'Nam deejays air their memories
Excerpt from: The
Indianapolis Star Newspaper April 29, 2002
By Will Higgins
Military reunions take place all the
time, but these old soldiers weren't infantrymen or
artillerymen. They were broadcasters -- news readers,
engineers, producers and deejays who informed and entertained
the U.S. troops in Vietnam.
Some have stayed in touch over the years,
but this was the first official get-together of veterans of
the American Forces Vietnam Network.
It was held, over the weekend, in
Indianapolis because Emmanuel Harper lives here. Harper was a
broadcast supervisor in 1971-72 (he had a weekly jazz show,
too). He knows how to barbecue, and he promised that
Indianapolis in late April is beautiful.
The weather was lousy, so the 30-some
veterans shoehorned into Harper's Far-Eastside home Saturday
and ate ribs and cornbread and drank mostly coffee. Harper put
a bottle of Jim Beam out, but there were few takers.
Adrian Cronauer did not attend. Often,
the first question AFVNers get is about Cronauer, who gained a
measure of fame after Robin Williams played him as a
rebellious, anti-establishment AFVN deejay in the movie "Good
"Adrian is a great guy, and we all like
him very much," said AFVN newsman Bob Morecook, now a Houston
But the movie was misleading. "If I'd
done like he did in the movie and was totally disrespectful of
authority," said Garry Lyons, "I'd have been kicked out so
The radio and TV network was started, by
the U.S. Army, in 1963. Later, as more and more American
soldiers were sent to Vietnam, the operation was enlarged. At
its height, the Saigon studio had a staff of 250. There were
nine field stations.
"At first," said Lyons, wearing a "United
we stand" American flag sweatshirt, "there was a controversy
about whether we were broadcasters who happened to be military
personnel, or military personnel who happened to be
It quickly emerged that they were
"Our mission was to bring as much of home
(as possible) to the troops, who were so far away from home,"
said Bob Nelson.
But the deejays faced a dilemma: A lot of
the music being played on radio stations back home was
The veterans recalled the degree of
censorship differently. "When the music came in," said Harper,
"we'd look at it, and if the message of it was 'war stinks,'
well, we already knew that. So we weren't going to play it on
the radio. You had to keep it positive. People were dying over
On the other hand, some troops clamored
for music that people like Harper found negative. The Animals'
"We Gotta Get Out of this Place" was one of the most requested
songs, said Tom Fowlston -- "and I played it."
Fowlston said he played Edwin Starr's
"War," too ("What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!").
"There was so much anti-military,
anti-establishment, anti-government attitude at that time back
home," said Lyons, who was 37 during his year in Vietnam. "And
some of the younger guys -- they were in the Army, but deep
down they had that anti-military feeling. Any restriction in
their mind was censorship."
At the barbecue, the closest thing to
Robin Williams' Cronauer was Joe Huser. During his stint in
Vietnam, 1972-73, Huser wore Hawaiian shirts and was the host
of a show called "Underground."
He played harder-edged music, such as
Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. The higher-ups weren't excited
about the show, Huser recalls, but they realized the troops
But even Huser knew his limits. Take the
Country Joe and the Fish song that goes: "What are we fighting
for?/Don't ask me, I don't give a damn/Next stop is Vietnam."
"We got a lot of requests for that,"
Huser said, "but of course we didn't play it."