Thursday, July 26, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Update, Notes, And Epilogue

While assembling material for this work, one effort made was to contact as many of my former associates as possible to test their recall of events many years ago. It was a nearly hopeless task. One of my mentors, Robert P. Mooney, had died. Phillip F. Clifford, another friend and mentor, now deceased, said, "I remember your articles and liked them. But my memory will not stretch beyond than that."

Paul M. Doherty, an editorial writer at The Star said, "It's just too long ago. I remember being impressed with the articles, but nothing else."

My next contact was with Larry Connor, former city editor and managing editor of The Star. He was unable to recall either of the conversations we had after my return from Vietnam and after the dispatches concluded publication. I read him the statements he made, which had been burned into my brain.

After listening to the statements he said, "If I said that, my view would have been a reflection of our policy. That kind of thing belonged upstairs (with Pulliam or the editor of The Star). You know, we were over there, let's beat the hell out of those guys." Connor said.

My probe extended no farther. As I sat in my office considering Connor's brief remarks, two words continued to dart through my mind—Nuremberg Syndrome.


Three Hoosiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions in South Vietnam.

Emilio A. DeLaGarza Jr., 20, Lance Cpl., United States Marine Corps, East Chicago, Ind.

Daniel D. Bruce, 18, Pfc., United States Marine Corps, Michigan City, Ind.

Sammy L. Davis, 21, Pfc., United States Army, Mooresville, In.

The nation's highest awards for valor were presented posthumously to relatives of Cpl. DeLaGarza and Pfc. Bruce during Feb., 1971, by President Nixon at the White House.

Davis received his award from President Johnson in White House ceremonies during November, 1968.

In late 1972, Star management assigned me to the Sunday Star Magazine from the Federal Building beat, after I'd allegedly committed an unforgivable indiscretion.

One of the first things I uncovered, while searching for story ideas, were the names of the Medal of Honor winners from Indiana. I found them in a publication a congressman sent me which listed Vietnam era recipients between 1964 and 1972. I checked our library and discovered scant or no information about the three men.

Though I had personal misgivings about doing any article connected with Vietnam, three Hoosier Medal of Honor winners would certainly make an excellent Veterans Day story, I reasoned.

I read most of the citations in the book, and considered the one pertaining to the surviving Davis one of the most outstanding of a select group.

Certain I had the lead for a good story, I went to the magazine editor, Fred Cavinder, with the idea. I showed him the citations. He rapidly scanned them and casually returned the book.

"Nobody wants to read anything about Vietnam," he said authoritatively.

All of the emotions and pain I felt long before, when Connor suggested all I wanted to do was "rehash" the Vietnam columns, returned.

Cavinder leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head. He seemed to be chortling over his decision and my obvious discomfort.

"This is the Medal of Honor I'm talking about, not a good conduct medal," I said forcefully.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm not interested," he said.

Fuming with a rage I was uncertain I could control, I left his office. I was tempted to see if I could wad him up and shape him into a Frisbee.

It seemed nothing I tried to write regarding Vietnam was a suitable topic. Other duties and stories soon occupied my mind. But the rebuff hurt.

It was Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, 1988, before the heroic actions of Davis, DeLaGarza, and Bruce were appropriately chronicled by the Star. Davis' exploits with an interview and pictures, consumed nearly two complete newspaper pages. The two Marines received generous space, with an article and their pictures, which extended across the bottom of a page that Veteran's Day.

It pleased me those articles were published, however tardily, even though I did not have the privilege of writing them.


Before concluding, I should explain the alleged indiscretion which resulted in my assignment to the Siberia of the Star, the magazine.

With City Editor Larry Connor, I was called into managing editor Robert P. Early's office during early May, 1972. To be called into Early's office alone was bad enough, but to be called in with the city editor was very unusual.

Early, who bore the savage nick name of "The Ripper" was visibly agitated. His face was taut and anxious, and I was certain I was in for a dose of his verbal assault and flattery, though I couldn't think of a thing I'd done wrong.

After asking us to be seated he began, "I had a phone call from Pulliam in Phoenix. (Eugene C. Pulliam).

Looking at me he said, "It seems he got a phone call from a Federal Judge here who claims you are trying to embarrass him and make all of the Federal Judiciary look bad. "

Connor scoffed and reddened.

Early continued, his lips tightly drawn, he bit off his words, "He's ordered me to pull you off the Federal Building beat, to put you inside, and keep you inside. I argued like hell with him that all you've done is your job. I told him it's the judge and his own actions that are making him look ridiculous. The old man wouldn't budge. I even called him back. He's adamant. You're to be once."

Looking at Connor he asked, "Where can we put Rick?"

"This is ludicrous," Connor began angrily. "You know how we feel about people calling in and complaining about a reporter. Nine times out of ten it's only because the reporter is doing a good job."

"Boy...will this be a blow to morale when it gets around the city room," Connor bleated, becoming more crimson.

"Where can we put Rick," Early demanded, "until we can get this worked out." Early was as angry as I'd seen him. He did not get red when he was mad. His complexion became lighter and lighter as his rage grew. His skin looked like fresh pie dough.

Conner stood up. His neck flashed alternating shades of crimson. "I'll find a spot," he growled.

Both of them looked at me. I shook my head in disbelief. They were talking about me as though I was an ash tray or a mop. Finally I said, "Would you like to call Pulliam and tell him what he can do with his job?"

"I'm ready to quit right now. This is humiliating. A damned travesty. You want me to call him? I'll give him a head full."

Connor and Early told me to calm down and go along with them. They promised to rectify the insult. All three of us knew the elder Pulliam was largely responsible for the complaining judge's appointment to the federal bench.

"I know you don't like it, Rick. Neither do I. But I work for him just like you do," Early said.

"Massa an de ol plantation slaves huh?" I snarled.

"Now don't start that. Just let it cool off. Hell, you didn't put those things in the paper yourself. Larry and I both read them. We've got confidence in your reporting or we wouldn't have published. Let's try to work it out," Early said.

Somewhat calmed, seeming to have the support of key management, and the responsibilities of a family to consider, I acquiesced and eventually took the purgatory of the magazine assignment.

As I sat at my desk that Spring evening, my thoughts returned to the day during December, 1966, when I learned I would not be able to write the articles about Vietnam as planned. Always I'd suspected it was because the elder Pulliam, loyal to his friends, refused to bolt from President Johnson's camp, or permit a campaign against the war by any newspaper under his control.

Now, because a Federal Judge had complained, a man previously an obscure attorney for whom a seat on the bench was unattainable without Pulliam's influence, I was to be penalized. Once more I experienced professional eclipse.

Eugene C. Pulliam died June 23, 1975. While he lived, despite repeated efforts, I could not escape from the Star Magazine. Though I lacked hard evidence to conclusively prove earlier suspicions, this latest incident revealed exactly how far the senior Pulliam would go to demonstrate loyalty to a friend.

Late in 1975, I was reassigned to the city desk as a general assignment reporter. Connor viewed my presence in the city room with the same relish as that of a ticking bomb. I took assignment, did rewrites and obituaries, and enterprised as many articles as possible.

By early April, 1976, I was refining information involving misuse of federal Law Enforcement Administration funds by a few state government officials. I turned a copy of a preliminary federal report over to the Marion County Prosecutor, and informed Connor of my activities. He appeared more agitated than interested.

Though I'd asked the prosecutor to keep the matter confidential, and he agreed to do so, within a few hours of giving him the report, the court house reporter called me and said, "Heard you handed the prosecutor a hot potato."

Later that week, I was asked to fill in on the police beat. My investigative work had to tread water. On Friday evening, Early called me and ordered me to appear in his office the next day. When I arrived, he charged me with creating friction and turmoil in the city room. The Star and I parted company that day.

Later, I learned the prosecutor, upon whom the newspaper was heavily dependent in another matter, allegedly misapplied LEA funds himself. He never issued a report based on the information submitted. It's doubtful he made an investigation. The story certainly was never published.



With the exception of the 1972 failed effort to portray three Hoosier Medal of Honor recipients in The Indianapolis Star Magazine, I kept all I knew and felt about Vietnam within me. I choked off the emotions and attempted to keep my feelings from surfacing by performing other newspapering tasks while I remained at the paper.

When The Wall at Washington, D.C. was dedicated to Vietnam veterans in 1982, I watched the dedication and observed the marching survivors. Some men were without arms, some had lost their legs, and some men had sacrificed all their limbs. Men were being pushed along in this sad parade in their wheelchairs by their buddies. Others struggled to march though they were hobbling. Some men were on crutches, some used canes. Some men shuffled with distant, hollow looks in their eyes.

Many men quick stepped, proud and erect, clad in their old uniforms, striving to show the world that the passage of two decades or more had failed to sap their vitality or their esprit. As I watched them march and viewed them at the wall in later scenes, their physical appearance notwithstanding, I considered all of them to be wounded men. For some the wounds of the flesh had long since healed. These men were left with scars they could see, and others, in their minds, they could not see and indeed may not have known were present. Other men bore no outward scars, but I know their minds remain torture chambers for the horrors they experienced in Vietnam.

Gradually, I began to drag out my mental baggage. My wife's scrapbook was the first step. Rereading the Vietnam articles brought back many memories. I found the duplicate copies of the Vietnam columns and studied them. I was amazed how much I was able to recall of the events in Vietnam and later. I considered writing a book but query letters to publishers sparked no interest and the matter was shelved.

In the mid-1980s, from the depths of obscurity, Vietnam vaulted to popularity. Books, television shows, and motion pictures seemed to come in a flood. A curious generation was growing up which knew nothing of that war except some cold history, and wanted to know more.

After that realization, I decided to put a book together. When it was finished, I felt relieved. The gnawing feeling I'd experienced for years was gone. I'd put all the pain and memories on paper.

In all likelihood, there will be those who describe this effort as self righteous, narcissistic, or some other deprecatory term. They are welcome their opinions, but I say they are wrong. All I have attempted to do is rid myself of a burden and draft a particle of history as I lived and remembered it. Deep down, I know everything could have been different.

I truly wanted to make a difference but could not.

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Rehash?

During April, 1967, Khe Sanh, that remote, perilous outpost manned by a battalion of Marines, was attacked by a large force of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

It took ten days of battle and dozens of dead and wounded Marines to beat back the attackers. The enemy had the air field bracketed with artillery, and took a heavy toll upon the resupply and reinforcement flights. Only ceaseless American artillery fire and hundreds of air strikes kept the Marines from being overwhelmed. Enemy casualties totaled more than 1,000.

Anti-war rallies increased in number and magnitude. The largest rally came April 15, 1967, at New York City, with 100,000 participants. Congressional support for the war was rapidly eroding.

The President imposed a 10% surtax to help pay for the war, and raised the troop ceiling to 525,000 men.

Secretary of Defense McNamara resigned, weary of the war. We now know he commissioned a secret study of the war by Pentagon experts that June. The results of that study were to become known as the "Pentagon Papers" after their clandestine release and publication began in The New York Times during June, 1971. Anti-war protesters stormed the Pentagon October 21, 1967.

1967 ended with more than 485,000 Americans serving in Vietnam. Combat casualties to date totaled 16,021, 9,377 for the year, including 264 Hoosiers. The snarling tiger stalked in ever constricting circles around the elephant. It struck more often, cut deeper, drew more blood, and became emboldened.


On January 21, 1968, under cover of fog and rain, NVA and VC forces launched a major offensive against Khe Sanh and the more than 6,000 Marines stationed there. Within days, enemy forces attacked almost every city and town in South Vietnam in the Tet Offensive.

The Marines at Khe Sanh held out in a siege which lasted 70 days, suffering 205 killed in action and more than 800 wounded. A total of 24 aircraft were lost to enemy gunfire when weather permitted resupply and reinforcement flights to Khe Sanh.

Only heavy artillery support, around the clock, and endless air support missions, when planes could fly, prevented Khe Sanh from being over run. An estimated 20,000 enemy troops with huge numbers of cannons, rockets, and mortars, encircled and besieged Khe Sanh. It is believed the enemy suffered more than 10,000 killed and wounded in the attempt to conquer Khe Sanh.

Only a short while after the battle for Khe Sanh ended, the Marines were ordered to withdraw. Khe Sanh was abandoned...its strategic importance was down graded.

In two attacks on Khe Sanh, the tiger inflicted hundreds of bleeding wounds.

Elsewhere in Vietnam, by Feb. 24, Hue, the last city held by the enemy, was cleared, and the Tet Offensive declared over. During the week of Feb. 10 to 17, an all-time high in casualties was reached...543 killed in action, 2,547 wounded.

Enemy casualties were estimated at more than 21,300 killed and wounded. American forces suffered more than 1,000 killed and 10,000 wounded.

American officials declared Tet a total defeat for the enemy. The enemy, however, was not defeated. The tiger had caused America and its ally, the South Vietnamese, to bleed heavily.

The increased blood shed prompted increasing numbers of anti-war demonstrations. Public support for the war vanished.

President Johnson, his public and congressional support vaporized and beleaguered by anti-war demonstrations, announced March 31 he would not run for office again. At the Star, we published news of the war as presented by the wire services. Some were anti-war in nature, but no strong position was taken by the paper.

Hubert H. Humphrey was named the Democratic party nominee at Chicago during August in the midst of a riot between anti-war demonstrators and police. Richard M. Nixon, a peace advocate, was elected President.

1968 ended with more than 536,000 Americans serving in Vietnam. U.S. battle deaths to date totaled 30,610, 14,599 for the year, 437 of whom were Hoosiers. The huge cat roared defiance as it prowled around the dazed, bleeding, but yet erect elephant.

I resisted every temptation to stand up and yell at the city editor, "How about a rehash?"

The years from 1968 to 1973 were marked by intense demonstrations of dissent, including the May 4, 1970 deaths of four students at Kent State University at the hands of Ohio National Guardsmen. Though American troops were being withdrawn in growing numbers and peace talks were an on-again- off-again matter, the war and the deaths continued.

The relentless Asian tiger continued to stalk, circle, and slash the elephant.

By the end of 1973, 46,163 Americans died of battle wounds. Another 10,000 Americans had been killed in non-battle incidents, and more than 250,000 suffered wounds.

A total of 1,513 Hoosiers, according to available records, died in Vietnam before the war ended.

Though he pledged to be a peace candidate, during Richard M. Nixon's presidency, 15,553 Americans died in Vietnam between 1969 and 1973.

After protracted negotiations, peace became official Jan. 27, 1973, ending the longest war in American history.

Civil unrest, dissent, draft dodgers, riots, demonstrations, and the chaos created by opposing factions, blasted a gulf, separating Americans, the breadth of which had not existed since the Civil War.


It was a sickening site to watch the evacuation of Saigon on television. Thousands of Vietnamese, hoping to escape their the country, surrounded the American Embassy and other sites from which American personnel were being evacuated. In panic, the Vietnamese ruthlessly pushed and shoved each other in desperate efforts to escape. They commandeered aircraft of every sort to fly toward the American aircraft carriers in the South China sea. Others took boats and escaped down river to the sea. Some drove to the coast and took small boats to escape.

Though able to sense their fears, I knew few of them had battled half so intently to save their nation.

To the people of South Vietnam, we pledged our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor. We gave them more than 58,000 lives, untold billions of dollars, and our considerable efforts to honor our pledge to preserve their government.

Exodus by the Americans left a nation and its remaining people held hostage on blood drenched soil; a land gashed and blackened by napalm, pock marked by rockets, artillery, and bombs; a land littered with the baggage and debris of war; a land where huge regions of lifeless trees grasp hopelessly with gnarled limbs toward the sky, where not a blade of grass grows, a bird sings, or a snake crawls, because we chemically defoliated the jungle to eliminate hiding places for the enemy; a land where almost every city and town has bombed out, burned and bullet riddled buildings; a land of numerous bare, torn, flat patches where villages once stood; a land honeycombed by caves, tunnel complexes, and redoubts, from which the enemy tigers launched their attacks; a land dotted with the mass graves of thousands of nameless dead from both sides, who rest together in a peace they never enjoyed while they lived.

For the people of South Vietnam, the end was a whimpering disgrace and a defeat which sentenced them to continued subjugation.

To this nation and its people, Vietnam had become an American Waterloo.

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: The Petard

From November 8, to 28, 1966, The Star published one of my columns almost every day. I read them closely at home searching for signals from management. Some editing had been done on them, but nothing I deemed important to my future intentions had been deleted or altered. Reading the articles as they were published caused many sensations and emotions to recur, but they were not as sharp as they had been that first day.

Co-workers, with whom I discussed the Vietnam war before getting my assignment, after reading the columns, believed America should get out. My remarks to them were guarded. Bo Mooney, the political writer, was the most supportive. He said he was going to urge all the politicians he knew to read the articles.

Between October 16 and Nov. 28, 41 columns were published. In early December, after checking my duplicates, I determined four columns remained unpublished. I considered only one, which dealt with the absence of a public health program in Vietnam, important to future articles.

As the columns were published, a private concern began to grow. The city editor had not, on even one occasion, talked to me in general about the situation in Vietnam or discussed a single ramification of a particular column. Neither did he ask questions regarding the articles I told him I planned. Those actualities, coupled with the fact that during my tour of Vietnam neither he nor any of the Star management had sent me a note or issued any instructions, were indications of two possibilities: either a lack of time or disinterest.

It seemed impossible that the city editor and management could fail to realize the unique and opportunistic situation of the newspaper. The Star had sent a representative to a foreign nation to cover a war, and it was the only Hoosier newspaper to do so.

Readership of the articles was good, and a departure from the news provided by the wire services and other larger newspapers with Far East bureaus. It seemed the newspaper should be more eager to capitalize on the situation than it demonstrated.

In early December, after it was obvious none of the remaining four columns were going to be published, I waited for an opportunity to speak with the city editor. I knew my initial presentation had to be brief. I'd be able to judge his degree of interest by the number of questions he asked, and expand my remarks accordingly.

Connor came to my desk early one day to discuss an assignment. When he finished the current matter, I asked him why the final four Vietnam columns had not been published.

"'ve been back a while, been seen circulating around. Just thought it was time to wind them up," he said.

Unwilling to sacrifice my main objective for those articles, I nodded and said I understood.

I asked him to have a seat and reminded him he owed me a talk.

He sat down and said, "Shoot."

Without hesitation, I said, "America should get out of Vietnam as rapidly as possible."

Connor's face betrayed no emotion.

As briefly as possible, I delivered my assessment of the facts and described the horrendous situation in South Vietnam.

"I'm sure people who have read all the columns have reached the same conclusion, but I'd like to draw matters into focus," I said, almost breathless after the staccato delivery.

Connor neither smiled nor frowned. "Isn't what you want to do just a rehash? Readers have probably reached the same conclusions you have," he said. "I don't believe we ought to tell them what their opinion should be. I think your standing to make such a pronouncement might be questioned, and that of the paper." After a pause he added, "It doesn't seem timely either."

I expected an argument...probing questions at the least. What I failed to anticipate was a total kiss absolute rejection. Had I been so intent in my delivery, that at some point I'd failed to hear the click as his mind snapped shut? Was he following a policy decision, or had he given an honest, if ill-founded opinion? Had my remark to Padev finally come home to roost? Had I invaded Padev's domain? Did I step on the owner/publisher's toes, who was a close friend of President Johnson? A cataract of questions tumbled through my brain.

Momentarily struck dumb, I said nothing. Connor rose to return to the city desk.

Rising from my chair, I sifted a few thoughts from the turbulence of my mind and managed to say, "Thousands of boys have died there and God only knows how many more are going to die. We've got to get out. We're walking down a dark alley in a strange country. We're getting mugged, killed, and robbed, and paying like hell for the privilege. It won't get better or go away if we close our eyes."

"Is something I've done or said caused you to do this? Is it a matter of policy?"

Connor reddened slightly and said curtly, "It's my opinion." He returned to the city desk and quickly clamped the telephone to his ear.

Internally I was writhing. I felt humiliated. Anger had risen in me to the extent I became numb. I went to get a cup of coffee, noticing as I did so, the customary din of the city room was inaudible. My mind, however, clattered with ricocheting thoughts. One word..."rehash"...was repeatedly spit out, and with every carom became louder and more objectionable. Everything I'd planned to write...was wrecked, fragmented, and scuttled.

I'd always believed one man in the right is a majority. That being so, the righteous voice of even one newspaper was an even more potent force. Without assaying the journalistic qualities of the Pulliam newspapers, I knew the elder Pulliam was an influential and powerful man. If one or all of his newspapers came out against the war in Vietnam, other publishers would might be forced to take a closer think, investigate for act.

From experience, I knew there was nothing I could do or say to change Connor's decision. If the pronouncement was a his and his alone decision, management would fully support him. If he had been ordered to issue the judgement by upper management, a veil would drop. He would shoulder the load and make the edict his. Then, if an underling complained about the matter, management would support what was, in fact, their decision and their man.

The veil was impenetrable. The judgement was irreversible. I had entered professional eclipse...unable to exactly identify which body blocked the light.

It was my belief that the lives of Americans justified any personal risk. It was impossible for me to comprehend that any friendship or loyalty was so rigid that the the moral and journalistic issues involving Vietnam could be ignored. Obviously, I was wrong.

For many days I felt wounded. A tightly woven shroud of bitter disappointment, anger, depression, and disgust coiled about me.

At home, Phyllis and I discussed the events at work. She gave abundant support and understanding. I talked to my brother Hunka, and told him what happened. He said he was sorry, but he wasn't surprised.

"Buck up. You're tough enough to take it. You've been through tough times before," my brother said.

It sounded easy.

The only way I could cope with the professional and personal defeat was to bottle up everything I knew and believed about Vietnam, cork it tightly, and wall it up in my mind. I forced myself not to think about anything connected with Vietnam...past or present. I made no speeches, joined no protest movements, and talked to almost no one about the war.

No effort was made to interest any other newspaper or news organization with my work. I reasoned if my own paper rejected all I knew and could write about in regard to Vietnam, what credence was possible in discussing the matter with other publishers.

It took several days before I was able to harness all the emotions, bore a hole in my subconscious, and store Vietnam away. Day to day it worked fairly well, but there were times the hostility and disappointment burst forth. The first incident came during the 1968 Democratic Convention at Chicago, which was marred by a riot between war protesters and the Chicago police. The second came after Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students during a protest at Kent State University.

On those occasions, many staff members voiced their support of the police and the National Guardsmen.

Angered at the violence triggered by those who were supposed to keep the peace, and with my compatriots reactions, I said, "You folks would be right at home in North Vietnam or with the Viet Cong. If anyone dares protest or object to anything they do or say, it's fine to beat, torture or kill them. This is America," I said. "Everyone has a right to dissent, or have you jerks suspended the Constitution and declared martial law?"

My outbursts on those occasions drew wary looks and caused rapid withdrawals from the area of my desk.

The third occasion came at my home when I picked up an edition of Life Magazine which contained the photographs of all the young Americans killed the previous week in Vietnam. After only a few glances at those pages, my vision was blurred by tears. I could not help but think about those dead young men I'd seen at the Army morgue. For many weeks after the article in Life, I had a nightmare about that visit. In that dream, grief stricken, I clutched my boss by the neck, forced him to look at the dead men while I screamed at him, choked him and shoved him around the huge morgue and declared him responsible for all their deaths.

Obviously, I was unable to completely accept what I deemed a professional stab in the back. In my attempt to cope, I'd withdrawn the dagger, but it left a deep, slowly healing wound. Much of my zest for newspapering was lost as a result. My relations with the city editor, never ideal, became icily professional.

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Back Home And Back To The Office

November 8, 1966

I awakened and looked at the clock. It was 5 a.m. I'd slept only three hours. Seated on the edge of the bed, I looked around in the dim light. I wasn't in a small, damp, hot tent at Dong Ha or Khe Sanh, or in the dank, steamy room at the Des Nations Hotel in Saigon. I was home. The only sounds were those of my wife's soft breathing and the almost hypnotic hum of the furnace motor. No howitzer batteries shattered the night with fire missions requested by our troops who were in trouble in the bush.

No thunderous, snarling jets, laden with bombs, rockets, and napalm, clawed the sky for altitude as they whipped over head. There were none of the unmistakable sounds of the Huey helicopters shuttling to and roar of traffic, no cackling, shrieking or clamoring street vendors...nothing but silence. I was really home.

I dressed and went to the kitchen to make coffee...real coffee. The freshly ground coffee smelled so good I wanted to taste a spoonful while measuring it from the can. The scrapbook was open on the dining room table. After glancing at a few of the articles, I closed the book and told's going to take some time to get used to this.

Soon, I heard our paper being delivered, and went out to pick it up. Breathing the chilly air was almost like a sniff of ammonia. I believed I was wide awake when I went outside, but the snappy, cold air really brought me to. For a minute or so I stood on the steps and looked up then down the dimly lit street. There were no lights visible in the other homes. Only the paper boy and myself were awake in the un-fouled, almost soundless pre-dawn air. There were no shacks, no evidence of poverty, no huddled forms of people asleep in doorways, no mesh gratings protected windows and doors from bombs.

Yep...this was home. Speedway, Indiana. A quiet, almost sleepy little town for 11 months a year. Then, during May, especially on Pole Position Day and the day of the 500-Mile Race, enough noise, confusion, and traffic jams are generated to last an entire year.

Inside, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to read the paper. I'm unable to recall any other news item The Indianapolis Star published that day, except my column. When I saw it, I was stunned. It's hard to say how long I sat transfixed staring at the page. The November 8, article included my picture with a five column headline. It had been written at Dong Ha October 24, more than half a world away. It dealt with the miserable living conditions and the bitter irony of war in the lives of two Marines.

There had been many previous occasions when I saw published work in the paper at home. It always gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment. On this day, those feelings were heightened, and I experienced other sensations. Some I could identify...some I couldn't. I felt grief and sorrow for the men I'd met who were still there. Were all of them alive? Were they still where I last saw them? How many more Americans had died? It seemed impossible that I had interviewed these two men and written the story at Dong Ha, and was now reading it at my dining room table...thousands of miles away. A desperate urge to return to Vietnam stirred within me.

I gave myself a shake in an effort to return to reality. Looking around at my home, considering my wife and family, I realized only through some extraordinary event would I be able to return to Vietnam. Curious happenstance had permitted me to to go. I'd gone, done the best job I knew how, and now it was over.

I believed there were things to do, through my job, which would help the situation and the men I'd met in Vietnam and those who would come later.

For a long while, I pondered the conversation of the previous evening. My remarks constituted a damaging analysis of the complicated situation in Vietnam. I could not single out a statement or an issue I believed was in error or unsupportable. A feeling of agitation persisted I was unable to diagnose. I began to question my standing, as a mere reporter, to dispute the political, diplomatic, and military will and intentions of our leaders on such an important issue. What would it take to push that enormous weight aside? Would I have the support of my newspaper to make the attempt? Had the rashly blurted statement to Michael Padev at Saigon beaten me back to the states? If so, how would I combat it? Would my editors slice all anti-war statements from the columns and totally discard some dispatches?

Though I had no answers to some crucial questions, perhaps, with effort, those answers could be found. A powerful compelling professional challenge had been fashioned from my experiences.

In a short while, it became clear that the proper name for one unusual sensation I was experiencing, in relation to the tangled weave of Vietnam, family, job, and the task before me was...awe.

Nonetheless, my decision was to proceed in presenting the conclusions and assessments I'd formed regarding Vietnam to Star management. After all, the sum of my information was generated from facts, personal observations, and the statements of persons interviewed. In every other news gathering and reporting situation those criteria were enough.

I decided to be reticent in making my views known generally. It was no time to telegraph a punch, and I didn't believe the labels "dove" or "radical" suited me. Comments to my colleagues, I decided, would be measured just as carefully as those to acquaintances.

Something else became clear to me. Hereafter, day-to-day newspapering, which had been my life, would be a hum-drum existence. It had taken a distant second place to my Vietnam experience.

My first sip of coffee was cold. It seemed impossible I'd sat mentally churning long enough for a cup of coffee to get cold. I poured the cold coffee out and got a fresh cup. Phyllis awakened and began preparing breakfast. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee, bacon frying, bread being toasted, filled the air. Real food, home cooked food it would be a pleasure to eat, was being prepared. The youngsters began to get up. Soon, all four tykes were clustered around daddy or on his lap, catching up on many missed hugs and kisses. All thoughts of job, Vietnam, and problems, were pushed to a distant corner of my mind.

It was a couple of days before I could stay awake long enough to even considering going back to work. Jet lag, coupled with the hours worked while in Vietnam, and all the mental wrestling I'd done, gripped me with an exhaustion I'd never experienced.

Each time I sat down a few moments, I'd go to sleep. Thankfully that groggy condition didn't last too long. I checked in with the Star City Desk, but the city editor was not in.

I told Isabel Boyer, our receptionist, "tell the boss and everyone I'm back and I'll be in as soon as I can stay awake all day."

"It's really a mess over there isn't it?" Isabel said. "I enjoy your columns. Makes me feel good to say, I know that guy."

Kind hearted Isabel, my pal, every one's pal in the city room, had made me feel very good.

Late in the week, I decided to go to the office to check my mail and perhaps get a chance to talk to the city editor.

As I approached the office on North Pennsylvania Street, the first person I met was Eugene S. Pulliam, the assistant publisher of the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis News, and son of publisher/owner, Eugene C. Pulliam.

He smiled and greeted me warmly with a firm hand shake as we approached the New York Street entrance. "Glad to see you made it back safely."

I thanked him.

"You sent us some very good work. I don't know if you've had a chance to check the paper, but most of your columns have gone outside." (newspaper parlance meaning they were published on page one or on the front page of a section.)

We chatted a few moments regarding general conditions in Vietnam, and I said. "Gene, it's a terrible situation over there. I have a couple of ideas for other articles, focusing on the issues, I believe should be done."

"I gather it's quite a mess," he said with a serious expression. Breaking into another smile he said, "Welcome back again," and broke off the conversation.

He went to his office. I went to the city room, wishing desperately I had the ability to read minds. Did he know what I told Padev? Am I going to fight a stacked deck? With those questions gnawing at me, I began receiving the greetings of several co-workers from other departments.

My group of cronies were on their beats, so I did not see them. Isabel was at the city desk and the city editor, Larry Connor, as usual, had the telephone bolted to his ear. We exchanged waves. I picked up my mail and sat down. As I opened the letters he came to my desk. I rose and we shook hands.

"Good to see you. Welcome back. You sent us some really great stuff. Have you had a chance to see it?"

I told him Phyllis was keeping a scrap book, and, from what I'd been able to read, it didn't look like they had to make many changes.

"Oh, no. It's really good."

Thanking him, I asked if everything I'd sent back had been set into type. "I think all of it has. I haven't read every piece but the assistants have, (assistant city editors) and they say it's all good."

Larry sat down. Sensing an opportunity to lay a bit of groundwork, I said, "This country is in an absolutely unbelievable situation in Vietnam. Once you've had the chance to read all the dispatches you'll have a more complete picture."

He nodded with interest and understanding.

I decided not to roll all my marbles at that moment, realizing Larry did not have time presently to listen to analysis or opinion as extensive as that presented at the Johnson round table.

Instead I said, "I've got ideas for some analysis and commentary pieces I want to do."

Nodding again he said, "I think we ought to wait until the columns have finished. We don't want to detract from them. We'll talk later and see. OK?"

He had a phone call waiting and returned to the city desk. His greeting and interest pleased me. His reason for delaying analysis and commentary articles was plausible and acceptable.

Still, I wished I could read minds

Sunday, July 22, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Homecoming--Indianapolis

November 1, 1966

Being reunited with my family, the pleasure of seeing them and being able to hug and kiss them, was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. The opportunity to touch and talk to them drove the demons of thought, which had been working non-stop in my mind, temporarily into the catacombs.

My wife Phyllis, our two daughters and two sons, my mother, and brother, Hunka, met me at the airport. Hunka, whom I visited at Nha Trang, left Vietnam November 1 and beat me home. He was noticeably less strained and agitated than he appeared at Nha Trang. Hunka gripped my hand strongly and welcomed me back. My second brother, Doc, and his wife, were also present to greet me.

For several moments after first seeing the children and my wife, I could not speak. Phyllis had the youngsters bedecked in their Sunday finery. They were scrubbed till they glistened. They were wearing warm shoes and stockings and heavy coats. All of their clothing was clean, without a tear, pressed, starched, and ironed. Their eyes danced and glistened with happiness. Theirs were not the dull, hopeless eyes of the beggar, orphan, and refugee children of Vietnam. They pranced with excitement, full of health, loved, well fed, and cared for. "They will never know how lucky they are," I thought.

When I put my arms around them and my wife, I did not want to let them go. They were so beautiful, so soft, so clean, and they smelled so good. I clasped them tightly, until the squirming of the young ones warned me to release the almost desperate grip in which I held them.

Traces of strain showed on the face of my mother. She had given her support for my visit to Vietnam, but she could not hide the concern she experienced by having two sons, one with the responsibilities of a family, involved in a war at the same time. Tears were forming in her eyes as we kissed, and she embraced me saying, "So glad you are safely home. "

The softly spoken message expressed the depth of her worries.

After claiming my luggage, the Johnson entourage headed for their cars. As we walked, I put my arm around Phyllis and she pressed closely to me. She gripped my hand, looked at me and said gently, but determinedly, "I'm never going to let you go anywhere again without me."

Phyllis smiled as she spoke. Despite her expression, I sensed the fears and emotions she experienced during my absence.


It was nearly like Christmas that evening. I unpacked and distributed the few gifts I'd been able to pick up, and rough-housed with the youngsters...smooching them at every opportunity.
They were so excited, Phyllis had trouble settling them down and getting them to bed. I helped her tuck them in and kissed them good night.

We could hear them talking for a long time after lights out. Eventually they went to sleep.

Soon, we gathered around the dining room table.

The first questions were: Are we winning? Will we win?

"Winning? Losing? In Vietnam, each is in the eye of the beholder," I said. "Our military doesn't believe they are beaten, and they claim many victories in battle. But the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese believe they are a step closer to a victory each time they spill American blood and destroy our equipment."

"Our installations are huge, and as our buildup of men and material continues, they will become even larger. All the static sites are and will continue to be constant targets. We lose men and equipment in every attack. VC and NVA losses are very high, but it's seldom they are wiped out. They hit without warning, inflict all possible damage, and vanish before large force retaliatory action can be brought to bear. They consistently avoid direct confrontations, set piece battles, for which the American commanders yearn."

"The VC and NVA leaders are willing to spend the lives of their men on the hit and run missions the way we spend our dollars. It's not as reckless as it seems. They are operating on Ho Chi Minh's principle of the fight between the tiger and the elephant."

"The only goal of the VC and NVA in every attack is to make us inflict a cut. Though we may thoroughly punish their attacking forces in battle after battle, if we suffer even one man killed or wounded, and so little as a jeep destroyed, the tiger has administered another cut. Our estimates after a battle may conclude that we we have won, while the opinion of the enemy is they have neither won nor lost. They have merely inflicted one more cut, which will contribute to eventual victory."

"If we consider the ramifications of their philosophy, we have not, are not, and will not win."

"Winning and losing doesn't seem so simple, does it?" I said. My family answered with sad shakes of their heads.

We had a few drinks, and the conversation continued until after midnight.

Phyllis had kept a scrap book of the columns. A fast count showed 22 dispatches had been published as of November 7. The latest article detailed the precarious position and living conditions of the battalion of Marines at Khe Sanh.

Discussion began with that article and enlarged.

"I believe the Marines at Khe Sanh are being used as bait by our military leaders, who hope to lure the VC and NVA into a major battle and give them a sound whipping."

"I'm not a military strategist, but I fear a backfire," I said.

I likened the close-by mountain tops around Khe Sanh to the hills which surround the valley of Dien Bien Phu in North Vietnam. There, in 1954, the Viet Minh dug tunnels from the reverse side of the hills, to the front. They dragged large guns up the hills and hid them in the tunnels.

After they massed their artillery, they rained shells upon the French troops. After a siege of more than 50 days, the French suffered a humiliating defeat.

I told my family it took two days to grab a helicopter ride to Khe Sanh, because heavy rain and fog kept aircraft from flying. "What do you think will happen," I said, "if the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, under cover of bad weather, launch an attack? The Marines will be able to call in artillery, but the close air support and resupply missions the Marines need to survive will be grounded. And if the weather clears, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, with their weapons trained on the air strip, will punish the resupply flights. There is a road to Khe Sanh from Dong Ha (Route 9) which could be used for reinforcements. Marines call the road Suicide Alley because the area is infested with VC. Marine reinforcement and resupply columns will have to fight their way to Khe Sanh and back on that road."

"My assessment could be wrong, but even if the Marines at Khe Sanh are able to avoid another Dien Bien Phu, we will at the very least, suffer some deep cuts," I said.

"Why can't we stop infiltration?" was the next question.

My appraisal was that was partly because the country is a sieve and that we have underestimated the absolute dedication of the North Vietnamese to their cause. But other intertwining facts must be considered.

"Tons of supplies, all types of weapons and explosives from China and Russia, are captured regularly. We continually bomb and patrol the known infiltration routes, but the men and supplies keep coming, by sea, down the Ho Chi Minh trail from North Vietnam, and through the "sanctuaries" in Laos and Cambodia. Though we know these sanctuaries exist, so far, we have not attacked them because to do so would be considered an unauthorized escalation of the war," I explained.

"Another key in the successful infiltration of troops and supplies rests with the South Vietnamese rural population. We give them rice, protection, and propaganda during the day. But at night, they are controlled by the VC, whose terror tactics are more effective. We've cleared huge rural areas of inhabitants, resettled, housed, and fed them."

"That doesn't keep them loyal, make them fight, or cooperate, because usually, part of the people we've 'resettled and pacified' are Viet Cong cadre, who retain control of the people."

"None of the Americans like the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese, but combat commanders have great respect for the fierce tenacity with which they fight. They are well trained, extremely patient, strictly obedient, incredibly tough, innovative, and seemingly immune to the hardships of their existence, a spokesman at MACV assessed."

"That view of the enemy is a sharp contrast to the overall opinion of ARVN troops held by Americans interviewed. Most do not trust and do not want to fight with the ARVN. One soldier said the ARVN either sell out or run out in a fight. He said each time he heard about how many of them are killed in battle, he wonders how many were shot in the back."

"Americans concede there are brave, dedicated, ARVN soldiers and a few effective units...too few for the time, effort, and dollars we've expended equipping and training them. One of the most confusing aspects in comparing Viet Cong, North Vietnam, and ARVN fighting troops is the fact all spring from a common people," I observed.

"People told me the ARVN are so weak and have so little resolve, if we withdraw our financial and military support, South Vietnam will rapidly be over-run."

"There are a couple of other matters which probably figure strongly in the sucessful infiltration."

"Numerous people report the South Vietnamese farmers are treated as badly, or worse, by the ARVN troops during the day as they are by the VC at night. ARVN troops, passing through villages, regularly plunder and mistreat the inhabitants. At night, the VC exact their 'taxes' by taking rice and other foodstuffs. The VC regularly kidnap villagers. Many they hold hostage to keep firm control of the village chief and the people. Usually, the hostages, who fear reprisals upon their families in the villages, are converted to the VC cause and sent to indoctrinate and control other villages."

"Villagers have no confidence in the ARVN's ability to protect them, and in view of the treatment received, have no loyalty to them."

"Unfortunately," I added, "American treatment of the farmers isn't much better. GIs hate the indifference and lack of cooperation they receive in the field while trying to root out the enemy. Several men, during interviews, admitted torching all the huts in a village and killing all of the farm animals, when, after an ambush, residents of a ville were suspected of harboring VC. Such actions and reactions by our forces build no confidence in the American presence with the Vietnamese farmers."

"Day to day living for the farmers and their families is perilous. All face mistreatment and/or terror from every direction. Most of the farmers are, in fact, refugees. They have been forced to endure numerous moves from one area to another. Severed from their ancestral lands, they are adrift, potential victims to all passers by."

"Their plight is terrible, and their choices limited. The most important hopes remaining to them are to be left alone and to get enough to eat. Nationalism, loyalty, and freedom, are meaningless words."

"Is there no Vietnamese leadership that could reverse the situation?" my brother Doc said.

"I asked that question frequently around MACV Headquarters. A few people pointed to Premier Ky, saying they believe he has the confidence of the people. Others voiced no confidence in Ky or his regime. Many others are certain the reason quality leadership has not emerged in the south is attributable to the solidly entrenched Viet Cong."

"VC assassins quickly eliminate any would-be patriot or leader before they become prominent, and will continue to do so, one spokesman said."

"If a would-be South Vietnamese patriot uttered Patrick Henry's statement," 'Give me liberty, or give me death,' VC assassins quickly deliver the death wish."

"A few people believe another reason for the lack of cohesion in South Vietnam are the strong differences between various factions. Catholics are at odds with Buddhists and vice versa. Highlanders don't like low-landers or city dwellers. Those from the south dislike people from the north, and all of the dislikes are mutual. In addition, remaining factions of the Diem government are engaged in a power struggle with the Ky regime," I related.

Thoughts I'd struggled to organize many hours had been expressed. My brother Hunka had not criticized or corrected the observations. I glanced around the table, noticing the intense expressions.

After a few moments I said, "We are supporting a corrupt military dictatorship...a police state. The word 'freedom' applies only to a few of the elite, and those few are making fortunes taking bribes from citizens to avoid military duty, from the black market, and from graft and corruption in the administration of American aid."

"Tips for stories came to me, but there was no time to check on them. A couple of the tips involved huge thefts of U.S. military supplies, and other thefts of fantastic amounts of construction materials from private American companies doing business in Vietnam on U.S. government cost plus contracts."

"There's no hope of creating a democracy in South Vietnam. I don't know what form of government would be supported or workable. So what freedom can we offer the people...only their choice of which bandits they want next to subjugate them. Whatever the reasons were for our involvement, we should discard them fast. If national, or some individual's pride is the reason we're staying, or fear of humiliation is the reason, it's already too late. Our pride is badly dented. We've been humiliated because we haven't won a clear victory. Staying will only increase our number of dead and wounded, heighten our humiliation, and further damage national pride."

"We've made a terrible mistake in Vietnam. We should get out...and as quickly as possible," I concluded.

Positive the expression of my views had monopolized too much of the conversation, I tapped the table and said, "What do you think?"

Brother Hunka nodded agreement and said, "I'm so sick of that place I don't want to talk or think about it...ever."

The Johnson round table concensus was disgust with the situation in Vietnam. They asked what I intended to do with my information. I said I was certain readers would likely reach the same conclusions if the articles did not receive heavy editing before they were published. Hopefully, I'd be able to write other articles incorporating many of the facts and views just expressed, to draw matters into focus.

We touched on several other topics as they were suggested by the published columns and current news.

My sister-in-law was vitally interested in the comments. Her father is a retired Army Brigadier General and a West Point graduate. Her two brothers are both West Pointers and career Army officers, and she knows they are destined for tours in Vietnam. (One of these brothers later died in Vietnam when his jeep struck a mine.)

It got late too soon. Doc, scheduled for early duty at the hospital, and his wife, were the first to leave. Soon, brother Hunka and my mother excused themselves.

Phyllis and I were alone. She looked gorgeous, and made me very proud she was my wife. We sipped our drinks, and for a while, talked about the antics of the youngsters while I was gone.

Soon, she announced it was time to retire. Not wanting to argue the first evening home, I cheerfully agreed and we retired.

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Back To The World

November 6, 1966

Though still encumbered by the dual desires to return home and stay in Vietnam, I checked out of the hotel, hailed a cab, and headed for Tan Son Nhut about 8 a.m. Scheduled departure time was 10:50, but in the frequently grid locked traffic, it was difficult to gauge how long the trip to the airport would take.

The cab crept along, and it took an hour and ten minutes to reach the passenger terminal. Almost reach it...that is. Restrictions prevented the driver from getting closer than a block to the civilian gate. Wrestling my luggage, it took another 20 minutes to make way through the crowd to reach the ticket counter and check in.

Temperature in the terminal seemed at least 100 degrees. The place was shoulder to shoulder people, which added to the heat. After only a few moments, my flight was announced, and we began boarding.

Many of the passengers were servicemen going on R&R. A few were headed for Manila. Most were bound for Honolulu. The plane began taxiing toward the runway on schedule.

Our take off was delayed a few minutes by a flight of incoming F-4 Phantoms, and then by the take-offs of three Thunderchiefs, which were laden with bombs. Our 707 soon eased out on the runway and accelerated. When the wheels lifted off, a whoop of joy from the servicemen resounded through the fuselage.

"Where but here could such an experience be seen and absorbed?" I wondered.

Phantoms returning from a war mission, armed Thunderchiefs roaring out bound for a sortie, while waiting in a sleek airliner containing many of the accoutrements of civilization, were men who had fought that war in the heat, the mud, and the rain, in the dense lowland and mountain jungles, in rice paddies, and upon barren ground. They were leaving its terrors, hardships, and threat of death, temporarily, for some fun. Then they would return. The force of their boisterously loud cheer as we lifted off demonstrated their happiness for even a momentary escape, and foretold the mental cruelty of their return.

Just as our plane lifted off, it passed the military mortuary. Men and machines were busy unloading dozens of body canisters from C-130's. Each of the containers had cradled the body of a dead GI for the trip back to America, and was being returned to Vietnam for reuse. Soon, too soon, I thought, those shiny boxes would carry other young like the youngsters aboard the airliner now, perhaps some of the same men, back home. For that trip, they would be naked, embalmed, frozen, and eternally silent. There would be no joyful yell at lift off. The only sounds would be the whistle of the wind and the roar of the turboprops. The thoughts caused me to shake my head in somber incredulity.

After a brief refueling stop at Manila, we headed for Honolulu. Only a few men got off the plane at Manila. They shook hands with their buddies and made arrangements to meet when they returned to "Nam." Most of the passengers slept during the flight to Hawaii.

My time was absorbed in an attempt to draw my experiences into focus and begin an outline to support what I was certain would be important analysis and commentary articles. By the time we reached Honolulu, I had my plans organized.

It was raining heavily as we landed. Unable to get a through flight from Saigon to Los Angeles, or a certain same-day connecting flight from Hawaii, I had to stay overnight at Honolulu. I rented a car and tried to take a look around, but it was raining too hard to enjoy the scenery. I went to my room, had supper, and went to bed. In about 24 hours I'd be home.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: One Last Tour Of The Sites

November 5, 1966

I awakened very early and began packing. Soon, I realized several articles of clothing were missing. Eventually, I recalled giving them to the concierge to be laundered. A previous batch of my laundry vanished. Protests then got me nothing but vehement shrugs of the shoulders from the concierge and the man behind the desk.

Marines at the Rex Hotel who helped me get replacement fatigues after that incident, jokingly told me the hotel employees probably sold my dirty clothes to the Viet Cong because there was enough material in them to make uniforms for an entire platoon.

The clerk at the desk was asleep with his head on his arms when I approached. He groggily raised his head and sat up. I'd never seen the man before. After telling him my name, I asked if he had a laundry parcel for me.

"They left nothing for me last night," he said in perfect English. "The manager will be in soon. He will help you." He then gave that shrug I'd seen so many times, which the Vietnamese use to purge themselves of all liability and guilt.

I walked outside into the sultry air of pre-dawn and lit a cigarette. Very few people were present, and there was no traffic. Even the ever present helicopters which patrolled the docks were absent. A few neon signs were still lit. Mesh gratings were still in place on the front of most shops. It was a remarkable contrast to the chaotic daytime scene.

In the early dawn, there was almost no noise. The street vendors, who crowd the sidewalks all day, had not yet arrived. The air was almost breathable. Missing was the ground hugging layer of exhaust gasses from the decrepit Renault taxis, the countless two cycle motorbike engines, and the diesel fumes spewed forth by an endless stream of Army trucks coming to and from the docks.

It was only a short distance from the Des Nations Hotel to the Saigon River. Shortly before my arrival, a very popular floating restaurant on the river, near the end of Tu Do Street, was bombed by the Viet Cong. Fifty patrons, many of them Americans, were killed. Only a few blocks away was the Brinks Hotel, a billet for American officers. It too had been bombed and more Americans killed.

The front line was, as I'd been warned—anyplace in Vietnam.

At the entrances to the shops, which did not have protective gratings over the doors and windows, I could see forms of sleeping people.

The only open shop was that of a fish vendor. I had to pass that place going to and coming from the Rex Hotel. He displayed his wares without benefit of ice or refrigeration, even in the most extreme heat. By closing time, usually 10 p.m., one could smell his shop from a block away.

I watched as he scraped rotten flesh from the fish and threw it into the street. Suddenly, six or seven young boys, about the same ages as my sons, materialized from nowhere, and hungrily devoured the scraps. It was a daily ritual I'd previously witnessed. Three Vietnamese policemen in a jeep watched the scene and smiled.

Thoroughly disgusted, I returned to the hotel lobby. The clerk I'd seen earlier was gone. I asked the regular desk clerk for my laundry, and he handed me a parcel. I paid him and went to my room. After examining the clothing, I decided none of it was fit to wear or pack. All of it was damp and still dirty. After rummaging through the clothes I'd packed, I found enough garments to wear that day and the next. I pitched the supposedly fresh laundry into a corner and left it there.

It was time for breakfast at The Rex. As I left the Des Nations, the daily transformation had taken place. It was now full day light. Street vendors cluttered the walking space, jostling and elbowing each other for space to sell their wares. They were selling everything from women to black market U.S. Army goods. People were milling about, shopping, talking, and haggling with the vendors. Traffic noise had built from silence to an ear splitting throb. The noxious, blue-gray ribbon of exhaust gas had begun to form.

At the center of one intersection stood a Vietnamese policeman. His obvious specialty was creating grid locks. He perched authoritatively on a small pedestal and made confusing hand signals until he was totally surrounded and the intersection choked with traffic.

After circling that mess, I came up behind a large stucco sculpture of South Vietnamese soldiers. Each of the figures carried a rifle and were depicted as resolute warriors...struggling forward into battle.

Alongside the statue, three Vietnamese policemen, likely the same trio seen earlier, lolled in a jeep. While making my way across the street I considered the contradiction of the statue and the lounging policemen: Too much of one, not enough of the other.

After breakfast, I decided it would be a good idea to get a haircut before returning to civilization. Only a short distance from the Rex, I spotted a barber shop and walked in. The shop had four barbers, but only one of them was busy.

The barber behind the first chair motioned me to sit down. As I did so, the three barbers and the other customer began to laugh. In the mirror I saw why. Even though the barber had my chair completely lowered, he could not reach my head. Jabbering, he went to the rear of the shop and came back with an empty wooden box. He put it on edge, climbed up and smiled. The other barbers laughed again.

"Give you good GI," the barber said.

Uncertain if his words constituted a question or a statement of intent, and unwilling to argue, I said, "OK."

My barber chattered continuously as he whacked away with hand clippers, while balancing on his perch. He and the other barbers laughed frequently during my hair cut. I wish I'd known what they were saying. He finally took the apron away and said, "All done."

A quick look in the mirror showed I wasn't bleeding, but it was a pretty rough hair cut. So what. I'd buy a hat. I paid and left him and the other barbers laughing.

The rest of the morning and part of the afternoon was spent shopping for a few gifts and doing some sight seeing.

My luck hailing a cab was good. I got a driver who greeted me courteously and seemingly spoke and understood English. He asked if I was an officer, and I told him, no, a journalist. I told him to drive around...I wanted to see some beauty in Vietnam. He smiled and nodded that he understood.

After only a few blocks, he stopped the cab, got out, and opened my door. Motioning toward the building we'd stopped in front of he said, "You find plenty Vietnam beauty here. Lots'a girls."

It was easy to judge after glancing at the painted, perfumed, feminine merchandise seated on the steps and banister of an ornate stairway, that the driver had brought me to a bordello.

It was my turn to laugh, after recalling what I told him when I entered the cab. Obviously, he didn't translate accurately. It took a few minutes to get him to understand that I wanted him to drive around so I could look at the city. He frowned and muttered as he closed the door. For more than an hour, we putted around Saigon in the ancient Renault Dauphine taxi.

If anything in Saigon was beautiful, it was brand new and likely built by Americans. There were traces of old beauty, but all were sullied. Squalor, poverty, filth, and decay were everywhere. The sight seeing tour ended after we drove past a sprawling clutch of adjoining shacks, from which an over powering stench exploded.

"What is that horrible smell?" I asked.

"That nhuc mam place. They make much nhuc mam here," the driver said.(Nhuc Mam is a fermented fish condiment used by the Vietnamese on their rice and other

I'd seen small bottles of the sauce on restaurant tables, which, despite the caps being closed tightly, smelled worse than a sewage treatment plant. But, I'd never experienced that olfactory assault in industrial strength.

It was overwhelming.

"OK, OK. Take me back to the Rex Hotel. Quick, quick."

I wanted to thank Maj. Gipson and a few other people for the help they'd given me, and tell them goodbye. By the time I arrived, they had gone off duty.

My next stop was the bar atop the Rex. There, the first person I met was Army Lt. George McGill, who had been stationed with my brother at Nha Trang. Soon, two Marine Corps lieutenants joined us. We talked, drank gin and tonic, and soon began to amaze each other with our clear understanding of the problems and the simplicity of the solutions we proposed.

Oh, if only the big shots had been listening that evening. We had everything worked out. Unfortunately, none of us wrote anything down. By sunrise, our grandiose plans, lucid assessments and solutions, which we knew would be acceptable to all parties involved in the war, had evaporated like a thin morning mist on the river.

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Short Timer, One Day And A Wake Up From The Land Of The Big PX

I arrived at Saigon November 4, after trips to Nha Trang, DaNang, An Khe, Dong Ha, and a visit to the aircraft carrier Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the Gulf of Tonkin.

During the hectic activity, I had not looked at a calendar or a clock. After doing so, I realized a November 6 deadline loomed. It was my scheduled departure date from Saigon. Though looking forward to being reunited with my family, it seemed my assignment was incomplete. It nagged me that numerous leads for articles were in my possession, and there was no time to pursue and write.

Those leads, coupled with another fact, caused additional agitation. If I wanted to stay in Vietnam as a correspondent, all I had to do was follow up on a couple of offers.

As a result of numerous trips around the country and the long hours worked getting and writing articles, a couple of correspondents noted my efforts. Each of them urged me to visit their bureau chiefs in Saigon and try to stay in Vietnam. . Though very tempted and interested, I did not test the validity of the kind referrals.

The Indianapolis Star had sent me on the assignment, and it would have been neither fair nor honest to have taken advantage of the opportunistic situation. Making that decision, however, failed to soothe my anxieties.

My mind was a maelstrom of rocketing thoughts, none of which would slow down to permit examination. My senses were piqued by an urgency I could not pinpoint. My emotions soared, then plummeted.

Seated in my steamy-hot room at the Des Nations Hotel, the clamor of Tu Do Street vendors, rumbling trucks, the dinky whines of countless motorcycles, and the unmistakable whumps and whops of Huey helicopters patrolling the nearby Saigon river docks, hammered at my ears.

After reviewing some notes, I began to examine carbon copies of my columns. The faces of the men interviewed and the tones of their voices were clear in my mind. I hoped they were all alive. My fingers touched the pages of a column written October 25, (published November 10). That article detailed preparation of the bodies of men killed in action for shipment to America. Though my room was very hot, a chill struck me. My tour of the mortuary at Tan Son Nhut, and the interview with Col. James Price, had assumed inescapable personal importance.

The faces of those nameless dead, witnessed Oct. 25, in recent dreams, had taken on the countenances and names of the men met during person-to-person interviews. Several nights I jerked to a sitting position from a deep sleep, shocked by a nightmare in which I saw my brother's body at rest upon one of the cold, stainless steel embalming tables. Alongside him, resting on a long line of other tables, were the bodies of other men met during my travels.
(That dream persists)

Eventually, I managed to put that article aside, stifle my emotions, and turn to a current matter. I'd made an afternoon appointment with a U.S. Health official to discuss public health in Vietnam. His office was in Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon. My notes showed there was enough remaining material for another article, and there were a couple I needed to finish.

After a look around at my room, I decided to leave that dingy sauna and go to MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) headquarters at the Rex hotel and try to write in air conditioned comfort.

Marine Corps Major Sam Gipson soon found an unoccupied office, and I began writing. While working, Maj. Gipson said, "Rick, there's someone here to see you."

An elderly man entered the office and said, "Hello. I'm Mike Padev."

Though I'd never met Padev, I knew he was the foreign affairs expert for newspapers owned by Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam, which included The Indianapolis Star.

Padev was a pleasant man with a gentle voice. He took a seat and we began to chat.

"Can you fill me in?" he said with a smile.

"Me, fill in the publisher's foreign affairs expert?" I thought in amazement. My antennae rose a few notches. "Better be cautious," I reasoned privately.

"Mike, about the best fill-in I'd be able to give you would be to let you read my stuff. Have you been able to read anything I filed?" I said.

He shrugged, then said, "What do you think about being here, I mean."

The words came through my lips before I had a chance to harness them. "We should get out...and get out as fast as possible."

Padev's smile vanished. He looked shocked. I probably had the same expression. Until that instant, I did not realize all I witnessed had congealed into the blurted opinion. My plan of making cautious statements to Padev was thus scuttled. I knew Padev was a close friend, a conduit, and a confidant of the publisher. There was no doubt my remark would be repeated to Mr. Pulliam.

That instant of carelessness, I was certain, would plop me into journalistic no-man's-land. Mr. Pulliam was a friend and supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Neither of us spoke for a few moments. Padev shrugged again but he did not smile.

Padev asked how to get around the country, and I told him Maj. Gipson, the Marine who brought him to me, would help him get anywhere he wanted to go to get a look at the war and the nation.

I asked Mike how long he was going to stay and he said, "Oh, not long."

After looking at my watch, I told him I had an appointment. He rose, we shook hands, and he left. Though positive I could support my statement, I was just as certain I'd committed a tactical error.

The interview with the U.S. Health official went well. Although he declined to be quoted directly, he was an interesting man who clearly stated South Vietnam had absolutely no public health program. I returned to the Rex Hotel after the interview and wrote the article. That article and three others finished that day were not published.