'Nam Vets AFVN Reunion


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'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 Morning, Vietnam."

"Adrian is a great guy, and we all like him very much," said AFVN newsman Bob Morecook, now a Houston psychologist.

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 fast."

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 broadcasters."

It quickly emerged that they were soldiers first.

"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 anti-war.

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 there."

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 wanted it.

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."

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