Monday, July 16, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Dutiful Puppies-'McNamara's Band Follows'

October 23, 1966

Saigon, South Viet Nam--War is a deadly game but it does have touches of humor.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara departed from the Tan Son Nhut airfield after making a whirlwind tour of American Military bases and being briefed by the various commanders on the war.

For two days, members of the press corps, sometimes three plane loads of them, followed the Secretary like dutiful puppies, only to be scorned and ignored by their master at every stop.

The Press's persistence to the cold shoulder earned them the title from the military, "McNamara's Band." One correspondent, angry about the Secretary's aloofness and elusiveness said, "I think if they made that guy ambassador to Sweden he'd be able to stir up something there."

But the press aren't the only people McNamara left unhappy. There was one very hot and sweaty Air Force sergeant he left in his wake by the name of Bill Shonyo, 37 years old.

It was announced that McNamara would hold a brief press conference at Tan Son Nhut before he boarded the plane. A bus load of television cameras, lights and sound equipment were quickly installed in the VIP Lounge. Three bus loads of newsmen and photographers, hungry for any news from the Secretary, charged into the room and waited...And
waited...And waited.

Shonyo stood inside the room watching the turmoil. An Air Force captain approached Shonyo and said, "I think these guys should have ash trays before they burn holes in the rug."

Shonyo took the hint. He went outside, and then hiked to the main road where he hitched a ride across the airbase to his office where he scrounged 12 ash trays, and then hitched a ride back to the VIP Lounge.

He dutifully passed out the ash trays and stood wiping his forehead with a handkerchief in the heat generated by the television lights.

Just then an officer grabbed the microphone and announced that the Secretary was arriving but there would be no press conference, only photos of him boarding the plane.

Groans of disgust rose from the press corps, which had been foiled again.

Shonyo shook his head wearily, "Boy... I'd better get all those ash trays back or there will be hell in the morning." He began scurrying around trying to locate the ash trays he'd grabbed from all the officer's desks.

During the visit to Cu Chi, a young soldier who asked that his name not be used, told about coming down with a case of dysentery. During one of his throes at the latrine, a sniper opened fire on him.

"I just covered my eyes and stayed put," the soldier said..."I would have been a mess either way."

Sp/5 James Edwards, Cranston, R.I., who heard the soldier tell the story added, "Oh, yes. That's Cross-Eyed Charlie. He's always shooting at people in the latrine. But all he's ever done is tear up a lot of sandbags. I asked the sergeant if I could get a crack at Cross-Eyed Charlie, and the Sarge growled...

"Hell no...if you get him his replacement might be a better shot."

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