21 Days in the Saigon Underground
The Birth and Death of Radio First Termer
- By Dave Rabbit
35 years after the last words were spoken on the "Big 69", I find myself excited again about having the opportunity to relive and tell the true story of a part of my life that will be with me until they bury me face down in my grave so the whole world can kiss my ass. Just kidding, I have had a great life. However, like all things, there always seems to be something missing and, in my case, it was not being able to do my 3-hour radio program for an eternity. The fun, the fly by the seat of my pants without a net shows, the close calls, the looking over my shoulder knowing that this may be the day I end up spending the rest of my tour in Long Bien prison. It was a self-inflicted, self-fragging adrenalin rush. The only purpose of the show was to give the troops a laugh, a break from the life and death struggle that they were in second to second, if only for a heartbeat.
I wish I could tell you that I had a master plan or even had an agenda when it started out. I cannot. However, it is funny how things that are not planned in the beginning seem to mold things as they go and you find yourself hanging on for dear life on a roller coaster from hell. As I recount the events that led me to Saigon and my destiny, remember that only one little thing had to change, just one. If any little thing changed on this journey, Radio First Termer would have never existed. One other bit of irony, if you will, is that my birthday is August 15, 1948. AFVN’s first day of broadcast in Vietnam was August 15, 1962, on my 14th birthday. You can call it luck, I call it FATE.
In the summer of 1965, about the time Adrian Cronauer was giving AFVN a new reality check, I was an incoming junior in my High School. I always had a desire to be a rock and roll star. I had a Fender guitar and a Fender amp. Three other students and I started a band and, in our minds, we were going to be the next Beatles. One day, about 6 weeks later, two other guys came over for a jam session and they were great. Bottom line, I sucked and was told I was not needed.
After my junior year started, I was approached by the new guys and asked if I would be interested in just singing. I said yes, and one of the hottest bands in our area was born. During this time of screaming out songs by the Kinks, Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc., my voice began to change a bit and became deeper. This was also, and there are numerous teachers (if they were still alive) that would attest to this, that I began my class clown, hell raiser, indestructible stage. The band and I stayed together until my senior year until I got in a fight with a fan and was fired. So is the life of a rock star.
Like most students of the time, I watched the Vietnam War play out over dinner with my folks. With each passing story, with each passing death that I saw, I knew that I was not going to go there. As I had a late birthday, August 15, my parents held me back a year and did not start school until I was seven. Therefore, August 15, 1966 I was an incoming senior and was draftable by the Army as I was eighteen. Of course, I was deferred because I was still in High School, but I knew my days were numbered and I had, if memory serves, a low number.
Upon graduation in May 1967, I made the intelligent decision that I was bored with school and did not want to go to college. So to avoid being drafted and going to Vietnam, I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force for four years. "I'll show them", I said. Therefore, on my 19th birthday, August 15, 1967, I left for basic training in Amarillo, Texas. From basic, I went to tech school for Ground Radio at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.
After 6 weeks, I found out that I was colorblind and the Air Force gave me a choice of reassignment. I had the choice of Security Police or Supply. I chose SUPPLY and went to Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado. This Air Force career choice, unknown to me at the time, would be instrumental in my story.