrived in July for the turnover. Roommate Randy Moody left before me, so AFVN would have a new officer corps. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Adams [1939-1970] had replaced Ray Nash as the Officer in Charge. The corporate-memory and longtime continuity at the station was provided by permanent employee John Scales, a civilian who was the network engineer. In the waning days of my tour I offered my highly prized refrigerator for sale. It was bought by Commander Bill Collins, my old shipmate from CINCLANTFLT in Norfolk who was now stationed with MACV in Saigon.
Finally the day came, July 10, 1969. I was completing my 365 day assignment and had turned over the job of Officer in Charge of the AFVN Radio Division to Pitzer, along with my .45 pistol and carbine rifle. At Tan Son Nhut airport I breathed a large sigh of relief as my Stateside-bound charter flight climbed into the humid air and headed for cooler breezes in San Francisco.
Part 6: Reunion with My Nephew, Greg Wentz
The American army logistics base at Tuy Hoa was nearby so I arranged to visit my nephew Greg, my brother Melvin's son, who was stationed there. I borrowed a jeep from the AFVN station and drove to the base where I asked the company First Sergeant if he could summon Greg for a brief get-together. He did and we spent some time talking about family news and our experiences in Vietnam. Coincidentally, Greg and I arrived in Vietnam on the same day, so we rotated home on the same day.
Greg related some interesting stories from an enlisted, draftee perspective. For example, one of the frequent jobs assigned him was driving a beer truck filled with cases of the brew to area PXs. Also, he told me about a job handled by one of his friends, who was called in Army jargon, a "shit burner." It seems that residue from latrines could best be disposed of by covering it with gasoline and igniting a fire. It was a task someone had to do, and Greg's friend was just the man for the job.
One of the most interesting up-country visits was to the Marine base at Da Nang. I was met at the air strip by Captain Joe Leonard, the Marine Officer-in-Charge of the radio and television station on Monkey Mountain, a prominent peak found perfect for siting the broadcast antennae. It also provided a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, which included the distant VC infested area around Marble Mountain. In the evening we would sit on lawn chairs outside the station and watch American rockets and bombs fall on suspected enemy positions. There was another military facility near the station, an U.S. Air Force K-9 kennel, which housed some of the largest and fiercest looking German Shepard dogs I had ever seen.
When I returned to headquarters in Saigon I had a better understanding of the rigors of up-country duty. One of the few good things that could be said about this duty was that, for the sake of protecting the sensitive broadcast equipment, all the station studios were air conditioned, which made life more bearable for station personnel.
Each person serving in Vietnam was offering one week of Rest and Recreation (R&R) leave to some idyllic location in the Far East-Hong Kong (which Greg selected), Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Tokyo, Bangkok in Thailand, and Sydney in Australia. I choose Australia and arrived there in early 1969. My civilian charter flight left Saigon and made a fuel stop in Darwin before arriving in Sydney, a lovely city on one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. I moved into a low-cost temperance hotel, which only catered to non-drinking guests. I had largely given up drinking while in Vietnam. The hotel was in the trendy King's Cross entertainment and restaurant section of the city and within walking distance of the Sydney harbor bridge that gave a spectacular view of the picturesque Sydney Opera House. I spent most of my time in Sydney playing golf, sight-seeing and just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
Part 5: 1969 AFVN Audience Opinion Survey
I fell in love with survey research, mostly the measurement of attitudes and opinions, at the University of Wisconsin. I took a course in the subject, in which my class measured UW student views on the Vietnam War (a majority was opposed to U.S. involvement). My master's thesis, "Attitudes and Opinions of Ex-Navymen Toward the United States Navy and its Public Relations Program," was a survey project. I had the knowledge for composing and pre-testing an AFVN questionnaire and could devised a program for tabulating the results. But I needed major technical help with drawing a random sample of names to receive the questionnaires and more mundane assistance with stuffing envelopes, licking flaps, etc.
Each service (Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force) had a computerized listing of the 550,000 American personnel serving in Vietnam. Drawing the sample of people to receive questionnaires was relatively easy. For example, knowing the percentage of service names I required (67% of the total needed to be from the Army), I asked a technician to print out, say, every 100th name. Finally, a list of 3,303 names from the four services was compiled. AFVN station employees, especially the three Vietnamese secretaries, addressed, stuffed the questionnaires, sealed and mailed the envelopes.
A good response rate was needed to give any credibility to my project. If too many recipients threw away the questionnaire, I could not draw any valid conclusions from those who did take the time to answer. Fortunately, the response rate was almost 50 percent, which would please any surveyor, let alone one doing his work in a combat environment. After analyzing the data, I prepared a 69 page report that told the senior leadership of AFVN what our audience thought of the job we were doing. I will quote only a part of the radio findings to illustrate what was learned.
AFVN Radio Findings
The data presented in this report support the statement that a radio signal can reach almost every serviceman in Vietnam. The quality of that signal to 85% of the sample was "excellent" or "good." Upon establishment of FM broadcasting facilities in Vietnam, the data indicate that over half the population currently in-country will have the means to receive an FM signal. AFVN radio is listened to almost 98% of the U.S. military population. The evidence presented in this report suggests that at least two-thirds of the population are avid listeners-i.e. those who listen at least two hours per day. With regard to programming, the data indicate that the "Mod" music that is "selling" as evidenced by being included on chart rankings in the United States, is the most popular type of music with the AFVN audience. Oldies but Goodies, which includes both pop standards and up-tempo music which continues to sell over a period of years, is also highly popular. Country-western and soul music also have substantial audiences. It would appear from the sample responses that AFVN radio announcers are performing their jobs in a commendable manner.
Similar conclusions about the News and Television Divisions, with statistical charts, were circulated to those Officers in Charge for whatever programming decisions they wanted to make in view of the survey findings.
I sent the finished report to a wide range of Navy Public Affairs Officers. I hoped it would show that I was doing something extra and special, worthwhile and interesting in Vietnam. I also hoped that by publicizing the report I would make known my name and promote my career to superiors in Washington. In brief, I tooted-my-own-horn hoping it would help later to gain steady promotions and good assignments. It did.
Part 4: Captain Randall J. Moody, USA
Randall J. Moody turned out to be a thoroughly like-able and compatible station colleague and BOQ roommate. We fell into a com-fortable pattern of living. An AFVN bus, with the name "San Francisco" emblazoned in the destination window in front, would take us to the station each morning at 7 a.m. We put in a 12 hour day, even though much of that time I spent daydreaming at my desk. But Colonel Nash proclaimed, "If grunts (infantrymen) in the field must put in 12 hour shifts, we will do the same." Sunday was a day off, except when my name appeared on the "Duty Officer" rotation. I walked from the Splendid to the station and back on those days, peeking into the courtyard of the American Embassy as I passed.
Randy was a native of Nebraska and a graduate of Creighton University. He had civilian newspaper experience before being called into the service. He was a Signal Corps officer, which provided most of the broadcast officers for the Army. Randy was nine years younger than me, tall, blond haired, slightly on the stocky side, but presented a fine military appearance. He also knew how to field strip and clean a .45 pistol. I inherited that sidearm from Jim Eaves, along with an old Army carbine with two clips of ammunition, duct-taped together for quick reloading. Some of the more style-conscious officers wore their .45s in shoulder holsters, but I stuck with the web-belted, hip hugging model.
The restaurant-bar at the Rex Hotel was alive with entertainment many nights but especially on Saturday nights. There was usually a Filipino band and floor show and this was a place we could unwind, have a few drinks, watch bombs and artillery shells explode in the distance ("Watching the war from the Rex") and greet old friends, like Russ Harney. The Navy Public Affairs officer for "Detachment Charlie" from the 7th Fleet had office space in the Rex, so those officers were usually in the area. Commanders Bill Stierman and Herb Hetu were the ranking officers while I was in Saigon. Lieutenant Commander Jay Standiford of Detachment C was my next-door neighbor at the Splendid.
After work on Saturdays Randy and I found an off-duty arrangement we both enjoyed. I knew nothing about a .45 pistol except how to load it and fire. If it was to remain operational in Vietnam's tropical climate, it needed regular cleaning and oiling. So Randy would strip and clean both our pistols, and then we walked four blocks to the Rex where I paid for the meals.
My job at the station was largely routine and boring. Sergeant Chamus was an excellent organizer and manager. I held daily division meetings with him and a few others, making some program scheduling decisions, but generally stayed out of the way of these people while they did their jobs. At noon Art Regan, Randy and I would pile into Ray Nash's jeep and he would drive us for lunch to a mess hall on the top floor of the Brinks Hotel. The days took on a sameness, and except for two occasions when Viet Cong rocket attacks on the nearby Presidential Palace, awakened us at night, the nights were uneventful. I needed something to do to keep me busy, so I planned and conducted the first radio and television audience survey ever conducted among military personnel serving under combat conditions.
Part 3: "Good Morning, Vietnam"
Army enlistee Sp4 Gary Gears [1968-1969] was my first morning AM disc jockey, the host of "Dawnbusters," a program that became famous because of an unusual opening. A previous 1964 Dawnbuster DJ, Air Force enlistee Adrian Cronauer, made the program famous by bellowing and elongating the show's introduction: "GOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING, VIETNAM." The troops loved it and the exaggerated intro became a tradition. Gears took particular delight in significantly expanding the greeting, much to the disgust of many senior officers. It became the job of Sgt. Shamus and me to placate the brass and try to rein in Gears. Eventually Gears was transferred to the News Division and his morning spot given to Army Sp5 Pat Sajak.
A talented DJ and radio host, draftee Sajak, subsequently gained fame and fortune when he returned to civilian life. He became famous as the long time host, with co-star Vanna White, of the wildly successful television game show "Wheel of Fortune." During his time in Vietnam he was a very conscientious, reliable and dependable soldier. Sajak had a pleasant, low key personality that allowed him to function smoothly with his more outspoken and flamboyant station mates.
I was one of three Officers-in-Charge who reported to Art Regan and, ultimately, Ray Nash. We were the line managers of the network. I had responsibility for radio operations; an Army major ran the television part; and Captain Randy Moody [USA] was in charge of the news that was broadcast on both radio and television. Randy reported to AFVN before I arrived and we became roommates at the Splendid Hotel BOQ, which was not my first choice for a billet.
The Rex Hotel was a senior officer BOQ, for which I was not eligible. It had an upscale restaurant, swimming pool and night club. Russ Harney was billeted there and suggested several ploys for me to try to gain admission. All failed, so I resigned myself to a second floor twin bedded room in the Splendid (pronounced in the French fashion, Splen-deed). The room had a small balcony that overlooked an inner courtyard, where nightly films were screened, and strips of masking tape over the windows to reduce the blast effect of any VC rocket hit. One of the advantages of being assigned to AFVN was that the station was air conditioned, and supply personnel could surreptitiously requisition additional window air conditioners, ostensibly for our up-country affiliate stations, but actually for installation in billet rooms. Randy and I took one of the units to the Splendid and he stripped off the electrical plug and bent the bare wires into an outlet. When he switched on the power, and the unit sprung to life, we rejoiced because we could now sleep in air conditioned comfort. Even the presence of geckos, little lizards adept at walking on walls and ceilings, were now less of a distraction.
Another luxury we acquired was a small freezer and refrigerator unit that allowed us to keep cold drinks, snacks and perishable food. We bought the fridge at the Army PX in Cholon, the Chinese business section of Saigon. We happened to be in the PX the day the units arrived. We had to compete with a group of South Korean soldiers who seemed intent on buying every available appliance, probably for resale on a highly profitable black market. We prevailed and had a highly prized accessory for our room.
Part 2: Relieving Jim Eaves
Lieutenant Commander Jim Eaves [USN] was the Officer in Charge of AFVN Radio operations who I would replace. I had never met Jim before meeting him in Saigon, but knew of his excellent reputation within the Navy Public Affairs community. He was tall, slender, had thinning hair and carried himself with an air of assurance and confidence. During his year at AFVN he was a hard worker, bright, liked by subordinates and trusted by his two superiors, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Art Regan, the Deputy Officer in Charge of all AFVN operations, and Army Lieutenant Colonel Ray Nash, the ranking officer and Officer in Charge. Eaves was leaving me big shoes to fill. I hoped to be equal to the task.
One of the reasons Eaves was so admired was his unflappable personality and calm demeanor. He had gained renown in the station for having confronted and placated a group of young bearded American peaceniks who had come to Saigon with the express purpose of mounting anti-war demonstrations at U.S. bases and recreation facilities. They gained entry to the station through some subterfuge and then began chanting and sprawled on the floor of the lobby. I am impatient and prone to quick, impulsive action. Had I been there at the time I would have ordered the Military Police to clear the area. But, Eaves quietly began talking to the protesters, engaged them in serious debate, defused the situation and escorted them peacefully out the gate. I inherited from Eaves a radio staff of ten enlisted men, all Army draftees except for one air force sergeant and one Navy petty officer. Most were free thinkers, iconoclastic and irreverent. I was a "lifer," someone who was making the armed forces a career. They were merely serving their time, anxious to return to civilian life, and intent on making the best of a bad situation . Drugs, mostly of the soft variety such as marijuana, were prevalent. Alcohol was plentiful. None of them were overtly disrespectful or insubordinate, but they made known their general disdain for us career people. One of these surly draftees was pointed out to me by Jim Eaves. "See that soldier standing in the lobby," he asked? "Yeh." "That's John Steinbeck, Junior [actually John Steinbeck IV] , son of the famous author John Steinbeck. He may have a hard drug problem, but he is leaving soon so it is not something you will have to deal with."
Army Sergeant First Class Clem Shamus [USA, 1968-1969] was the senior enlisted man in my division, and as such was the Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge (NCOIC). He was a thoroughly delightful person, a "lifer" like myself, who worked hard and earned the esteem of his men. He was also a talented Country-and-Western songwriter who had several songs recorded. Another lifer was Air Force Sergeant Cal LaMartiniere, who was the most creative, single minded and indefatigable person I had ever met. He produced taped radio shows that skillfully blended humor, music, sentiment, pathos and, on occasion, satire. He practically lived at the station . Work was his greatest joy-and money meant nothing. When he reenlisted he took his re-up bonus in cash, which amounted to thousands of dollars, and then stashed it in a gadget bag that he left largely unattended at his work desk. Nothing was ever stolen, but he tempted fate because of his basic disregard for material possessions. Cal was liked and respected by everyone.
Part 1: Arrival
My commercial flight from Dane County airport at Madison [WI] terminated in San Francisco where I took a bus to Travis Air Force Base. I was assigned a seat on a charter airliner bound for Saigon with stops at Hickam AFB in Hawaii and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Some of the passengers who joined the flight at Hickam were returning to the war zone from a Rest and Recreation (R&R) period in Hawaii. They carted M-16 rifles as part of their carry-on luggage. It brought home to me the deadly seriousness of what lay ahead for me.
The aircraft approach to Tan Son Nhat airport was steep and swift, in order to present the smallest and most difficult target to any Viet Cong gunners. In the Saigon terminal I was greeted by a Navy representative who provided bus transportation to a temporary BOQ. The date was July 10, 1968. I would spend the next 365 days in or around South Vietnam.
At the BOQ I looked out the window and saw a cemetery across the road. Was this a harbinger of things to come? I was tired from the journey and went directly to bed. My sleep that first night in Vietnam was restless and sweaty. Saigon was hot year-round and made sleeping difficult in anything other than an air conditioned room.
The next morning I was taken to the AFVN radio and Television Station, which was adjacent to the South Vietnam National Broadcasting Complex on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street and about two blocks from the American Embassy on Le Duan. The mission of AFVN was to boost morale through radio/tv/news programming that centered around music, news and sports. Our station IDs identified AFVN as "The Voice of Information, Education and Entertainment." The station itself was completely surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. An M-16 armed American army sentry was positioned in a kiosk at the driveway entrance to the compound. A striking feature of the AFVN locale was a large steel four legged tower at the rear of the station that was topped by the antennae that radiated the station's AM, FM and TV signals. Half way up the tower was a sandbagged lookout platform with two U.S. Army spotters. That elevated vantage point allowed them the possibility of seeing the plumes from enemy rockets that might be launched from Viet Cong positions outside the city. When they saw incoming rounds, they would contact combat air patrols that would bomb the area suspected of VC activity.
Reminisces by James (Gene) Wentz Lt Cmdr, USN
Deputy Network OIC / Network News OIC, Saigon (1969-70)
Individual Photo Albums & Stories