GARRY ARMSTRONG – WITH LBJ IN VIETNAM

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, from 1963 to 1969. As President, he designed “Great Society” legislation, including civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and a “War on Poverty”.

Johnson’s civil rights bills banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing. It included a voting rights act that guaranteed the right to vote for all U.S. citizens, of all races. Passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country’s immigration system, eliminating national origins quotas.

The push to get his legislation through ended Johnson’s political career. He called in every favor, bullied, cajoled, and bargained to get the needed votes. He got it done, but if any politician ever fell on his sword for what he believed was right, LBJ was that guy. Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and his readiness to do whatever it took to advance his legislative goals.


Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still with me, 50 years later.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. My job required I not allow myself to be distracted from the work at hand. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the other harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening, the never-ending noise of artillery in the background. It was what was called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans. Skipped the meat.

President Johnson or L J as he told us to call him, squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. L J was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. Good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, the beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because L J gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” L J guffawed and passed the bottle back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he was unlikely to seek re-election, given the backlash of Vietnam back home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was the real thing. History,

The following day was my final encounter with Lyndon Baines Johnson. There were handshakes, a smile about our campfire evening and L J was again President Lyndon Johnson, one of the truly great American presidents.

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON – VIETNAM 1967, by GARRY ARMSTRONG

WHEN OUR PRESIDENT WAS A HERO


Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still with me, 50 years later.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. My job required I not allow myself to be distracted from the work at hand. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the other harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening, the never-ending noise of artillery in the background. It was what was called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans. Skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. Good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, the beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he was unlikely to seek re-election, given the backlash of Vietnam back home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was the real thing. History in the making.

The following day was my final encounter with Lyndon Baines Johnson. There were handshakes, a smile about our campfire evening and LJ was again President Lyndon Johnson, one of the truly great American presidents.


Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, from 1963 to 1969. As President, he designed “Great Society” legislation, including civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and a “War on Poverty”.

Johnson’s civil rights bills banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing. It included a voting rights act that guaranteed the right to vote for all U.S. citizens, of all races. Passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country’s immigration system, eliminating national origins quotas.

Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and his readiness to do whatever it took to advance his legislative goals.


Today, we have a president — if you care to call him that — who believes all of the good things LBJ did is garbage.

I’ve been around long enough to understand how many bad things can be fixed, eventually. Maybe not completely, but at least in part. What if we destroy the world? When the beauty of our world has gone and what’s left are expensive condos? When the trees have disappeared? When the sky is dull green, gray, and full of filth? What then? How do we come back from that?

When the poor are lost, and there’s nothing remaining but ugliness? What then, indeed.

CAMPFIRE WITH LBJ IN VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still with me, 50 years later.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. My job required I not allow myself to be distracted from the work at hand. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the other harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening, the never-ending noise of artillery in the background. It was what was called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans. Skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. Good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, the beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he was unlikely to seek re-election, given the backlash of Vietnam back home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was the real thing. History in the making.

The following day was my final encounter with Lyndon Baines Johnson. There were handshakes, a smile about our campfire evening and LJ was again President Lyndon Johnson, one of the truly great American presidents.


Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, from 1963 to 1969. As President, he designed “Great Society” legislation, including civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and a “War on Poverty”.

Johnson’s civil rights bills banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing. It included a voting rights act that guaranteed the right to vote for all U.S. citizens, of all races. Passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country’s immigration system, eliminating national origins quotas.

Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and his readiness to do whatever it took to advance his legislative goals.

Garry Armstrong’s Wonderful Broadcast Life – by Roger Lyons

His obstacles were many. Some might have said insurmountable. He was a painfully shy black man with a hearing problem, trying to break into major market radio and television in the ‘60’s. Yet Garry Armstrong went on to accomplish amazing things in his illustrious broadcast career.

Garry and I at a “thank you to the press” party at the end of President Clinton’s vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was a great party!

Whereas racism was certainly a factor in Armstrong’s career as a person of color, it was never really a defining issue to him. ‘I was just so driven to succeed, racism was never a major thing on my radar,’ he says. ‘I was much more aware of my hearing difficulties. It was more personal.’ Armstrong worked hard on his diction, taking speech therapy in college, to counteract his hearing deficiency.

The Brooklyn, NY native cut his broadcast teeth at Hofstra College radio station. He was a terrific writer, but his shyness made him hesitant to attempt on-air work. But that was overcome by his ability to conduct interviews with major celebrities, such as Johnny CarsonArthur GodfreyMerv GriffinFrank SinatraSammy Davis, Jr.Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Griffin told the young reporter, ‘Well done. You have a future in the business. You listened to me!’

Garry with Tip O’Neill. He is not trying to sell him something, he is showing Tip a watch he had just bought!

After college, at ABC radio network news, he transcribed radio interviews from news legends such as Ted Koppeland Bill Beutel and became the youngest producer at the network. He edited the copy of biggies such as Paul HarveyEdward P. Morgan and Howard Cosell.

In 1968, ABC sent Armstrong out to cover major events, such as the iconic Democratic National Convention inChicago and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. His most memorable ‘war story’ was when he sat around a campfire in Vietnam, chatting and eating beans with then President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Shortly thereafter, he landed an on-air job at a small TV station in Hartford, CT. ‘It was so small that there were only 2 on-air people,’ explains Armstrong. He became the all-purpose news reporter, and learned how to shoot and edit film. Once, however, Armstrong learned a humbling lesson when he returned from scoring a scoop to discover he’d forgotten to load film into the camera.

Ultimately, Armstrong was hired as a general assignment reporter at Boston’s Channel 7, where he flourished throughout his 31-year tenure. He established a rapport with both the black and white communities during Boston’s divisive school desegregation period. Yet his reporting career was certainly not without incident.

For example, while covering a story in South Boston, he was accosted by an angry crowd. His first thought was to get the film back to the station, so he made sure it got into the news van.

But the crowd was chanting racial epithets at him, including the N-word. Armstrong defused the situation in Mel Brook-sian fashion. He turned to the crowd and said, ‘I’m not an ‘N’. I’m a Samoan!’ And the crowd backed off.

One time, as Armstrong was covering the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day at Fenway Park, people behind him were getting rowdy, swearing and hitting him on the head just before he went on air. ‘I lost it,’ reveals Armstrong. ‘I was swinging at the guy as we went back live.’ He thought he’d surely lose his job, but when he got back to the station, General Manager Sy Yanoff approached him exclaiming, ‘Garry, way to go. That’s such great stuff. You went with the moment. That’s what’s so great about you.’

Another time, a radio station reported that Armstrong had been seriously injured in a race-related mêlée. When he called the newsroom to say he’d be back soon with the film, the assignment editor was shocked. He thought Armstrong had been taken to the hospital, and stopped the station from going on the air with a bulletin reporting on his reporter’s alleged beating.

Despite all the celebrities, political leaders and newsmakers he covered, Garry, the seasoned reporter, turned into an awed beginner when he interviewed his movie idol John Wayne during the Duke’s visit to Boston in the early 70’s. Afterwards, Garry repeatedly asked his Channel 7 colleagues if they knew who shook his hand until they suggested he calm down and get back to finishing his story.

The 3-time Emmy-winning, Silver Circle inductee has had a wonderful broadcast life. ‘We were so fortunate to have been in radio and television in that era,’ Armstrong opines, ‘because you could do long-form television news. You could have as much time as you needed to tell the story.’ Now, when he tells young journalists how it was, all they can say is, ‘Boy, you were lucky!’

, Boston Television Examiner

Roger Lyons is a veteran of the Boston television market. He has worked at many stations in news, public affairs, promotion and advertising. Roger has numerous Emmy nominations, many other industry awards and has served for over 20 years on the Board of Governors of the Boston/New…

A personal note: I talk about Garry a lot, so I thought it might be nice if I put something here for you to actually know a little more about my terrific husband. I wish I could get him to do a little blogging of his own! He has some absolutely wonderful stories of the people he met during his years as a reporter, the changes he saw both in the news business and in the world and so much more. But, so far, no dice. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile, this is a lovely piece by Roger Lyons that was published at the beginning of this year.

Suggested by the author:

The Non-Complexities of Pretty Racist Chef Paula Deen

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

By JOSH MARSHALL JUNE 21, 2013, 11:50 AM

Paula Deen Diabetes

I must say. I love Paula Deen’s defense. It has the benefit of being both ridiculous and perhaps something her critics could actually agree about. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A representative for Paula Deen says that the 66-year-old celebrity chef used the “N-word” because she has roots in another era.” Or as you might translate this, ‘Look, she’s on the old side and pretty racist.’ Which sounds about right and sort of like the criticism rather than the defense.

Another thing it made me think about though is that these days, in 2013, if you’re in your 60s, you really didn’t grow up in the ‘Old South’. More like you grew up in the Civil Rights Era. Paula Deen was born in 1947. So she was 8 or 9 during the Montgomery bus boycott, sixteen for the March on Washington and twenty-one when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

It’s worth remembering how ingrained these words were for whites from the South from a certain era, not only for people who were fierce opponents of civil rights but even from some of their greatest advocates. The words signal the mental world of Jim Crow.

I’ll always remember this story told by Roger Wilkins, who was a young attorney in the Johnson administration, but also then and later a civil rights leader, historian, journalist and more.

This is back during the bleeding, breakthrough years of the Civil Rights Movement, with a President who is pushing through the big epochal legislation that changed the face of the nation but also helped wreck his presidency (in electoral terms) and tear the Democratic party apart for a generation. Notably, for Johnson, he did all of this with his eyes quite wide open.

I’ve read many things about Johnson in this period and it’s really human, almost Shakespearean stuff, because you’ve got this guy raised in the Jim Crow South, who’s gotten religion on the civil rights issue and is pushing the stuff in spite of the politics. And yet at some level he’s still an old school guy from Jim Crow Texas and can’t make sense of why after he’s been part of pushing through this landmark legislation and putting the presidency on the side of right that African-Americans aren’t more grateful to him. On thr contrary, the country starting to tear itself apart with riots in the big cities and young African-Americans and many non-young African-Americans not at all satisfied with the post-Civil Rights Act status quo.

In any case, Wilkins – then in his early thirties – saw all of this up close and clearly loved and admired the guy at a deep level and understood and breathed the historical context of all he was accomplishing and yet saw his limitations and how he was actually totally lost in the racial politics of the 60s.

Back to that anecdote, Johnson’s there with a bunch of aides in Oval Office, Wilkins included, and in a moment of frustration he slips into using the word ‘nigger’. This is from an American Experience documentary. It starts with the historian Robert McCullough talking and then Wilkins comes in …

“McCullough: [voice-over] It was called “the Golden Chalice”, the marriage of the President’s younger daughter, Luci Baines Johnson. One reporter said, “Nobody was invited except the immediate country.” It was August 6, 1966. There was war in Vietnam and riots in the streets, but there was still more Johnson hoped to do. What he wanted was time — time to build his Great Society. “We can’t quit now,” he told an aide. “This may be the last chance we have.” But time was running out.

Over four long, hot summers, riots had become a brutal fact of American life. Johnson looked helplessly on as more than 150 cities went up in flames. Detroit was the worst — 43 dead, 7,000 arrested, 1,300 buildings destroyed. Johnson dispatched army paratroopers and prepared to send his own task force to investigate. As part of the task force, Roger Wilkins was there as the President issued his final instructions.

Roger Wilkins, Attorney, Johnson Administration: And he started in a low-key. “I don’t want any bullets in those guns. You hear me? I don’t want any bullets in those guns! You hear me, gentlemen? I don’t want any bullets in those guns. I don’t want it known that any one of my men shot a pregnant nig — ” and he looked at me and his face got red. I was the only black in the room. “Well, I don’t — I just — no bullets in those guns.” But he was clearly embarrassed, and everybody in the room was embarrassed. So then he told us to go home and pack and get an Air Force plane to go to Detroit.

And as we’re leaving, he called me and he said, “Come in here, Roger,” and I went into his office with him. And he didn’t say anything. I mean, I knew he wanted to say, “I didn’t mean to say ‘nigger’,” but he meant to say ‘nigger’. And I knew he wanted to say, “I apologize.” He didn’t know how to say it.

And so he walked me over to the French doors that went out to the Rose Garden, and it’s the area where Eisenhower had his putting green. And he looked out, and he looked at me, and he looked down, looked out, looked down. There were pockmarks on the floor where Eisenhower’s golf shoes had hit the floor. And he finally looked at me, and he looked at the floor, and he said, “Look what that son of a bitch did to my floor!” And then he patted me on the back and said, “Have a nice trip.” And that was his way of apologizing. It was very human, I thought.”

Not to state the obvious, but Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.

It’s not proven from the deposition – but the nature of the plaintiff’s deposition combined with Deen’s ‘defense’ in her deposition makes it pretty clear that Deen speaks like this … today, pretty much all the time. And far more than ‘talks’ like this, it seems pretty clear that she thinks that way too.

That’s why I think it’s a good thing when this stuff comes out. Because it shakes us up from the comforting denial that there aren’t a lot of people in the country still living in the Paula Deen world, which it would be nice to think is the world of the 1920s but in fact, for a lot of folks, is the world of 2013.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

A beautifully written reminder that it was Lyndon Johnson who got it done. Others talked the talk. He walked the walk. He knew in pushing through the civil rights bill, he was falling on his political sword and ending his career. He used all his political leverage because he believed he was the only one who could do it.He was probably right. It was LBJ’s finest hour, an act of genuine political valor.

The heart has gone out of our political system. We may never live to see it again.

See on talkingpointsmemo.com

There ARE stupid questions …

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare Bil...
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare Bill at the Harry S. Truman Library, 1965 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me start by saying that I thank God and Lyndon Johnson that we have Medicare because without it, I would not be sitting here and writing this. I would be long since dead and buried. For the most part, Medicare is surprisingly well-administered. You can call them any time of the day or night, 24/7 and someone will try to help you. Medicare works better than any other part of the government I’ve ever dealt with. It is easier to work with than any of the expensive private insurers I had while I was working. Moreover, the people at Medicare who answer the phones are accessible, pleasant, patient, and well-informed which is a lot more than I can say for any private insurer I had. When they say they are going to call you back, they actually do call you back. Amazing.

I spoke to them last week and they couldn’t help me with this because it’s a local thing. Supplemental and Medicare Advantage programs are available from specific vendors in designated areas. So they had to pass me on to local representatives.

You have heard it said, I am sure, that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

That is not true.

I was trying to see if there is a less expensive alternative to my current Medicare supplement, aka Medigap policy. My goal was to reduce my monthly medical insurance costs without compromising the quality of my medical care.

I could have found what I wanted if I lived almost anywhere else. But we live out in the country and there’s not much available.  The plans would be good enough if you don’t get sick, or whatever is wrong with you is common and can be managed your PCP or a very inexperienced specialist. Definitely not a description of me.

To make things more complicated, we live close to Rhode Island, so most of the doctors that come up using all these plans’ search engines are in Rhode Island, not Massachusetts. The law governing medical care and prescription coverage varies hugely between the states. These search engines don’t know about state lines and just search within a designated radius you specify. Which makes the searches useless. Someone needs to do something about this. I can’t be the only person living near a state border who is on Medicare, can I?

Now, for the stupid questions.

The Scene

Marilyn is sitting in front of the big monitor in her office. A cup of coffee is on the right, partially blocking the screen, and a glass of electrolyte rich zero calorie sports drink is on the other side. I have been roaming from provider site to provider site in the hopes of finding something that might work for me. Finally, unable to obtain any meaningful results, I fill out the form asking for more information. The phone rings. It is a digital phone, so really, it yodels.

Yodel yodel eeee. Yodel yodel ooooo.

Me, picking up phone: “Hello?”

Her: “May I speak with Marilyn Arstrong?

Me: “You got her”

Her: “I believe you inquired about Health Care options with ….?”

Me: “You’re fast. I’m still on your site.”

Her: “We have a variety of programs. How can I help you?”

Me: “I have a Medigap program, but I’m hoping to find a something less expensive, preferably a Medicare Advantage program, but there doesn’t seem to be much choice in this area.”

Her: “Do you have a computer?”

(Pause.) I just filled out a computer inquiry and said I was still on her website. It was dumb, but in the name of charity, I let it pass and moved on.

…. back and forth … back and forth …

Me: “So, in short, you don’t have a Medicare Advantage program that would work for me. It wouldn’t cost less and it wouldn’t let me keep any of my doctors or hospitals. It would be a Medicare Disadvantage plan. Why are we having this conversation?”

… back and forth … back and forth …

Me: “So, you don’t have anything that meets my needs. Have I got that right?

Her: “Do you live in a rural area?”

Me: (Pause) “You could say that.”

Her: “You might be okay with a more basic Medigap policy. Do you think  you are going to be sick? Do you expect to need hospitalization?”

(Very long pause.)

Her: “Are you still there?”

I did not say that I was thinking. Wit and irony need to be used selectively. There are people on whom it is lost.

I wanted to say that I was considering a mild stroke in time for Christmas, but if they were having any specials on particular non-lethal diseases, I’d be willing to consider something heart-related, perhaps a minor infarction. I thought of saying that I was not planning any major medical incidents for at least a year, but I might, just for excitement have a medium-to-serious auto accident … but I doubted she’d see the humor. She was trying to help me. Ineffectually, but asking me if I was going to be sick? Really?

Does someone own a medical crystal ball. If they do, they should patent it because it is worth billions.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I signed up with a different prescription carrier who I hope will save me a few bucks next year. Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day. Maybe I’ll think of something else. I hope that none of these options require that I know if I’m going to get sick. Because I haven’t a clue.