Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Will the NFL be as brave as Michael Sam?

By Perry Deane Young

            The question is:  Will the NFL be as brave as Michael Sam?  Missouri’s star All-American lineman has come forth to openly discuss his homosexuality.  Prior to this, he was a prime pick for the NFL Draft.  What will happen now is up to the powers that be in the NFL.

            The question has never been whether there are gay men playing in the NFL.  There have always been gay pro football players; they just lived in fear of losing their careers if their true sexual orientation were made public.  The question has always been how the league would deal with an openly gay player.  And, in the past at least, the answer has always been not very well; in fact, not at all. 

            Back in late 1975, The Washington Star ran a series of articles about gays in sports.  It was a courageous series.  The Redskins’ All-Pro tight end Jerry Smith gave a detailed interview about the agony of living a double life as the macho football hero while knowing secretly he was homosexual.  There was only one problem with the series in general and Smith’s interview in particular, nobody allowed his or her name to be used.  And the groundbreaking series was roundly ignored.

            That was when David Kopay, a 10- year veteran of the NFL, stepped into the picture.  “Well, at least I can do that,” he thought when he read the anonymous interview with his old friend and first love.   People had speculated about gays in the NFL for years, finally Kopay confirmed it.  One sportswriter said:  “Just by standing still and saying who he was, Kopay has reaped a whirlwind.”

            Although Kopay’s playing days were over, it is wrong to assume there were no risks involved in his decision.  By publicly discussing his homosexuality, Kopay knew he was closing the door on any kind of sports-related job.  Until his recent retirement, he worked as a salesman in his uncle’s floor-covering store in Los Angeles.

            In December of  1975, the editor of the series was fearful as he led Kopay across the Star’s newsroom to see an advance copy of the front page interview to be published the next day.   He kept asking if Kopay were sure, did he fully understand the consequences of what he was doing.  All Kopay could feel was relief.  A lifetime of guilt and shame was suddenly lifted from his shoulders.  “It was game time,” he would say later, “the national anthem was playing.”    And he would eventually settle in with no regrets as an elder statesman of the gay rights movement.   

            I read the Kopay interview and we immediately began work on our book,  The David Kopay Story.  It was a painful process for him.  I insisted he go back and confront the family members who had cursed and disowned him, and his former teammates.  In May of that year, he was elected captain of the alumni team at the University of Washington’s annual varsity-alumni game, the first game played in the  King Dome.  But they held the coin toss off the field because they were afraid somebody might take a shot at Kopay, as happened in Patricia Nell Warren’s novel, The Front Runner.  I sat high up in the  stands, dreading the worst, only to join in with a standing ovation as Kopay ran onto the field.  Our book would  be on the New York Times bestseller list for  almost two months in 1978 and 30,000 people wrote to say the book had changed their lives.  Former San Diego Charger Esera Tuaolo said on Good Morning, America he was so tortured by his double life, he was ready to kill himself.  He held up a copy of The David Kopay Story and said, “this book saved my life.” It was a rare and very special moment when an author is able to hear such heartfelt response to his work.  From the beginning, I understood and appreciated the importance of a former pro football player discussing his homosexuality.  Author Merle Miller called me up and said “Kopay has changed a stereotype over night.”  

            In many ways, Kopay and I were cultural opposites.  He was a star player in several sports.  I played piano and never made a team.  But, through our shared experiences we forged a friendship that endures to this day.  I learned that big tough football players are maybe just as human as you and me.

            The men Kopay  had worked with in the NFL were actually proud of what he had done.  Every single one of them had gone through some sort of personal crisis during and after their playing years.  Moreover, I would learn that behind the scenes everybody knew that certain players were gay and it was no big deal to the other players.

            Vince Lombardi, surely the epitome of the macho image in pro sports, was especially tolerant of gays on his team.  In fact, Lombardi’s general manager and information director were both actively homosexual.  Lombardi had no problem knowing about Jerry Smith or Kopay.  His only problem with Kopay was when he dropped a pass in a crucial game.   Lombardi never forgave him.  All that mattered to Lombardi was how they played the game.  The general manager, who lived openly with a younger man and ran a gay bar in Key West in his retirement, told me there was only one time Lombardi got upset about a  player’s being gay.  This had nothing to do with the player’s action on the field, but with the fact he kept getting arrested in the men’s room in Lafayette Park.  It wasn’t his being gay that caused Lombardi to fire him, it was that he had publicly embarrassed the team. 

            In other words, it was  always the “box office,” the public image and ticket sales that ruled the day.  And, I suspect, that will be what ultimately decides whether the NFL’s corporate owners are as brave as young Michael Sam.  Let’s hope they face the reality that attitudes about gays in America have changed dramatically in recent years.  Drafting Michael Sam won’t hurt the box office and might just help the team win some games.  As Lombardi said so well, winning is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Today, we witnessed yet another very expensive full page political ad campaign paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  You have to ask yourself first of all if this organization has any sort of tax exempt status as a religious organization.  Secondly, is this what thousands of poor deluded people gave their hard earned money for?
  The following is from my 1982 book, God's Bullies.  Sadly, the religious right wing is now more powerful than it was when the book was published.  I am no longer as hopeful for redemption as I was then.  But, one must believe that the pendulum of reason will swing back in favor of common sense at some point. 


[Frank] Buchman [founder of Moral Re-Armament] became more and more friendly toward fascism as he be- came more and more anti-Communist. Although he lived until 1961, he never lived down the sentiments expressed in a 1936 interview: "I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of de- fense against the Antichrist of communism. Think what it would mean to the world if Hitler surrendered to the control of God. Or Mussolini. Or any dictator. Through such a man, God could control a nation overnight and solve every last bewildering problem." Without the ref- erences to Hitler, of course, evangelist James Robison of the current right has expressed precisely the same sentiments.

  Most of the political preachers in our time have been more diplo- matic than Coughlin and Buchman. They know how far they can go, which code words to avoid to keep from being labeled a racist or a big- ot. Billy Graham, some of the time, has contended that he has no poli- tics but God's. God seems always to lead him among conservative Republicans, where the money-if not always the political power-is. Graham tried to be friends with Harry Truman. But Truman told Merle Miller years afterward that the big-time evangelist was no friend of his. "He's one of those counterfeits .... All he wants to do is get his name in the newspapers." Actually, Graham wanted to get his picture in the papers, too, and that's how he came to be declared persona non grata in the Truman White House. In his biography of Graham, Marshall Frady describes the evange- list's moment of truth with Truman. Graham and two of his aides, Cliff Barrows and Jerry Beavan, showed up at the White House in white suits, white buckskins, and flower-print ties. Truman welcomed them into the Oval Office, saying he was a Baptist himself. "Well, I immediately began trying to preach to him," said Graham. Truman said he lived by the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. Then, Graham quoted Truman as saying, "If it just weren't for these god- damn newspapers after me every day, and that columnist Drew Pear- son, the sorry SOB .... " Graham then asked if it would be all right if he said a few words of prayer. He put his arm around Truman and stood praying "that God would bless him and his administration and that God would give him wisdom in dealing with all the difficulties in the country and the world." Barrows was punctuating the prayer with "Amen," and "Tell it," and "Yes, Lord." When they got outside, reporters and photographers were waiting with questions. Graham was more than obliging. He and his two aides knelt down and "re-created" the praying scene on the White House lawn for the photographers.

The pictures in the newspapers the next day infuriated Truman, and his staff was told that Graham was never to be invited into the White House as long as he was living there. From then on, Graham was almost as much a figure of Republican politics as the elephant. He was especially close to Dwight D. Eisen- hower and Richard Nixon, and frequently found ways to mention them on his radio and television broadcasts during their campaigns. During the Nixon administration, a Baptist minister told Marshall Frady: "What we have right now is the most powerful man religiously in this nation, Billy Graham, giving the government and its policies and the power community in this country his conspicuous blessing- not just in his preachments, but through all his friendships, all those pleasant little prayer breakfasts, but more than anything else, all his silences in the face of the most arrant outrages by that government. He has especially become a spiritual sanction to this particular adminis- tration. What we've got is almost a Graham-Nixon axis. I don't mean to sound intemperate. But the truth is, Jesus went to the cross because he alienated the powers of his day. Not for nothing do the scriptures say, 'Beware when all men speak well of you.' What I want to know is, how can a man spend thirty years preaching the Gospel, and with maybe only two or three exceptions, not have one mayor, one gover- nor, one banker, one chairman of the board, one president of a cham- ber of commerce, one Defense Department official, one political party chairman-not one/-speak a single ill word against him. You ask me if there's anything finally tragic about Graham in all this? Lord knows, it's tragic."

Graham is now trying to present himself as the elder statesman of the religious right, the voice of reason in a milieu of malcontent fanat- ics. He said in an interview published in the February 1, 1981, Parade magazine that it would be "unfortunate if people got the impression all evangelists belong to that group [the Moral Majority]. The majority do not. I don't wish to be identified with them. "I'm for morality. But morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak out with such authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists can't be closely identified with any particular party or per- son. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left .... "

In spite of Graham's denials about politics, his sermons for three decades more often than not concerned the news of the day. He had opinions on Douglas MacArthur's removal, and about the Korean War, and later about the war in Vietnam, and he didn't hesitate to ex- press them. What people outside the South may not have realized was that his comments about preachers in politics were directed at Martin Luther King, Jr. and a very small number of ministers who were ac- tive in the civil rights movement. When Graham's dear friend Richard Nixon was finally forced to re- sign from the presidency in disgrace, the evangelist could only com- ment about how shocked he was that such a nice man could use such dirty words as those revealed in the White House tapes, as if that were Nixon's only crime.

Although in somewhat duplicitous fashion, Graham himself had said it best: "I have really stayed out of politics purposely. It's pretty hard to do, since so many of my friends are in politics .... You must remember that the worst part of history was in the Dark Ages, when the church ran everything. Too many ministers think they're social en- gineers." Graham may not have heeded his own sound advice, but there is some comfort in our history, which shows that we can and will heal ourselves when this current mood of divisiveness is over. For every bigot we've produced, there's been another voice that spoke out for reason and human decency. The Salem witch trials of 1692 offer an example. While nineteen good men and women were hanged, several times that number were in jail waiting to be hanged when the people came to their senses and put a stop to the hysterical proceedings. And all of this happened through no outside influence; the people simply saw that what they were doing was wrong. Within twenty years, the religious hierarchy had rescinded the excommunication of those hanged as witches, and the legislature had paid remuneration to their survivors. In a book entitled The Devil in Massachusetts, published at the height of the investigations of alleged Communist infiltration of Holly- wood, Marian L. Starkey, a descendant of a Mayflower passenger, concluded her history of the witch trials on a note of hope. "Moral seasons come and go. Late in the nineteenth century, when it was much the fashion to memorialize the witchcraft delusion, honest men discussed it with wondering pity as something wholly gone from the world and no longer quite comprehensible. But such condescension is not for the twentieth century .... "One would like to believe that leaders of the modern world can in the end deal with delusion as sanely and courageously as the men of old Massachusetts dealt with theirs .... What one feels now for delud- ed Salem Village is less pity than admiration and hope-admiration for men whose sanity in the end proved stronger than madness, hope that 'enlightment' too is a phenomenon that may recur."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012



Please note: In the nest to last sentence, I meant to say: If you and your kind had been in charge....[not around] one day i'll learn not to write so fast in the heat of passion!

Rick, this is precisely what I expected from the sports corporation our once great university has now become. What a wimp you and your superiors are for dancing around this very important and timely subject. You and your bosses are not worthy of the many fine people associated with the university in years past who were people of integrity who stood up for what was right no matter what the cost. So what if Tar Heel Sports Radio Network is an independent contractor; it is still a subcontractor of the university. So what if the network includes 50 "diverse" stations. Not one of them except for Rush Radio has ever broadcast anything nearly so vile as what Rush Limbaugh said about a young Georgetown University Law Student. Where in all the corporate gobbledygook in your response is there even a hint of understanding just how serious an insult this was not just to one female student, but to all women? If you and your kind had been around in the 1960s, the University would still be segregated and the Speaker Ban would still be in force. I ask you, sir, finally, have you no shame?
Very sincerely, Perry Deane Young

From: Rick Steinbacher
Sent: Tue, March 6, 2012 5:29:32 PM
Subject: Re: FW: Rush Radio
I am responding to your email to Chancellor Thorp. I am the Associate Athletic Director for Marketing at UNC and in that role serve as the contract manager for our contract with Tar Heel Sports Properties, a division of Learfield Sports which owns and operates the Tar Heel Sports Radio Network as an independent contractor of the University of North Carolina.
Tar Heel Sports Properties has over 50 affiliates on the radio network and they work hard to provide as much "blanket" radio coverage of the entire state of North Carolina as possible for our men's basketball and football live play by play broadcasts. They look for the stations that will agree to carry their radio broadcasts that cover as much of the population in any particular geographic area as possible. In this regard a 100,000 watt FM station such as WRDU 106.1 in the Triangle provides excellent coverage for the Triangle Region and surrounding counties in North Carolina.
The 50 affiliates of the Tar Heel Sports Network include a diverse assortment of non-game time content including rock, country (which WRDU 106.1 was when they first became an affiliate), liberal, conservative, Spanish and many other types of programming. The University, the Athletics Department, and Tar Heel Sports Properties do not control or in any way endorse the normal programming of any of the stations that air the game broadcasts including the recent comments by Rush Limbaugh aired on WRDU 106.1.
Rick Steinbacher
From: Perry Deane Young []
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2012 8:35 AM
To: Thorp, Holden
Subject: Rush Radio
Dear Chancellor Thorp: As a proud UNC graduate, I am embarrassed and ashamed of the silence you "most can hear" regarding the University's involvement with Rush Radio. In my day, there would have been a chorus of indignant faculty members and students protesting this outrage. What Rush Limbaugh did goes way beyond the pale of decency and demands a response from all who are involved with him and his affiliate radio stations. To borrow Rush's own imagery, what do you call a university that would do anything for money?
Very sincerely, Perry Deane Young [class of 1963--and 1993]

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Back in the world

Back in the world now. got in Monday afternoon after a long long long ass feels like it'll be sore for a month.....quickly got back into my old routine. slept soundly and up at 4:30; my bookstore is back in operation and all is well.

Seoul korea airport, 3 hour layover for my flight to Atlanta and then on home to RDU and Chapel Hill….

What an extraordinary 2 weeks in my life it’s been. Everybody had left and Ralph and I still had the “War Remnants Museum to see,” mainly because the Requiem exhibit in memory of all the photographers who died was there.

Neither one of us was prepared for what we saw. There were the expected American aircraft and tanks; there also were replicas of the torture chambers where the Viet Cong and NVA were brutally interrogated by the Americans and the South Vietnamese.

The exhibit actually began or ended with a real guillotine brought to Vietnam by the French….and one had to remember that this was actually invented as a humane device that killed quickly without the usual extended pain. What struck me as I thought about it this morning was how we moved from the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Phnom Penh to our own American atrocities in VN…..Larry Burroughs family going to pay homage to the girl in his photographs….Richard Brummett, coming back to apologize to the family of the old man tortured by his sergeant…and breaking down as he told Ralph about it.

The reconstructed torture chambers included real barbed wire “tiger cages,” so tiny a prisoner could not move without being sliced by barbed wire. we went into the main exhibition building, a very modern open structure with no air conditioning but lots of fans scattered about. Again, all the weapons were there, but what was truly numbing were the displays of families destroyed by the war—not VC, not the enemy, but mothers, fathers, children….with snapshots and formal portraits and life stories. The My Lai massacre took up an entire wall…again not political enemies now, but real live human beings with relatives, friends and families. Another display was devoted to the unbelievably barbaric slaughter Sen. Bob Kerrey engaged in—killing women and children and gutting them like animals.

With the oppressive heat adding to the emotions, we were both numb by the time we reached the 3rd floor. It is a splendid exhibit, if non-air conditioned! Huge fans have been placed around at Tim Page’s very loud insistence…..And there were all the photos of the real horror of war, our own American troops in those last desperate moments facing death.

And there were my friends. Unlike earlier exhibits I’d seen, the photos were a mixed bag from all the photographers…..with various ones spread about the enormous space, not grouped in special exhibits….although there is a special wall or two or three for Larry Burroughs incredible photos. There were several photos by Dana Stone and Sean Flynn….and by Henri Huet and Kyoichi Sawada….I thought about all the fun I’d had with Dana; the quiet moments with Flynn….about what a gentle man was Sawada and how kind he always was with me…that weekend he and his wife, Bert Okuley and I went from Hong Kong to Macau….and I had to marvel once again at the amazing experience had dropped me into in Vietnam….such talented people I am humbled even to have my name listed among theirs….their contributions so much more important than anything I’ve ever done or ever will do. How lucky am I to have been a member of that very special group and to have shared in this historic experience.

I will be sorting out these two weeks for a very long time. Carl Robinson jammed a lifetime—several life times—of experiences into 14 very short days. I told him I’m like the kid who goes to summer camp and loves it and then years to take all his pals home with him, knowing how much he’ll miss them once he gets home. But, again, how lucky was I to have ever been a member of this fascinating band of reporters…..

may 2, 2010

May 2, 2010

And suddenly it is all over. We have been so busy for so long, we didn’t stop to think it was all about to end.

Thanks to friend Carl, we got an extra day out of it. The real final day was Friday April 30, “Liberation Day,” as they celebrate the “fall” of Saigon here. I had a very practical reason for not going to the parade, I was not sure I could sit for 5 hours without going to the bathroom! But several others didd get up at 4 to catch the govt bus at 5 and take their places in the reviewing stand. According to Peter Arnett, 30 American soldiers had a plaace of honor as Communist Vietnam celebrated itself. Hilarious entry from Jimmy Pringle that he confronted a man he thought was head of the party and natural son of Ho Chi Minh; only to find out the next day that man was in Hanoi. [For the record, the man laughed at the question and probably didn’t understand it.]

We had a leisurely cruise on the Saigon River at noon, more wonderful Vietnamese food….cha gio as always, but I never get tired of it. Oddly, the nuoc mam we’re being served here is not what I remember; it is too sweet. What I remember was a pungent pepper and vinegary sauce, fermented fish!

Ralph and I were sitting in Brodard’s [now Gloria Jeans, an Aussie brand of Starbucks] when he spotted Page going down Dong Choi [old Tu Do Street]. I yelled at him and he came on over and joined us for iced coffee. We did a long interview of him…he looked up above the magnificent modern Gucci store where our old apt. building used to be, and said, “Flynn is in the window.” The entire block where our apt. building was located was razed for the enormous Sheraton hotel skyscraper. But, the sounds of espresso machines and chatter were too much; not good quality but Ralph says it’s understandable. Page relived his first meeting with Flynn and described in fine detail his apt. in Paris and all the weapons that adorned it.

The final banquet was at Maxim’s one of the grand old restaurants [complete with floor show] from the French days here. It would have been yet another banquet, except at some point we heard a disturbance on the street. Kim Dung came back from the front door saying “fireworks.” I yelled, “incoming,” and took off outside into a mob of people gathered along the riverfront beside the Majestic Hotel…..and we were all awed by the most amazing fireworks display I have ever seen. [leave it to the Orientals, after all, they invented the stuff]…..It was all so exciting, a young Vietnames couple standing beside me just spontaneously shared a big long hug.

Edet, the young filmmaker who’s doing a film about Kate Webb, was out front and we exchanged cameras to get shots of each other watching the fireworks….

And of course, I had to remember my first visit to that spot, Jan. 29, 1968, when every building was covered in firecrackers at the start of Tet….and then at 3 a.m., the “incoming” wasn’t firecrackers any more. And my office called and said, “If you can get across the street, come to work!”

Carl gave a nice short speech to end it all and brought Kim Dung up to say she never ever wanted to do it again. I had thought about standing up and saying a grand thank you, but it was all so perfect, I just didn’t want to spoil the moment. Don North sang “we’ll meet again” very badly; and Scotsman Pringle led us all in Auld Lang Syne, joining hands around the room I burst out with “we gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do….” That was the real anthem of Vietnam.

How does one thank someone for such an overwhelming life changing experience. I told Carl that I’ll be going back to the world ten years younger….and it’s the truth. The love and support I’ve felt here has re-charged my batteries in a way I simply could never have imagined. And over it all, a sense of fun we shared then and we still share. Fucking Page, still crazy after all these years. Peter Arnett is 75 years old for christ’s sake and he’s still as enthusiastic as a teenager about whatever he’s doing or talking about. He’s still the boy reporter, out front of every gathering, asking questions, taking pictures. May he last forever!

The fascinating thing is that our bond was so strong from “Vietnam,” and all that word came to mean in our lives, we just picked up as close as we had always been, even though we hadn’t seen each other in 30 and 40 years.

Yesterday, Saturday, May 1, was “Workers’ Day,” a major communist holiday; so the whole country was out celebrating. Carl laid on a Mercedes van for us to go down to Con Phung, the island of the Phoenix, where lived the Coconut Monk and his followers and where our little group once spent a magical few days together in Dec. 1968. Just outside Saigon, we got on the magnificent new four lane highway and it took us all the way to My Tho. Carl had said a new bridge would take us over to the island and I was disappointed we wouldn’t go by boat, but in fact, we did have to go the last leg of the trip by the same little putt putt boat that had taken us there 42 years ago.

In 1968, the coconut monk’s little religious Disneyland had stood out above the Mekong; now it seemed really overgrown with greenery. As we got close to the dock, however, we could see it had become a major tourist attraction to the Vietnamese. Gone was any semblance of spirituality or religiosity; At best it was a curiosity, and an amusing one, to the tourists scrambling about the weird structures that had been built with such reverence. In the main entrance building, [the top 2 floors now a hotel!] there was a kind of museum, with a huge wall dedicated to the heroes of the Revolution from that area. Madame Binh was from Ben Tre.

Finally, we found a wall dedicated to the Dao Dua, the Coconut monk, himself….

and there I was!

There was a fuzzy copy of a picture of John Steinbeck, me and the coconut Monk leading the prayers that day in late 1968. The caption said that the monk had thought he could “convince foreigners to venerate him.” [“And he DID,” laughed Arnett when I told him later.] Page had told me that when he first saw that picture a year ago, the guides had told him it was the Dao Dua “with his CIA friends.” “No, no, no,” Page had said, “this is a good old boy from North Carolina.”

Going with us on the trip were Carl’s wife Kim Dung, who did a masterful job of arranging absolutely everything; John Gianini, a young aussie cameraman named Sean Gibbons [whose father had worked for upi 1966-1970], George Hamilton and my movie guy Ralph Hemecker. Also, Mike Morrow, who broke the My Lai story with his Dispatch News Service and who has added a wonderful intellectual presence to all our gatherings. Gianini had gotten involved with our group as a very young Army intelligence sergeant. He would sneak out documents—mainly interviews of Communist POWS captured in Cambodia—and bring them to Louise Stone when she was just beginning her futile search for Dana. He had thought he couldn’t afford to come to the reunion but at the last minute got an assignment from the American Catfish Farmers Association to document how unsafe the VN catfish farms were…..He and Kim Dung broke off at My Tho and went on their assignment.

Ralph and I had planned to do interviews of everybody who had been close to Flynn and Stone, but the days had slipped by and I was worried we just might not get them. The trip turned out to be a perfect venue for the interviews. On the way down, George told about first meeting Sean in traffic court in Palm Beach, then about helping him in his film career and gadding about London and Beirut; and that last time he saw him: Flynn unexpectedly got off a plane in Geneva and George never saw him again. It turns out he’s writing a book of his own and his reminiscences of Flynn and his participation in the reunion will be the first chapter. He has turned out to be a high point of the whole reunion; telling one wickedly funny story after another and keeping us all entertained with his self-deprecating wit. “Just look up George Hamilton and Rat on Google,” he laughed after telling about one incredible predicament he got into recently in Australia. “I’m not exaggerating, it’s all true.” He handles his celebrity extremely well. My friend Alice kept wanting to get a picture with him in Phnom Penh, but was too embarrassed to ask. Finally, she got up nerve to ask him and his response was classic: “I thought you’d never ask!”

On the way back, Ralph interviewed Carl about Flynn. Like me, he had not known Flynn for a long time, but it was still a very deep and special relationship. Sean had been the best man at the wedding when Carl Married Kim Dung in May 1969, not long after Flynn and I had come to Saigon after Page was wounded. And, then, we all talked all the way back to Saigon about Flynn and the whole war experience and what it all meant….a fascinating discussion we could not possibly have programmed any better. Mike Morrow added his slow insightful comments throughout. Mike had been part of our group through Steinbeck and of course Dispatch news. He was also captured by the Khmer Rouge and held for 30 days in Cambodia. More recently, the communist government here had arrested him and held him in prison here for 40 days. He was very reluctant to join us for the reunion, but Carl had talked him into it.

The night was topped off by yet another dramatic evening with old hacks, only this time they were some very brave reporters from the other side. Our host was Nguyen Van Vinh, now 60, who had covered Jane Fonda’s notorious visit to Hanoi. We were taken by taxi out past the Bien Hoa Bridge to yet another beautiful public park, this one laid out around a lake, with several open-air restaurants. They introduced the former NVA/VC reporters first and described their years in the jungle before the victory in Saigon 1975. When they introduced us, Arnett took the microphone and pointed to a wiry little photographer: “He was a stringer for the AP and on the second day after the fall, he came into our office and said: ‘I am VC!’”] Tim Page was holding court with a group of young Vietnamese reporters. He is an official hero of the revolution and all the local reporters have been interviewing him relentlessly. A tough little old lady, 81 years old, who looked 40, was introduced as a hero journalist of the revolution, having run the liberation news service from the jungle for more than 15 years. She came and sat by Peter Arnett. And talked about her post-revolutionary life. She owns 5 businesses and travels frequently to New York to visit her grandson, a student at NYU; she loves Americans and says we should all go on with our lives. Although some right wingers in America would never believe it, Peter is just as tough with the communists as he is with everybody else he interviews. He always talks about the brave Americans who died here, no matter how uncomfortable it makes his hosts. His brother-in-law is with the World Bank and has a very fine house here. Peter says he helped negotiate the “moi moi” or “doi moi” accommodation with capitalism that has been so successful in Vietnam.

I don’t know how PAge does it, but when we saw him after the parade, he was looking pretty bedraggled; only to rise again that afternoon!

What an amazing 2 weeks in my life. There are no words to express the gratitude I feel in my heart for the friends who made the trip possible and to Carl and Kim Dung who spent hours and days and weeks of hard labor making sure it all happened. As with my original Vietnam experience, I leave here a changed, a better person.

[My apologies to the friends who were following me on facebook; unfortunately, there is no access to faceboook here in VN.] Having a goodbye breakfast with George Hamilton and Page this morning; they’re both leaving later today. And then Ralph and I have a few sights we want to see and then tomorrow night, once again, I say goodbye to Vietnam. Not really; an important part of me will always be here.

May 3:

My last morning in Saigon. Started to unwind yesterday; we took a hydrofoil through the delta down to the beautiful resort/casino town of Vung Tao on the coast. We only stayed an hour, because all the boats back were booked up and we came within a hair of getting stuck there. After a hilarious scene selling a fake Rolex to Ralph, George bid his farewell, flying off to Frankfurt Germany and then on to Cancun. He shook hands with the group, looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll call you.”

We’ve planned a relaxed no hassle day; going to the war remnants museum and then doing some shopping and then a last night at the Majestic rooftop bar….we sat there saying nothing last night, just absorbing the warm moist air coming off the river and enjoying the boat and car traffic down below…..a lot of memories, from then and now…..but the party’s over, time to go……

Thursday, April 29, 2010

4-30-2010 liberation day in saigon

Liberation day in saigon, april 30, 2010

I am sitting in my air conditioned hotel room watching as the huge Liberation Day parade just 6 blocks away takes place. It is the expected communist spectacle and I would like to have been there in person. But that meant getting on the bus at 5 A.m. and sitting still for 4-5-6 hours and I just could not face it. We didn’t get in until after 1 a.m. last night and I slept soundly until 6:30; I would have been no good without that sleep.

I went out just now hoping I might be able to get within a block or so to see the parade, but I had already been warned about the extra tight security. There are barricades across all the streets and no pedestrians are allowed through.

Only four or five old hacks went through the government red tape to get into the parade…..again, I wish I could have been there; but glad I’m not sitting there in the heat.

Our next event is a boat cruise on the Saigon River, boarding at noon at the dock in front of the old navy headquarters, just down from 19 Ngo Duc Khe where UPI offices were located.

Yet another amazing day yesterday only this time Carl tried to pack too many events into a scant 12 hours. Three buses took us out to the Cu Chi Tunnels---a major major tourist attraction now, with a huge reception center and tours of the area still pockmarked from the b-52 raids. The jungle growth has come back now, but at the time, it was an absolutely barren landscape, completely seared off by all the intensive bombing. The tunnels were located a few klicks from the US 25th division headquarters near the center of the town of Cu Chi. At one time, the tunnels extended for 250 kilometers and housed up to 12,000 people at a time.

We were ushered into a conference hall and seated at tables, under the obligatory portraits of Marx, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh. Capt. Huynh Van Chia stood with his interpreter and welcomed us. He had only one arm, the result of being hit by an American APC 113 in 1967. He said: “I wish you health and happiness and success….and those as old as me, I wish you to live to 100 years and I hope I will live 100 years so I can meet you again.”

Guides in uniforms led us through the compound; at one place, the guide challenged us to find the entrance to one of the tunnels….when an old hack stepped into it a firecracker like explosive went off and scared hell out of all of us. The real tunnels were dug into dirt and were barely wide enough for these tiny VC to get through them. Our guide showed up where the opening was and he slipped in, then jumped out behind us and said, “I’ve got you covered.”

However, wouldn’t you know, for the American tourists, they have widened the tunnels and reinforced them with Concrete. We all crawled down in there and even with an occasional light, it was difficult to imagine the life they led there in the heat and under such intensive bombing.

At a thatch roofed building outfitted with maps and movie screen, a guide explained how they built the tunnels with hand scoops and small shovels; working at night. There was a mock-up of the tunnel system showing where the hospital room was located and also where a well provided water for the complete…..iron pipes brought in the only ventilation they had.

The guide was brutally honest about the tunnels effectiveness….they could withstand the smaller bombs, but people were always killed when the bigger bombs hit. The documentary film told the stories of various “American killer heroes,” and how they had suffered and how they had stood up to the Americans. The voice over was provided by a sweet-voiced woman speaking clearly enunciated English. I had to wonder how ex-G.I.’s must feel as they sit through this: “Like a crazy bunch of devils they fired into women and children; they fired into houses, they fired into greenery; they fired into our kitchens….”

The guide showed us a deep “punji pit,” as we called them in 68, loosely covered with leaves, it opened to hundreds of poisoned sharp bamboo stakes. He explained that the idea was not to kill just one person, but to wound several, which would take out several troops caring for them…..same same American cluster bombs which were designed with the same purpose.

We finally got back on the bus, running an hour or two late by then, and went up to the Cao Dai Cathedral at Tay Ninh. We were scheduled to ride the cable car to the top of Nui Ba Din mountain where, as Carl said, the Americans had a communications tower on top but the VC were dug into the mountain sides with artillery and rocket emplacements.

It was obvious we weren’t going to make it for our big 7:30 banquet, so we cut the tour short, only to get stuck in a monumental traffic jam back in Saigon……some of us evacuated the bus and grabbed taxis only to learn later that the bus managed to make the turn and get on into the city.

The banquet on the 3rd floor of the very elegant Caravelle Hotel was the high point of the week. Several old hacks had spread out photos on tables, the most interesting of course were Neal Ulevich’s Polaroid portraits of 100 young reporters, now returning as old hacks….a very handsome Matt Franjola, Peter Arnett with hair, and Horst Faas with a [relatively] slim waist line. And there was I: hair down to my shoulder, thick mustache, bags under my eyes. I was 31 years old [this was in Dec. 1972 when I came back to write my book] but I looked impossibly young, my own waist still 28”!

It was, of course, the best food we’d been served all week, a buffet spread all the way around the edge of two sides of the huge room. I sat at a table with Mau and Page and George and Ralph and Al Rockoff, who’d brought along two more copies of my book for me to sign. I was very touched by that and told him so.

At one point, Carl passed around the microphone a dozen or so old hacks said a few words-well, some had more than a few words. Tim Page was his usual eloquent self, speaking poetry quite naturally from the heart. He paused at the mention of his brother Flynn, genuine feelings of loss we all felt. He told about the tacky intrusion into our reunion by the two Aussie bounty hunters and about his own search of nearly 40 years looking for the remains of his beloved friend.

There were some wonderfully funny lines, some awkward attempts at humor. It was all heavily weighted towards the AP because they were the ones who first started having these reunions and have been the most stalwart in keeping them going. Ulevich had a terrific black and white film of the press conference during the Christmas bombing in 1972. I was here then, supposedly on assignment for Rolling stone, but really just getting stoned and not knowing what the fuck I was up to….how innocent ulevich’s picture makes me look, until you notice the bags under my eyes. The point of the five o clock follies during the Christmas bombing was that they would hold the briefings as scheduled but would say nothing. I said the briefing had become what it always was, not a forum for disclosing information, but a ruse for withholding it. I wrote a piece about it never published in Rolling Stone, but eventually in Quill magazine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Second day in old Saigon

April 28, 2010

Home again in old Saigon [what’s left of it] and New Ho Chi Minh City. We got in from Phnom Penh by road late yesterday afternoon and after long showers, went straight to the old hacks at the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel. Once headquarters of the mighty US information operations, it has been refurbished into a piss elegant hotel.

A sweat-soaked Carl was there to greet us and to introduce us to a young VN information officer and a terrific fellow who was a cameraman with the north Vietnamese during the war. He’s 60 but looks 30 and he and Ralph had some nice talk about cameras and how we might be able to film here.

Meanwhile, the guys who claim to have found Flynn’s bones made their appearance and just would not leave. We had several confrontations, and Mau was in tears. We just cannot let these guys spoil our party.

I just finished a walk around our old haunts. There is an enormous Sheraton Hotel skyscraper covering the block where our apartment was located, a fancy Gucci shop on the first floor. The name “brodard,” is still across the street, but it’s no longer a French coffee shop. The old UPI building at 19 Ngo Duc Khe is still there, most recently used as a restaurant. But it appears to be abandoned. When Ralph and I walked by later, the restaurant was open, but not exactly a place where I’d risk eating. Walked around the corner to the old Majestic. It was a wonderfully seedy old colonial haunt when I stayed there my first night in Saigon in January 1968, but just in time for its 85th anniversary, it has been transformed into yet another very elegant hotel, with rooms at $300 and $400 a night. I went up to the rooftop bar where our event will be tonight and have never seen such a sumptuous breakfast buffet set out anywhere.

April 27….the trip over yesterday was remarkable for how it recalled those wonderful times when we all used to pal around together, not worrying about time or deadlines, stopping along the way to shop for scarves and hats and just to look at the people in the markets. Hamilton turns out to be the same kind of shopper Flynn and Page always were; we stopped at a market to buy some of the scarves page wears all the time…looks to me like they’d make you hotter in this heat, but the look is cool, I reckon.

It was an odd moment for the three of us who had been so close to Flynn and Stone when we got to the town of Chi Pou. Page showed us where the little café was where they sat arguing over whether to take that last ride out past the roadblock. An old lady [83] was there and our man Nit talked with her, but she didn’t remember any foreigners getting captured, didn’t remember two guys on a motorcycle; but she said there was an old man near the temple and he would….and so we followed a kid on a motorcycle down the street a ways. A Chinese ancestor shrine was set up in an impeccably neat room behind us as this wonderful old man came out to answer our questions. He was 81 and had been stationed in Saigon in the French army. He did not know about any westerners being captured there, except for 3 black men; he didn’t remember seeing any Americans with cameras or on motorbikes; he was refreshingly honest. Another fellow [57] said he had heard stories, but didn’t know if they were true and so wouldn’t repeat them.
And so we rode on down Highway 1 to the border crossing, where our bags were loaded into a man-drawn cart or wheelbarrow for the long walk across the line into Vietnam. We passed from the more lackadaisical Cambodia into a rigidly military country, everything neat and strict, no smiles here, officially at least. It was only a couple hours into Saigon; when I lived here it seemed like the border must be hundreds of miles away….and, of course, with a war going on, it might as well have been.

3 p.m. April 28, 2010

Just finished an interview with a delightful young Vietnamese reporter-- Lam Phan Phuong. She seems so young and really tough, competitive….carl had told me she wanted to cover the demonstrations in Thailand but she was not senior enough, so she got assigned to cover the old hacks reunion.

Our first official function tonight at the rooftop bar of the Majestic. Cu Chi Tunnels and Nui Ba Din mountain and the Cao Dai cathedral tomorrow; Friday a luncheon cruise on the river and then Friday night one final dinner at Maxim’s.

I walked with Ralph down to the Majestic and we had lunch there…..a bus boy came up to Ralph while I was in the john and he was talking about how horrible it was here in Saigon when the Communists took over. The communists have no rich and no poor, so if you have house and car, they take….. He said his father had worked with the Americans and so lost everything. He asked Ralph where he was from in America and Ralph told him California, and his eyes glazed over at the thought of that wonderful place he’d only heard about.

It must have been a historic moment worth studying when the Vietnamese communists realized it wasn’t working and decided to compromise with capitalism. Whatever it is, it works. The rest of the world is in economic collapse; ho chi minh city appears to be a boom town with skyscrapers going up every way you look. I guess the 1950s Soviet image of communists allowing only a sterile utilitarian place was too strong in my mind, but the hotels here are truly grand, with all the decadent capitalist details we all know and love…..and there is about the place a busy prosperous air…..

Sunday, April 25, 2010

missing blogs from the weekend

April 25, 2010

It is 4:30 a.m. and we are up in attempt to possibly see Angkor the way Sean Flynn saw it when he was here in 1969…without the tourists. Two problems we may encounter; we can’t get into the Angkor park until after sunset; and there will still be thousands of tourists.

It is an amazing thing to see here in Siem Reap that ruins 700 and 800 years old are supporting a whole city, a whole area. There is an international airport, and literally dozens and dozens of luxury hotels every way you look, even a couple of fancy golf courses! Angkor Wat is the main industry, almost the only industry….and I kind of like that.

I don’t like trying to see something so overwhelmingly beautiful with thousands of chattering tourists all around me, but yesterday it didn’t seem to bother me. Yesterday, we started out by going to one of the temples [built to honor the king’s mother[ which was still in an overgrown state. It is really something to see….the enormous vines and roots of a banyan like tree wrapped around the ancient monuments, cracking them in half or in some cases completely shattering them.

After that we went on over to the more familiar towers of Angkor Wat itself. It was excruciatingly hot and like many others, I had stop and rest a few times. And drank a dozen diet cokes and plain soda waters.

These are amazing monuments. Whatever one’s feelings about the inhumanity of religions, nearly all religions, with the possible exception of Buddhism, it is an incredibly complex work of art. The carved reliefs along the interior of various scenes from the Hindu Ramayana—rama facing off the evil monkey king hanuman---are absolutely amazing. Weird wild contortions as the sides of good and evil fight it out and raise hands in delirious dances—of victory or defeat, I reckon. Most of the stonework appears to be sandstone, but so many people have rubbed some of the figures, they look like polished black marble. The main towers that appear on the Cambodian flag are quite extraordinary to behold. Like the pyramids in Egypt and the Acropolis in Athens, their very familiarity [from pictures] add to the stunning moment when you behold them in person. In Athens, I was struck by the Acropolis rising right in the middle of the city…and I walked up there, just to feel how it must have felt to the ancients….and in Cairo, there were the familiar pyramids rising up at the very edge of a tacky suburb of the city.

Ralph showed me where various parts of the main temple were used for the Angelina Jolie movie, Tomb Raiders, although I may have the title of that film wrong. It’s hard to imagine how we could ever get access to such a popular tourist site for our film, but he thinks it’s possible….also possible to juxtapose shots of empty ruins with other scenes less populated…..there are Hindu/buddhistic ruins all over the country, although none so magnificent as these.

With Siam on the west and Vietnam on the east, Cambodia is a country that has a deep, historic inferiority complex. The Buddhist teachers tell their students to learn their numbers or the Chinese and Vietnamese will take advantage of them. BUT, they all cling to the image of the magnificent Angkor wat as something so very grand their own people once built….so there is greatness within them if they can only find it again.

It had been 13 years since Ralph came to Chapel Hill to write the script for our movie, but we bonded so totally at that time, it doesn’t seem like any time has passed at all. He is in remarkable physical condition, and always razor sharp with a witty comeback if I get too smart, or too lax….lots of nice quality time alone for us to talk about The Movie and everything else under the sun. I’m waiting now for him to get his shower and come go watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat as our subject Flynn may once have done….

…..and so our wonderful tuk tuk driver was waiting for us in the dark and we puttered on out to Angkor Wat and the road was already crowded with people seeking the same quiet setting we were….hundreds of people were already at the main Angkor wat…..

out of order

These blogs are not totally out of order because I wasn't able to hook up to the internet when I made a couple of them. Here is one about our visit to the killing fields. When i mentioned to Ralph that I had not felt the revulsion I expected at the sight of all those skulls and bone fragments, he said: "It'll come back." I'm sure it will. ANyhow, I'll copy the two missing blogs and paste them out of order....

one quiet day

IT is monday morning and nothing at all planned for the day. Ralph and I had a great trip up to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. Flew up Saturday morning, came back Sunday afternooon. We stayed at the Auberge hotel near the old market, a hotel Graham Greene might well have stayed in....beautiful old courtyards full of tropical foliage, dark wood stairways and thick heavy doors, all overshellacked for a hundred years. The town was all a bustle getting ready for the major summer Buddhist festival on Tuesday, complete with a visit from the king himself. Banners stretched across every street every 50 feet and flags of all the southeast asia nations unfurled from every light post.

we had, of course, come there to connect with the kind of quiet strange experience Sean Flynn had on his visit in 1969, but that can never be. Angkor has become a major major tourist attraction, with more than a million visitors. Looking at the guide book, we thought the ruins at Ta Prohm, still in an overgrown state, would be a good place to start and it was. Roots and vines from huge banyan trees have wrapped around and strangled the ancient hindu gods and goddesses. And here and there still a few local shrines to the later buddhist images. One funny moment. We kept hearing what we thought must be an exotic bird, very faintly, and both of us said: we've got to have that sound....but as we climbed over yet another tumbled temple, we came on a young girl selling an odd kind of clapper. that was our bird! we bought two. one dollah.

The next morning, we got up at 4:30 to go see the sunrise, thinking now we might find some quiet away from the tourists. We should have known better. Hundreds of people were already in place, but nothing like the previous day. Ralph got some really good still and moving pictures as the dawn brok over the towers of the main Angkor temple. We had a wonderful tuk tuk driver who really looked after us. He took us around to the enormous Buddha faces carved into the Bayon ruins and there we found the peace and quiet we'd been looking for. I also found a delightful group of monks climbing about the ruin and posed for pictures with them.

The ritual with the king on Tuesday will involve a ceremony in which the king plows the first furrow in a field, thus assuring a bountiful crop for all his people. While we were there, there was a run-through rehearsal using three teams of royal oxen and a very primitive wooden plow. These were the healthiest cattle we'd seen anywhere in the country. most of them are emaciated. The royal gamelan [orchestra of xylophones] and the royal ballet were also there; they didn't do any dances, but we did get to hear a rehearsal of some of the music.

Back in town, our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Ban, took us on a wild ride through some of the older and poorer parts of town out to a lake--or at least it'll be a lake when the rainy season starts. The importance of this was being able to show Ralph a setting like Dong Palane, the section of Vientiane where Flynn and I once got so stoned on opium, described in the book and a key scene in our script. Thatched huts up on stilts, the kind of places where we'd go smoke opium in LAos and Vietnam.

Back here in Phnom Penh, we connected up with Tim Page and his young Aussie cameraman, Sean, who never says a word, but seems remarkable competent and adept at all the technical stuff none of us old hacks can understand, and George Hamilton who had had a frustrating day, and wished he'd gone to Angkor with us.

What a delightful new friend has Hamilton turned out to be. He tells one wickedly funny story after another. But, more important, he is wonderfully supportive of my book and speaks passionately about what a great film it's going to be. At this point, we have discussed every possible angle and possibility for it....and I am forever grateful for his interest.

A moment of high drama as friend Page described in detail how he got his last major wound and left a piece of his skull in Vietnam. What I'd never connected before was how close he was when he was wounded to where just two years later Flynn and Stone would be captured on the other side of the border in Cambodia.

The whole nasty episode with the two Aussie bounty hunters seems to have really gotten to him. He calls them Feral I and Feral II. Their claim that they had found Flynn's bones has now been totally dismissed by the official JPAC people who have examined the bones in Hawaii. They say the dental work is clearly not American, and the fragments belong to an indigenous person. The JPAC deputy director is a terrific old boy from Texas named Johnie [sic] Webb and we've spent a good deal of time with him. We recorded an interview with him which dispelled a dozen different myths about the search for the missing and dead correspondents.

Toward the end of the evening [midnight] Page told me how weary he was of this long long search for Flynn's remains. "Perry deane, I really think we're going to find them this year. And once we've found them, I think I am going to die." He said it without any sort of self pity, just this is what is going to happen.

Tomorrow we are renting a van and going down to the spot at Chi Pou on Highway 1 where Flynn and Stone were captured. After spending some time filming there, we'll go on over to the nearby VN border and catch a bus into saigon...what I know from last night's remembrances is that we will also be going with a Klick or two of the spot where Page was so horribly wounded in 1969.

I think the reunion in Saigon will be a lot more relaxed. I decided not to be a guest of the government, although I'll surely take in their victory parades and exhibitions. I am being interviewed by a local reporter and I'm actually looking forward to her questions. Last night page put a real damper on my expectations by running down a list of landmarks so important to us which have now been destroyed. Where our apt. was on Tu Do St., is now the location of a 35-story skyscraper....

Carl Robinson reports from Ho Chi Minh City that the government has gone all out for the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the liberation or fall of Saigon....all the 4road ways decorated with elaborate peace doves.....but, today, it's nice to have no plans at all; although I do miss having that air conditioned bus with the police escort.