The “LBJ IN VIETNAM” post triggered something I’d forgotten for maybe 45 years — or more. You said: “There should be more to the story,” which was very gracious. The story has been posted many times, leaving me wondering whether people are tired of hearing it. Quien sabe?
There IS more. I realized this in my “thinking room” as I shaved. There is more but it doesn’t involve LBJ directly. It involves Tip O’Neil. This happened on the day we got a pic of Tip and me that’s been around the block myriad times.
This is how I recall it.
Tip and I were having liquid lunches at a bar we frequented near the Boston TV station where I worked and across the street from a funeral home run by the brother of a famous Boston mobster. That’s another story, as Lou Jacobi might’ve said.
Tip and I were swapping tales between long slugs of lunch. I told him I had a LBJ story he’d love. Tip interrupted me, “Hold on, Garry. Betcha I know the story. LBJ, Vietnam and you”. I stared at the venerable Speaker of the House and my fellow imbiber. He just smiled as I stared. I slowly nodded.
Tip began, savoring lunch and the story. “LJ told me about the night in Vietnam, the night he was pondering whether to run again in ’68. LJ told me he was very confused, torn at the decision he didn’t want to make”.
I nodded and Tip continued. “So LJ’s nipping at his bottle around the Vietnam campfire with you guys. He wasn’t pleased about the local civvies and the Washington coat-holders being there. He did like having the GIs, the Vietnamese, and our guys.”
Tip, who clearly was just warming up, a smile spreading over that big Irish “boy-o” face that intimated so many DC pols.
“Anyway, Garry, LJ told me about spinning stories, ragging on about the same bullshit I deal within the House and Senate. It’s like dealing with hacks and amateurs, lemme tell ya, Garry. But you know this shit, Pal. I don’t hafta tell ya.”
I smiled and on he went. No stopping Tip now.
“Garry, Gar? What the hell do the guys call you? I heard some calling you “Ka-Ching” and “The Samoan”. What’s with that crap, Garry-O?”
“More stories, another time, Mr. Speaker,” I answered.
Tip commented, “Cut the Mr. Speaker, crap, here, Garr-ree”.
I smiled and saluted as he continued.
“So, where was I? Oh, yeah. LJ is regaling you guys with the beans, that ‘Nam meat crap and his hooch. LJ sez he was really rolling, having his jollies and you were — maybe — the only guy listening to him. He sez cut loose with a couple of BIG farts — those beans will kill ya. LJ sez it felt so good to fart, but you were almost holdin’ your nose. He figured to have fun. He remembered you as that polite, young colored reporter. No disrespect, Garry, that’s how LJ described you.”
“Did he call me SHORT” I interrupted.
Tip guffawed. “No, he said you had nice hair with a silly part in the middle — old fashioned. Nothing about being short. But, hey, kid — you’re not exactly a John Henning (a local, respected journalist, probably 6’5″ and a helluva good guy). No disrespect, Garry. Hey — Billy Bulger? (Senate President and brother of the noted mobster Whitey Bulger).
Billy’s a little guy but talks big. Okay, where wuz I? Oh, yeah. LJ tells me about facing you up about your stinko look. You apparently backed down and LJ loved it. You, I believe, got him with stuff about cowboy movies?”
I nodded, trying to remember.
Tip: “LJ sez he told you that cowboy campfires didn’t smell pretty. LJ liked that ol’ Gregory Peck “Gunfighter” sweatshirt you wore. You impressed him with your interview with Peck (I’d interviewed the star a few years earlier at my alma mater, Hofstra University. Peck gave me the sweatshirt).”
Tip continued, “Garry, you told LJ that Gregory Peck turned down “High Noon” because he’d just done “The Gunfighter” and didn’t want to do another western so quickly.”
I nodded and Tip went on. “LJ was really fascinated about that little piece of Hollywood info. He loved westerns and, boy, I got to tell ya, LJ was impressed with your knowledge of westerns, good and bad ones which he remembered from his days growing up in Texas. LJ was looking forward to seeing you again to talk about cowboy movies. Dammit, Garry, you had a fan in LJ”.
I just sat there stunned as Tip O’Neill rambled on, his smile getting bigger and bigger. We stared at our now empty glasses. Tip sighed heavily, shoving my hand aside as he paid the tab.
He got up slowly, Tip patting me on the shoulder, “Garry, I love these chats. Better than the crap I gotta listen to most of the day”. We walked out into the sunlight, cursing its brightness after our time inside the darkened bar.
Tip looked down at me, “See ya, Pal. Have a good day. Don’t let the bastards get ya”.
Before parting company, Tip and I were photographed. I was showing him my new wristwatch. It looked like I was selling him some hot merchandise.