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.

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