As much as I hate telephones, I loathed pagers. I was, admittedly, spoiled by years of minimal interference in the field. We did the usual schtick on the 2-way. Hand over mouth responding, “We can’t hear you. You’re breaking up. We’re headed to the story. No landlines. Sorry, can’t hear you”.

There was one phone call where I almost blew a major story and probably would have also blown my career at the same time. I was still working for ABC Network in New York. One night, around 3 am, having just gotten home from a late shift and making my way home from Manhattan to Long Island. I took the call with an obvious attitude. The voice at the other end was nonplussed.

“Garry, don’t pull any of your BS. You really want to hear this call.”

Heavy breathing from me.

“Garry, don’t be a jerk.”

More heavy breathing.

“This is a good one! They want to send you to Vietnam with the team …” In essence, they wanted me to go as a grunt back-up to the A-list correspondents. President Johnson was in Vietnam and something “big” was expected.

“Are you serious or is this a bad joke?” I finally asked.

“No joke, Garry. They like your ballsy attitude and think you’ll be a good fit with the ‘old guys.’”

“Jeezus H. Christ,” I answered.

“Yeah, Garry, that’s right. Grab some of your old Marine gear and get your ass in ASAP. There’s a debrief and then you’re on a special flight to Saigon.”

“Okay, thanks for the heads up, round eyes.” Laughter on both sides of the call. I grabbed some of my old gyrene gear and headed to the door.

My mom yelled, “Garry, where are you going, NOW?”

“Mom, I’m going to Vietnam. Call you when I can. Love you. Bye.”

I heard Mom yell, “What?” as I headed out the door and into an exciting new chapter in my life. Glad I took that call.

Categories: #American-history, #News, Garry Armstrong, Humor, Personal, War and battles

Tags: , , , ,

18 replies

  1. SHIT! Garr, I did all I could to stay out of Vietnam, you had a job that sent you there.., and you couldn’t wait to make the trip? More power to ya, but I”m glad you made it back,

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s one thing to make the trip as a reporter and quite another as a soldier! There’s some glamor in reporting, but none at all in soldiering.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe, But in the soup just the same, nor was I interested in finding out. Anyway, I didn’t understand the Vietnam war to begin with, and neither did a majority of my friends. I was in the Navy and took to a favorite saying, “Never volunteer.” Anxious to shoot people I didn’t know, or knew nothing about was not my choice in life. Sorry, them’s my words and I’m sticking to them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Garry was lucky. He was in the Marines in that one very brief period between shooting wars. Korea was over and Vietnam hadn’t started yet. So working there as a reporter was minimally risky — for him — but a chance to really learn what was going on. It was work and reporters go where they are sent.


        • Ben, the Vietnam War was truly hard to comprehend. The lies offered from all sides didn’t help.

          I had a sense of our casualties. We got accurate figures from combat reporters on their “phoners” from ‘Nam. When I worked in the “verbatim room” at ABC (transcribing the phone calls for house reporters to use in broadcasts), we got the accurate casualty figures and a real sense of how battles were going. The combat reporters – in those phone reports – would “chat” after we stopped recording and share the REAL stuff. It was like night and day between the info we got from our front line reporters and the military-government bologna (MACV briefing). The “official” line never or rarely gave accurate information. One White House source and pal confided it was a “no-no” to give the public news about how poorly the war was going for the U.S.

          I shared my scenario with LBJ in that little campfire chat we had in Vietnam. He had a strange look on his face as I told about the disparity in info we were getting from our combat zone reporters and the military/government “PIO” people. Johnson was clearly enraged when I finished. He confessed the truth was “complicated” because of political upheaval that consumed the U.S. over Vietnam. The “Hawks” and “Doves” were splitting our country and shattering families at odds over the war.

          All of this made Vietnam, perhaps, the most difficult thing I covered. Sadly, it did not prepare me for all that followed. From Vets who came home to no support but vilification from our misinformed public. PTSD cut a swath through several generations after we cut ties with Vietnam. I remember hanging out with Vietnam Vets during my Boston TV stint. Some became friends because we bonded after the cameras and mics were shut off. Some became neighbors when we lived in Roxbury. I was able to use my “bully pulpit” position as a media figure to help. But that was just a small drop in the big ocean of forgotten heroes.

          There was no “Best Years Of Our Lives” homage from Hollywood for Vietnam Vets. Yes, there were dark flicks like “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now” but they were difficult to absorb for a still splintered country. The Jane Fonda-Bruce Dern-Jon Voight offering “Coming Home” came closest to the emotional devastation suffered by so many, so many who were ignored. You might recall the homeless Vietnam Vets who stood for hours – in raw weather – on the street corners of our nation — just asking for coffee money.

          Today, those Vets are still not properly honored or supported. A real American tragedy. I can understand because – yes – I was briefly there. You never forget!


          • And this is what disturbs me.., VETS from WWII were cheered and made heroes. VETs coming home from Nam were ridiculed and cast aside. They didn’t understand. After all they also risked their lives, followed orders, more or less, blindly, supposedly defending their country? One friend of mine says he got through it all by staying high on Marijuana. When I asked him what was going on he said “I haven’t the foggiest.”


            • I was never sure why we got into the war, what we were trying to accomplish and when we left, we did exactly what my mother predicted. We declared a victory and left. She said that years ahead of the event. When we left Lebanon, at least we didn’t declare a victory. I suppose that was an improvement.


      • You don’t know what it’s like to be in a combat zone until you are REALLY there. None of my fantasies prepared me for this assignment. No, reporters are are not soldiers despite war stories told by some mic holders. It’s embarrassing when some reporters pull the macho act about war assignments. The key: don’t be overwhelmed by the environment, the danger and distractions like bombs and sniper fire. You just focus on the job. REALLY focus. And, beware of the local “meat”.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ben, it seems very surreal in retrospect.


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