Francis Jean LeRoy

                          Interview with Francis Jean LeRoy

                 Veterans’ Memorial Hall Oral History Program

                                          July 22, 2015

                                      Duluth, Minnesota

Veterans’ Memorial Hall is a program of the St. Louis County Historical Society.

© July 22, 2015 by the St. Louis County Historical Society

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              Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program

                   Interview with Francis Jean LeRoy

                                 Duluth, Minnesota

                                      July 22, 2015

                              Nancy Rubin, Interviewer

                                Interviewee:  JL

                                Interviewer:  NR

Track 1


NR:  Good morning, my name is Nancy Rubin [spelled out].  Jean, I ask you to also state your name, and spell it.

JL:  My name is Francis Jean LeRoy [spelled out].  I always go by my middle name, Jean.

NR:  Very good, thank you. Today’s date is July 22, 2015.  I would like to start by asking a little bit about your family, growing up, siblings if any, and parents.

JL:  I have no siblings.  I grew up here in Duluth, Minnesota.  I was born on August 20, 1935.  My parents lived at 1818 West Second Street.  That apartment building is still standing and looks just as good as it did then, as far as I can remember in my mind.  I know that my room was on the back and I had a sun room that was my room growing up.  I went from there—right around the corner was St. Clements, where I went to grade school.  Then we moved downtown, my mother and dad bought the Midway Hotel and I grew up on Superior Street.  The Midway Hotel was right across the street from the Greyhound Bus Depot and the Spalding Hotel. There was lot of adventure down there.  Right now they are building the new Maurice’s building right where I lived.  So, that was that.  Then I went to Cathedral for junior high school for one year and then I moved on to Central for my freshman, junior and senior years.  By the beginning of my senior—well I was in drama a lot, in all the plays.  One of the biggest things for me was we had a whole group of people from UMD come down and they said that the play that I was in was one of the best high school plays that they had ever seen and that my performance was exceptional.  So I really felt big on that one.

NR:  Yes!

JL:  That kind of led me on to continuing to doing broadcasting things and that later in life.  But I knew most of my senior year that I was going to join the Marine Corps when it was over, and I did.  I went to the Marines shortly after I got out of high school and I went to San Diego, the Marine Corps recruit’s people in San Diego.

NR:  How did your parents feel about you joining the Marines?

JL:  They felt it was good for me.  At that particular time, 1954, there was no trying event in the world.  There wasn’t anything that would make you be really worried about that.  I had a cousin whose husband was a Marine.  Bud Gunderson? was his name.  My mother had a big photo of him in his blue uniform with the white hat and he was so gorgeous, a great big guy.  I was a “pipsqueak”.  He just made me want to be, for some reason, in the Marine Corps.  Nobody ever knows that, I don’t know why my grandchildren wanted to join the Marine Corps.  They’ve had this passion for two years, their junior and senior years of high school.  They both have been adamant they are joining the Marine Corps.  They are in way better shape than I was when I got out of boot camp. [laughing]  That’s great.  That’s how I got in the service.  I went to MCRD.


JL:  That’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.  I came home on leave and then my first assignment in the Marine Corps was at 29 Palms, California, which is out in the desert.  At that time nobody had looked to see what kind of talents I had.  I was just riding around out there on a tank.  I got to be a tank commander, and we were shooting at drones, to learn how to handle all this equipment and everything.  In the Marine Corps, there’s always some kind of job where they want a volunteer.  “We need volunteers.”  And I’d say, “ Me, no”?  Then they said what this one was.  They wanted somebody to build a football and baseball field in the desert, with green grass.  I thought, what a challenge, I’m signing up for that.  So I stepped forward, and because I was the first one, I got to be in charge of this operation.  There was this large field and they said, “This is yours, and you turn it into a field.”  So we were out there we were—by hand, I had about 20 guys, and we just raked.  We had train cars like we see ore around here, full of manure and black dirt.  We were mixing all of that with the sand to get the right composition of it all.  Then we planted glass, rolled it, watered it.  In about six weeks, we had a big beautiful field of grass.  That was quite an accomplishment, as far as I was concerned. 

Just a little caveat here, last year when we went to San Diego, we stopped at 29 Palms.  I wanted her to see 29 Palms, her, meaning my wife.  We stopped at 29 Palms.  I said, “I got to show you that field.”  Well, we drove all over 29 Palms; it’s about five times as big as it was when I was there.  There were green fields everywhere.  The kids were playing on green fields, there were green fields here, and there were green fields everywhere.  Then we were in the exchange and I was going to buy a couple of souvenirs from 29 Palms, California.  As I was looking, there was this white haired lady that was waiting on me.  I was just telling her story about looking for that field.  She said, “Oh, I know exactly where that field is.”  I said, “Oh, really. Where is it?”  She said, “You’re standing on it.” [both laugh]  So, the “Jean Laroy memorial field” was gone.  That was my first assignment. 

While there, I somehow found out that there was a need for people in the newspaper and all that.  So, I went in and told him, “You know, I wrote on the high school newspaper.  I did radio, all these different things when I was growing up.  I wondered if there was a need for me?”  Sure enough, I ended up being transferred to Camp Pendleton.  Then I went into the public information office, and eventually became editor of the newspaper there.  I did a lot of broadcast things.  My career in the Marine Corps, at that time, got extended.  In my second year what came up was the Gaza Strip.  The government automatically extended everybody and all branches of service, one year.  So my three year commitment became a four year commitment.  By the end of the fourth year, I was married, and had a child.  I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got out.

So, I re-enlisted, but this time in the Air Force, because I wanted to be more positive, probably having a more solid base to live at, where my family could grow up normally.  That’s what happened, that’s how I ended up in the Air Force. The Air Force, again, when I got in, they put me in personnel records.  I was working with assignments.  I was looking at their miserable newspaper and the way things were done.  I got to know the captain that was running that and I said, “You know, who is editor of the Camp Pendleton Newspaper?"  I said, “We won a lot of awards, including best in the”—He said, “We might need you in here.”  So, I got into that field and from then on, I was in that field, when I was in the Air Force.

NR:  [laughs]

JL:  I went to Japan from there.  In Japan at that time, I went there to the Far East network.  I was a broadcaster at the Far East Network.  It’s in Tokyo, where I was, in headquarters.  We had stations all over Japan, just like later in Vietnam, stations all over, but a headquarters stationed in one place.  So, I was in the news department and I also did a jazz show on radio, as a DJ.  I was the man of all trades; they needed someone to take _______?   I’d do it.  I was also working over writing releases at public information, editing, doing special shows. 

Then the Olympics were coming to Japan.  We put together a crew of people to broadcast the Olympics in Japan.  Who’s going to do it?  Well, this guy, Mel Belanger, became our head leader.  He had come out of Hollywood; he had a voice like, no other.  “Hi, I’m Mel Belanger.” [imitating voice]  You always knew he was a broadcaster, never a question when Mel talked. [both laugh]  He still did the cupping of the ear, when he talked at a microphone, but anyway that was fine.  He said that gave him the enrichment of his voice.  I got assigned to boxing and rowing.

Now there’s the most exciting sport that you could possibly have to do a play by play, is rowing.  It starts where you can’t see it, and then there’s a little train that goes along side with a camera on it.  I had to study rowing,  I learned and learned.  I learned to count the strokes, to tell how fast they were going.  I knew everything, the singles, and the doubles.  I knew everything there was.  I had a former Olympian that taught me all of this.  He was with the main broadcast booth most of the time, to just help me with colors, as I was doing these things.

That was fine until it came to one day of the Olympics and the phone rang, and I picked it up and they said, “Hey, LeRoy, here’s the deal, there’s nothing going on except rowing.  So, we’re all taking a break, nobody’s going to be here.  You make station breaks, you know when they are on the hour and all that stuff.  It’s yours, for two hours.”  There I am two hours and it’s me and rowing.  How am I going to fill two hours?  Before I could find Kent, I would send somebody looking for Kent, to come sit with me.  Right behind me was a booth, a beautiful place where people could sit and watch.  Nobody was ever there, it was very well decorated and everything. I wasn’t even sure what it was.  But then all of a sudden, I knew what it was. It was the Prince and Princess of Japan, came.

NR:  Oh!

JL:  They came in there and oh, now I could describe her kimono, I could do all these things.  So, that took twenty minutes, I could cover that, because that’s what was on the camera, anyway.  It got me through the Olympics.  We went to the stadium for the closing ceremony, and there were a dozen of us that had covered all the various sports during the Olympics.  I’ve known men who were standing in there watching the ceremony, and it comes to the point where all of the athletes from all the countries come out and are walking arm in arm, just all being friends.

Track 1


JL:  I looked around, and it wasn’t only me, every one of us had tears in our eyes.  The feeling was, what the heck, why can’t the whole world be like this.  The athletes can do it, why can’t everybody else?

NR:  Exactly.

JL:  We never really figured that out, or we wouldn’t be at war, multiple times in our lifetime.  So, that gets me to Japan. [both laugh]

NR:  Tell me again, what year was that?

JL:  It was, I think it was the ’64 Olympics, in Japan.  I came back to the United States, but I get a little foggy at the moments, because the in-between periods of the highlights sometimes get lost for me.  I finished out broadcasting there and then I came back to the United States.  Then I was in San Antonio, no, I was in Mississippi, Biloxi.  That’s where we made training films for the Air Force and I was working producing training films for the Air Force.

More of my television background started getting to show up.  I got a call because I had a very good friend that I had been in personnel with, way back when I was first in the Air Force.  He worked in assignments in Washington, D.C.  He called and said, “Jean, how would you like to go on a special assignment?”  I said, ‘A special assignment?  That sounds kind of weird.”  He said, “Well, it’s very special.”  I said, “How special is it?”  He said, “Well, there’s a place that we need to start broadcasting television and we need somebody with your experience to go there and get that thing off the ground.”  I said, “Okay, is that somewhere located southeast?”  He said, “Yes, it’s southeast of everywhere.” [both laugh]  I said, “Well, if I don’t volunteer, how long have I got?”  He said, “About probably a month.”  I said, “Well, let’s go.”  So I went to Vietnam, which was in—what year did I say?

NR:  It’s on your hat.

JL:  Yes, ’66.  I get fuzzy at numbers sometimes.

NR:  In the meantime, before you were ready to go to Vietnam, did you have time home with your family?

JL:  Yes, they were with me when I was in the ___________?

NR:  Were they ever able to travel with you, like to Tokyo?

JL:  Oh, yes.

NR:  Well, that must have been quite an experience for them as well.

JL:  It was a lucky part of that.  Then I went to Vietnam the first year and as I have told you before, I went there to begin television broadcasting.  That first of all entailed getting everything set up.  There was a group of civilians there helping us get everything set up.  We had to build studios to do our “on ground” information.  We had to find a place to store—because AFRTS [Armed Forces Radio and Television Service] has a package that comes around each week of television programs.  It cycles throughout a region, like Asia had maybe twenty-five different stations.  It may only be a month old when it hits the first time, but it’s four months, five months old by the time it hits the last station.  It would be a full week of television programs.  It would entail normally enough to broadcast from five o’clock until midnight.  At that time everything was on film.

So it came in boxes of films and then as soon as you got done on Sunday, you had your new one.  You would start your new one Monday morning, it would be on the plane going to the next one.  That was our full responsibility, you had to pack and repack and do all that.  Besides that, you had a library of fill in information just in case something happened and you didn’t get your new weekly package, you had things that you could do.  We also did some live things.  In our case, we were flying in a “Super Connie.” [Super Constellation aircraft]  If I tell people I got my flight hours in Vietnam, I never did put in for it.  I have enough flying hours to earn my air medal, but I just never applied for that.

I keep saying someday I got to do that.  That someday just hasn’t gotten here yet.  I’m thinking more and more about it for some reason, I don’t know why.  I’ll get my air medal, I suppose.  Anyway, what happened, we would put our stuff together.  You only had to carry enough programming for that night, out to the airplane.  At the same time we were teaching the Vietnamese how to do television broadcasting.  We had a studio that we shared, but we didn’t do much in the studio.  They did everything in their studio, because they did new programming each day, and sometimes we would have a movie.  Their stuff, we were putting on video tape.  That was the big old VTR’s, great big tapes that weighed a lot. They would do newscasts and interview programs. It was all government approved. I wasn’t the only one that flew, we had two other people that flew. I flew probably more than most of them, because I liked to fly and I made the schedule. [both laughing] 

We would have to take this stuff, put it in our truck and we would go out to Tan Son Nhut which was the primary base for Air Force, for flights out of Saigon.  We would take everything out there, put it on the airplanes and then we’d get on the airplane.  In the airplane we actually had a little tiny studio alongside one of the walls.  At its widest point it was maybe five feet wide, because I could sit somebody next to me.  Well, maybe four feet, we had two chairs.  It narrowed and narrowed down to a point where there was a camera, down 15 feet away.  That was a fixed camera that just went on those two seats.  Occasionally I would take somebody up there and do a live interview, cut in from the airplane while we were flying.

NR:  Oh!

JL:  So, those people would always be really excited about that.  Among the people that came, was one of the officers who had been with stars and stripes for quite a few years.  He knew of when I was back in Japan doing the Olympics, he knew about all of that.  When he wrote his story about me, he said, “You may remember him from his marner miracle of broadcasting? during the Olympics, in Tokyo, because I had to do a marathon broadcasting for two hours. [both laugh]

So, anyway, that’s how that worked.  At the end of the runway there were all kinds of people that we didn’t want to deal with out there.  Our airplane did not take a normal path going off, because they could hit us with a mortar, if they wanted to there.  So when we go to the end of the runway, we went straight up, and the same thing when we came back.  We went straight down and they laid it out and landed flat.  Well the “Super Connie” is a very functional aircraft.  Most people know a Super Constellation as an airline plane back in those days.  There had been a lot of them that were in the airline system.

So, when I tell pilots or somebody, you’d never guess what I flew in Vietnam, they can’t.  When I say, “a Super Connie,” they said, “You got to be kidding me”.  “No, I’m not kidding you.”  So we took off, and in the beginning we were only broadcasting to the Saigon area.  So we took off and went down over the Delta.  We flew in a figure eight and we had big antennas on the bottom that broadcast the two channels back.  So the Vietnamese got theirs on one channel and we got out television on another channel.  Meantime, we were building stations throughout Vietnam, and all of those stations began broadcasting as each of them got ready and that would b another one that the package would go to.

NR:  Were those stations bases?

JL:  Yes, they were on bases, but they were on the top Monkey Mountain [Son Tra Mountain overlooking Da Nang].  I can’t remember all the names. I think we had six other stations.  So, that was going on and along with that they would do radio, not much, there was cut ins.  We did all of our broadcasting from Saigon.  Since I became NCOIC [non commissioned officer in charge of radio] besides being in charge of television, Adrian Cronhauer, was about to go back to the United States, he had finished his tour of duty there and he was going to head back.  Well, I thought, I want to do that show. 

So I would fly and get home late at night and then I would get up in the morning and go do “Good Morning Vietnam”.  You wanted to know about what happened when I was coming back from Tan Son Nhut at night.  It would usually be 11 thirty, twelve o’clock at night, which would be two to three, even four hours past the curfew.  When there was a curfew in Saigon, it was put out both by our government and the Vietnamese government, which meant, there is nothing moving anywhere.  Nobody should be out.  You cannot see anything.  Well, I had to get back to downtown Saigon from Tan Son Nhut, which was several miles of driving.  I was driving across Saigon in what appeared to be a virtual last man on earth.  I carried two weapons on my seat of my vehicle next to me and I had a windshield that flapped up in front.  So, if I would have to fire, I would not be impeded by a windshield.  I was told by many people, the police, and other officers.  They said, “If anything moves, shoot it.”

Well, fortunately, for me, nothing ever moved.  What people don’t realize is there were Vietnamese living in shipping boxes.  We’ve got a lot of stuff over there naturally to conduct a war, and they came in great big boxes. Well, those boxes didn’t get burned up or thrown away or crushed.  We didn’t have recycling, but we did recycle because Vietnamese people would have their whole families live in a big box.  They would be along the walls and everywhere you looked along the sides of the streets.  There would be people living there.  My fear was that one of them would get up to go to the bathroom and I would be like, “Oh, God, make everybody just hold it until I get home.” 

Then I got to my scariest part, when I got downtown.  I would get to the compound where we had the television station where we stored all of our stuff. It was a locked gate, and I would pull my vehicle up.  I would have to get out, unlock the chains, open the gates, drive the vehicle through, close the gates, put the chains back on and then get the stuff upstairs back into the studio, and park.  Then I would walk downstairs and I would have to unlock the personnel gate, which also had chains around it.  Then I had to relock those and walk about two and a half blocks to our hotel.  We lived in hotels in downtown Saigon.  I actually carried a pistol in each hand.  I almost didn’t breathe for two and a half blocks.

NR:  That had to have been so frightening.

JL:  It becomes—other things in your life if you do it enough, but in this case you didn’t want to let your guard down.  That was probably for me the scariest part, other than one night I think I was in Monkey Mountain, up there to visit and getting things set up and they had an attack.  I had to lie in a bunker and hold weapons up on the top and shoot.  They said, “Don’t you poke your head up, we need you.  You just keep shooting.”   So, that’s what I did.

NR:  Wow!

JL:  So, I had various encounters with the troops.  I would trade out—obviously there were things that people needed that only we could do.  One thing was a TV antenna.  The exchange didn’t have a lot of antennas, but they were getting TV’s.  My engineer could make TV antennas and everybody knows that the military does a trading.  Well, I could go on, I could trade TV antennas for a box of steaks, maybe two boxes of steaks from the Army.  Then I would go over to the Navy, and I would trade a box of steaks for a box of lobster.  The Navy had lobster.

NR:  So that makes me think they were all fairly close together.

JL:  Saigon was a complex of people who were all around.  We had a motor pool, a commissary.  Most people never went to the commissary, but the commissary was people that lived there.  We had embassies and those people went there.  Here’s a sidebar.  Actually when I was in Vietnam, besides all the other things that I did, one of my roommates wrote a play.

We produced it for the Vietnamese American Society.  We did several plays for them.  We would do the play in Saigon and then we might do it in one or two places out.  We’d do it like three nights in Saigon and Americans and Vietnamese were welcome to come to the plays.  We had a lot of fun.  We did a resounding ________? and we did Chekhov’s The Wedding.  I played the flower in that one.  It was fun.  It sounds stupid, but for a guy who was in the combat zone, it was a different thing.  They didn’t have any of what we did.

We ate in a regular mess hall; we could go to a restaurant.  We could do a lot of things they couldn’t, the guys that were out in the countryside, up country, as they would always say.  Some of them would get to go to Saigon for a day or two of R&R, just to get out of the feeling there.  Sometimes I’d run into them.  I’d be out in a bar after I did “Good Morning Vietnam”.  I’d stop in for a Ba Moui Ba 33, which was the name of the beer that we drank.

NR:  What is it again?

JL:  Ba Moui Ba, it’s 33.  We would go out for a beer and I would meet some of these guys.  This is the lasting impression that I will never forget about the young men that were in Vietnam.  I was older, considerably older.  I was in my thirties.  These kids were 19, 20, and 21 years old.  I was a lot older than they were.  I can still remember always the eyes, always the eyes.  Their eyes were—you heard that from Brad Bennett about the eyes.  Their eyes were blank; they were “Little Orphan Annie” eyes.  Here the kid is barely shaving and he’s fighting a war.  People are shooting at him and he’s shooting back and he’s getting his buddies killed.  I don’t blame them for looking like that.

NR:  Right.

JL:  I would run into them in a bar and I would purposely sit between a couple of them and I’d get the conversation going.  Then I would say, “You guys get to hear “Good Morning Vietnam?”  They’d say, “Oh, yeah.”  I asked, “What do you think about that?”  “Oh, God, I hate that guy.”  I said, “What do you mean?  What do you hate that guy for?”  They said, “Well, he’s so chipper. How can he be like that?”  I said, “Maybe he’s trying to cheer you up or something.  He said, “Well, yeah, I suppose.”  I said, “But you really hate him?”  “Yeah, I hate that guy.”  I said, “How would you like to meet that guy?  That’s me, and I’d like to buy you a beer.”  They said, “Oh, great!”  Before we were finished, they all loved me.  So, that’s the way it was. [both laugh]  But that happened over and over again and the eyes were always the same.  There are some Vietnam veterans that are still walking around today that have those eyes.

NR:  Yes.

JL:  It just never went away.  So, anyway, that was my first tour.  From there I went to Berlin, and I broke into television in Berlin.  I was part of a whole crew and we set up television.

NR:  Why was it that you went to Berlin?

JL:  You get to request assignments when assignments when you are leaving.  There was a whole list of things, and one of them I understood they were going to be building a television station in Berlin.  You couldn’t exactly say Berlin, so I said Germany.  Because of my experience and when they saw that was my request, they assigned me to Berlin.  That was another fun “scratch”, right from the bottom up, building a television station.  You already had radio all over Germany and television in many of the other bases in West Germany. 

Now I am in East Germany, because Berlin was an exclave, the other zone all around us.  We were an island; Berlin was not connected to the rest, only by one highway.  That highway was controlled by the Russians. So you either flew in or drove on that one highway.  I think I had the most fantastic crew of people that I ever worked with.  That was the finest television station.  We won awards for everything.  We got to do things like broadcast the moon landing, cover the elections.  We had crews and I was, of course, one of the broadcasters.  I also ran the crew.  I made it a practice that I knew how to do every job that everybody else could do.  So I could walk in and give anybody a break, anytime. 

I don’t mean to sound like it’s a pat on the back for myself, but it was important to me that everybody knew that I could do, or I knew what they were doing.  So when I gave them a break and everything worked just fine, they were confident in me as I was in them.  Beside that then, I did a daily television show, called, “Potpourri”.  Just expresses itself as almost anything.  I would have to find people to interview and I interviewed so many people.  Some of them just really stand out in my mind.  I can remember vividly.  Probably the one interview that was the most fun, and most memorable, was with Hugh Heffner and Barbie Benton.

NR:  Wow!  That must stand out.

JL:  Instead of our half-hour show, we did an hour show that day.  It was quite the event.  There were a lot of others that came over there.  It was easy, when you’re the American military station, overseas, you can get almost anybody.  In Japan, it was Frank Sinatra, nobody could get Sinatra.  He was there, and wasn’t even telling people he was there.  I got Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr.  You name them.  That was my job.  I interviewed a lot of people.

NR:  You interviewed a lot of celebrities.

JL:  I don’t think I could ever recall all of them, because it was my job.  At the time, you don’t even think about it, I didn’t save tapes.  I had a film of the Hugh Heffner, Barbie Benton interviews.  That disappeared someplace.  That’s what happened to me with a lot of my stuff.  A bunch of it got lost when I retired and had stuff sent.  Some of it went missing.  Anyway, I went through Berlin.  It was a wonderful time. 

From Berlin, unfortunately, they decided they needed me again in Vietnam.  No, I went to the Philippines in between.  Then they needed me in Vietnam. I went back in ’71.  When I was there that time it was much different.  Now we had fully operating broadcast stations on the ground, we didn’t have to fly anymore.  I was running the operation and I got to do “Good Morning Vietnam” again.  It was the bright spot of my day.  You’ve got to get up early, but it was fun.  I had a good time, I loved broadcasting.  That year was eventful in that we got to do exciting things, like Bob Hope came.  We did the Bob Hope show.

That’s kind of a funny story.  We were going to record it and I picked my best people.  I said, “You guys have a meeting and figure out how you’re going to do this.”  We had the van from the Vietnamese, just a tiny little van.  It wasn’t built for people my size.  It had the capability of running three cameras and a switcher, very basic.  I said, “You guys get together and make yourself a crew and put together how you’re going to do this show.”  They did that for about two hours.  They came to my door and knocked, it was open.  They said, “Sergeant LeRoy.”  I said, “Yes.”  They said, “We need to talk to you.”  I said, “Okay, have you got this all figured out?”  They said, “Yes, we’ve got it all figured out.  We’d like you to direct it.”  I said, ‘What?”

You have an opportunity to do one of the biggest shows that happens in the United States.  It’s going to be the biggest thing here two and you want me to direct it?  You’re a far better director than I am.  They said, “No, no, we want you to do it.”   So that was a very proud moment for me.  That your crew would say, “You’re the guy.”  It was also—I now had to put a whole bunch of stuff into my life that I had to get ready for, in a different way.  I went to Thailand when the show was over there and I recorded it on audio tape, so that I would have a track and go back and play the guys.  Then they would get an idea of how the show went.  Then we would have three cameras set up.

So, the day came to do the show, had a camera on the middle, the right and left.  We were moving along and I’m recording this show and all of a sudden the camera in the middle goes out, boom.  Now, all my planned shots don’t work, because I would cut from the center camera to the left and right.  I had to do things like cross fades with the camera.  It just got down to the point where I couldn’t even think of a shot anymore.  I would say to the camera men on the head piece, “Just excite me, and make me want your camera.” [both laugh]  They would find some kind of shot that I never thought of in my life.  It might just be a close up of one of the dancing girls or Bob Hope in a different light.  It was just insane, but it all worked.

We came back and we’re putting this all together now.  They’re cleaning up the tape, editing and all that. I’m sitting in the production studio and in the back is the engineering where they are going through all of this tape.  The engineers come out and say, “Bad news.”  I said, ‘What?”  They said, ‘We go about an eight minute audio drop out.”  I said, “Eight minute audio drop out.  Oh, God. I got the tape of the show; maybe I can put that in there.”  Well, an audio tape and a video tape don’t run at the same speed. 

So, you can’t just say, Okay, I’m going to put this on.  It won’t fit, it has to be edited.  So, I sat there with a control of the video and I could listen to the audio.  I had to splice spaces into the audio tape, so that is matched the mouth movements on the video tape, before we dubbed it onto there.  By golly, when we got all done, it took about two hours.  It was now two o’clock in the morning and it’s going to broadcast the next day.  They’ve got to make copies of these tapes, fly them out to all the ships that are out there.  They are all getting to broadcast, it’s a Christmas show, you know.

So, it worked.  Unbeknownst to me, for that, I was awarded a Bronze Star.  People don’t understand there are two different kinds of Bronze Stars.  There’s one for accomplishment of a job well done, exceptionally, or something like that.  Then there is the bronze star that’s a combat start.  It has different things on it.  People don’t know that it has an Oakley _____? or whatever, to see the difference in that.  Because of all the people that ever worked for me, I earned a lot of medals.  Just because it’s not all you, there’s never an “all you”.  People think that, but there’s never an “all you”.  The “all you”, is everybody that works with you.  Not for you, but with you, to accomplish a task.

So, I got the Air Force accommodation medal, the Army commendation medal, the Joint Services medal and the Bronze Star.  All for basically broadcast associated types of jobs.  I was always able, when I was awarded anything, to be able to make a good expression of how I got this.  It wasn’t just me, it couldn’t be.

NR:  Well, congratulations on that.    

JL:  My career in the military was exceptional.  From there, I kind of like went to California, maybe eighteen months before I retired.  I made training tapes for the Air Force and it was a nice calm, cool way to get out of the military.  I have no regrets for any time that I spent, or anything about the military time that I was there.  It was some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

Some of them have gone onto very big things in their lives.  I chose to come back to Duluth; I had opportunities in Hollywood when I got out.  I was located there and we were using people from Hollywood.  We would hire actors and we’d go to Hollywood to do special parts of our productions.  I got offered several jobs, but my father was in very poor health.  I decided I’m not going to do that.  I’m not going to have a long distance relationship.  So, I came back here.


Tape 1


That was how my career ended. There were many other highlights, but, you know, this is just basically the life of a broadcaster, in the military. It’s not the same as what other people would put up with. I always cherished the fact that anytime I run into or meet any people that work with me or for me or under me, or whatever; they always tell me that I was the best NCOIC [Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge] they ever had. Nobody held a candle to me and it was simple, I listened to them.

The military has a tendency for the crunchy old NCO, who’s been there forever doing the same thing and somebody comes in and says, “Hey, if we did it this way. It’s always worked this way, no need to try that.” My response always was, “Let’s give it a shot, if it works, we’ll put it in.  If it doesn’t, nothing is lost. We maybe had a bad night.” Because I did that, I had very creative people that would continue to be creative. Those stations that I was at, had won awards everywhere. Berlin, we won a lot of awards. We did productions on the wall.

How much more can you ask for, the excitement of being in Berlin, and how that was.  I just thank everybody in the military. That’s why here I belong to the Vietnam Veterans’ Association. I had not—for many years after I got out, I didn’t look for association with the military. I didn’t go to the VA to get any help for myself for things that I needed done. I just went on like any guy. I worked at WDSM way back when it was All American radio, 710 Country in the morning. I did morning there. [laughs] I had a lot of fun there. There were a lot of highlights with that too. I did Mining Matters on television on WDIO.

NR:  Yes, I remember that.

JL:  I worked with a lot of good people, some of whom we lost. It’s been a great life for me that I got associated. That really happened because of Durbin Keeney. I had been to an event of guys from Vietnam, but it’s not a local. It’s not like being involved locally. There I got a simple thing. I came back with a bunch of P-38s, the can openers that they use for c-rations [canned pre-cooked food] and things like that. I had a bunch of them, I gave them to Durbin.

It was on Veteran’s Day, and I met him some place. He said, “You should come join us, we go to lunch every week.” That was the start, from then on I would go to events, the meat raffle, this, that and everything that comes up, there I am. Since Durbin left, as you know, or any people know, I get to be the one that does all the speeches.

NR:  Yes, and you do a marvelous job, a wonderful job.

JL:  The fortunate thing for me is, I have a very close friend who’s a Vietnam veteran, who’s a great writer. He writes everything for me, he writes them before I ask for them. [both laugh]  If a holiday is coming up he writes a speech. He says, “What do you think of this?” I said, “Okay, its fine.”

NR:  He is a very good writer, because I’ve heard you tell what he had to say.

JL:  Yes, this year was very good. I have a t-shirt that says “Believe in heroes”. I believe in heroes, but I also believe that everybody in the military is a hero. And all of the people that support them are heroes.

NR:  Right, those who are still at home worrying, taking care of everything. It sounds like you certainly developed an awful lot of wonderful relationships, friendships over the years with the people who you worked with and when they worked with you.

JL:  Yes, the closest groups that I’ve had an association with are “our “Berlin Boys” we call them. I run a low blog that we have on the internet, the “Berlin Boys”. We’re dwindling. I’m next to the oldest in the group and I’m still moving along.  We’ve lost a lot of them along the way, to various and sundry things. Most of those kids never were anywhere, but Europe or someplace. They had never been to Vietnam or anywhere in a combat zone, so they were a different kind of people. They didn’t have the same kind of situation. In Vietnam, again, we had such great broadcasters, they clicked that “mic” on and they were ready to go and they did a show. It was a wonderful thing.

NR:  So good memories about it.

JL:  Oh, yeah, that’s for sure.

NR:  Returning home after retirement and being near your father.

JL:  I was one of those at one time; my parents were living in San Francisco when I came back from Vietnam from the first tour. I was in uniform and I was walking down the street and somebody spit at me.

NR:  Oh!

JL:  My reaction of course, was I want to kick this guy’s butt, but all I did was stare at him. I just looked at him with disdain. There were people around that had seen this happen and they all stopped. They were thinking, this guy is gonna cut loose on this kid. And nothing. Finally he just kind of cowered and ran away and then people applauded. So, it wasn’t all bad people. But it’s true; many Vietnam veterans do not feel that they got a welcome. Well, we credit the Vietnam veterans for the way veterans are treated today. Because it was the Vietnam veterans that stood up and said, “I’m not taking this crap anymore. We’re back, we’re viable, we fought the war that was given to us and we don’t have any choice in that.”

NR:  That’s right.

JL:  We did that. Some of them were volunteers, some of them already in the military. There were many reasons why people were there, but they did what they did, while they were there. Some of them have missing body parts; they live a different kind of life than normal people because they just never ever really ever settled back into society.  But we’ve had many events since then of “welcome home Vietnam veterans’.” It’s because the Vietnam veterans demanded that. They said, we’re not putting up with that. We were there for a long time and lost a lot of people. A lot of them were our buddies, our friends, and even people we don’t know, we still care about everyone. They’re all human beings that went over there and stood in the front line. No matter where they were they stood in the front line if they were running supply back in. They could have been hit by a mortar at any moment. I can show you pictures of our airplane with big holes in it after it was mortared.

NR:  Really?

JL:  It’s just one of those things, but today we care about them all, we do everything we can. The Vietnam veterans—the state had a big “welcome home” ceremony a few years back, down at the Capital. We went down to that. We had one in Superior one time and we put on an event. So, there’s been plenty, and I think on the whole, most guys are complacent with it now. They pretty well feel that people have respect for Vietnam veterans rather than what they felt at one time, which was disdain. Now they don’t have to feel that way and they don’t feel that way. So, belonging to a Northland Vietnam Veterans’ Association here in Duluth, has brought me closer to what I wished I had been involved in for many more years than I have been. But, I’m happy for it, it’s been a good life.

NR:  Can you just tell me a little bit about now at this point, how that has affected your life?

JL:  How has it affected my life? Well, I still get called on to do things that probably nobody else would be willing to do. I don’t have time for everything I get asked to do. Right now I’m in the process of editing a bunch of tapes that I shot over the years for my daughter-in-law, about my kids, grandchildren. We have grandchildren in Missouri and a son in Missouri. He was in the Air Force; he still works for the Air Force as a civilian. He works in the stealth bomber program. His son was in the Air Force, he’s got a VA disability, going to college now. He also competes in barbequing because he’s a southern boy. We have a granddaughter down there, and most of my family, my son and his family live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, we don’t see our grandchildren as often as we’d like to. But we wished we could.

My skills are still there, I still can see things. I write notes each day that I send to people on the internet, but I don’t send them on the internet so everybody can read them. I just send them to specific people. It’s so funny because, I don’t know if you know what the “Daily Word” is, a little book that people get. Well, I get it on the internet and I read it every day. Then I write my take on it and then I send it forward. I like people to read that first and then read my take on it. But if I don’t write it, boy, those nine or ten people that I send it to, they—and she says, I should have been a preacher. And I’m telling you the truth when I say this, I read that word and I start to write and I don’t even know, it’s just writes, it just goes. It’s weird, sometimes my fingers are going, I know there is a thought there, but it doesn’t seem like it.

Maybe it’s because you came to a point in your life when your realize that there was someone out there taking care of you, and that if you kept yourself—you know, I have learned through all of my years in the military to remain calm. There was a time when I was like other people where I wanted to put my fist through the wall and all that, but that doesn’t happen to me. I may have an immediate ______? but it drops right back down to normal and I just—I’m able to be that way. I bring that back to all those years in the service.  People don’t realize that there is so much in a military career that is more than just wearing a uniform. They don’t realize that these are real people that had real jobs and many of those jobs are far different than you will ever know every existed, or they will never be able to talk about because of what they did.

I have a friend who had a terrible time getting a VA pension or any attention from the VA because he was attached to a secret unit, which they couldn’t find out any information about where he was or what he did. So he had to— and luckily at our prodding we worked hard and finally got him the DAV and the DAV got him through. He’s got the help that he needs now; this guy is very intelligent, very intelligent. He gets a job and is right at the top, but then he can’t—he will not accept somebody saying something wrong. They may say something about politics that he doesn’t agree with and he may get upset. So, it’s—the military shapes your life. I don’t care if you are in for a year, two years, twenty years, thirty years, it shapes your life. You learn to be, and I mean to be, to be who you are. Some people it doesn’t go so good, because they never were in a position where they could make them feel good about what they were doing. They weren’t doing something that made them feel—I’m lucky. I got to do things that made me feel good, not everybody had that experience.

NR:  Is there a lesson that everyone should learn through listening to you and any veteran that is sharing their story?

JL:  Well first of all if you can get a veteran to talk, listen to him. Many of them don’t want to talk about their story, but if you are a friend and you are warm and open to them, many of them will open up and tell you their story. They really need to tell their story because once they tell their story, they hear it. We say—there’s something that we say often in our group as we’re together. It’s kind of funny, but everybody lived their own war. There was no war that was the same for everyone. You may have been in the same unit, you may all have been in the same event, but your personal experience is completely different than everybody else’s. You had your own war and that’s why it’s not easy for people to talk. Because it’s not—they can’t just say, well this was the thing, because it wasn’t just the thing. It was how it affected him at that moment, and how it affected his whole life and those that hold that in have a hard time ever being open. It’s hard for relationships. Many of them lost relationships with their family, because they refused to let themselves go. And I advise anybody, let yourself go.

NR:  Any final thoughts, or anything else that we may have missed, that you’d like to say?

JL:  Yeah, I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to do this. I should have done this a long time ago, but I didn’t do it. Then I have other things that I should give to the Hall. They are not things that people are going to do a lot with, but they are good. I have my Vietnam book, maybe that’s where it belongs. It’s just a three page folder, but somebody might be able to go through it and say, “Oh yeah, that’s interesting, that’s nice,” or “That’s goofy.”  You know that picture that you saw where the cartoons are drawn about me by the guys in the art department? It just all goes back to how I feel that people accepted me.  I don’t have a bon mot that you can live by, except I believe in God. Some people don’t, and that’s their prerogative. And whatever you believe in, believe in it and live up to it for good. Don’t believe in stuff that makes you be bad.

NR:  Right. Well, Jean, I thank you so much. It has been a true privilege and honor for me to listen to your story and I thank you so very much.

JL:  Thank you.  

end of interview

Track 1


Transcribed by Helen Hase


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