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Adrian Cronauer: Air Force Radio Announcer in Vietnam
Adrian Cronauer is the name many people associate with the movie Good Morning, Vietnam ï¿½?? the story of an Air Force radio announcer who used imagination and innovation to make more of a difference with his craft than his superiors felt they could tolerate. The real Adrian Cronauer, although he may not be as outrageous as the myth makes him, is a man whose talents and experience give him a unique perspective on the Vietnam War.
Cronauer's involvement with communications and media began at a very early age. The only child of a machinist and a teacher, he got his first taste of television by playing piano on a locally produced children's program in Pittsburgh. During his high school years, he volunteered at the local Public Broadcasting System station. He started out opening letters but ended up doing radio announcing by the time he was attending the University of Pittsburgh. He also played a major part in starting the school's campus radio station. By 1962, he was a full-time student majoring in broadcasting at the American University in Washington, D.C.
Cronauer needed only 11 credit hours to graduate when the draft board pressed him to exercise his option to volunteer. Like many young men eligible for the draft in the 1960s, he decided to volunteer for the Air Force, hoping this would provide him with a wider choice of assignments than he otherwise would have had.
His first choice was for flight training, and he passed the battery of tests necessary to qualify. The time commitment for that option, however, was more than he wanted to make, so he withdrew the application in order to make another choice. The Air Force found his next selection more suitable to their needs: Cronauer entered training for broadcasting and me-dia operations.
In the mid-1960s, broadcasting was practiced in a fairly unimaginative and routine manner in the armed forces. It often included making training films and recording mind-numbing lectures. Things finally picked up a bit for Cronauer when he transferred from Stateside duty to an Armed Forces Radio station in Greece. There he found ways to add a little style and moxie to an otherwise pea-green military broadcasting universe.
With one year left of his enlistment and a change of assignment due, Cronauer had another choice to make. He could either go back to the States to make more training films, or he could sit behind the microphone and broadcast live to the American community in South Korea or South Vietnam. He chose Vietnam. But shortly before he arrived in-country, the Gulf of Tonkin incident changed the whole scope of the American effort there.
Cronauer's broadcasting style was more like something a person could hear on Stateside radio than on the military radio and television service. In that day, military radio and television tended to follow its own rigid rules, procedures, regulations, codes and interests rather than focusing on its audience ï¿½?? frequently resulting in broadcasts that were tough to listen to or watch without falling asleep. It seemed as though its mission had very little to do with improving the morale of the American community in Vietnam.
Cronauer balanced innovation, imagination and enthusiasm with practicality and realism. He pushed as much as he could for reforms within the military broadcasting hierarchy, but there were times when he knew it would be senseless to push any harder. He met resistance from those who were deeply invested in military broadcast operations, from those who worked without incentive or motivation and from those who simply feared making waves. 'Why go to all that effort?' they would ask. 'It's going fine. Why change it?'
Cronauer did, however, swim against the current of the staid conventions of that time, risking the ire of his bosses on more than one occasion. With his friend Ben Moses, who had also served in Vietnam, he wrote a screenplay in 1979 based on his experiences more than 10 years earlier. They managed to sell the rights to the story to a Hollywood producer in 1982. After the release of Good Morning, Vietnam, Cronauer was the first to say that the film was largely a fictional account and was not intended to be a biography. It was rewritten, produced, directed and acted primarily for entertainment purposes. He has also said many times that if he had acted in real life as he was portrayed in the film, he still would be serving time in the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
After his tour of duty in the Air Force ended, Cronauer worked as a television news anchorman for a small station in Ohio and later became a program director for a small television station in Virginia. He moved to New York City 10 years later, doing commercials, working part-time for The New York Times' FM radio station and teaching part-time at the New School for Social Research. He also worked in media management consulting and radio station management and operated his own advertising agency. While living in New York City, he also earned a master's degree in media studies.
Cronauer recalled that by sharing his expertise and knowledge with others in the broadcasting business, he frequently worked himself out of different positions. He would hand over the torch of a job or professional expertise to those with whom he had contact or whom he had trained.
The handsome profit he made on Good Morning, Vietnam enabled Cronauer to consider a career change in 1987, from media and communications broadcasting to media and communications law. He attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School and was able to pay for his tuition and expenses out of the proceeds of the movie and his tour on the lecture circuit after its release.
Cronauer gained an unusual personal perspective on events in Vietnam that many may not appreciate. 'The public was put into a difficult position knowing what the war effort was about in Vietnam,' Cronauer said. 'It was like the illustration about the elephant and four blindfolded men. One felt the elephant's leg and said it was like a tree trunk, another felt its trunk and described the elephant as being like a fire hose, another felt its ear and said an elephant is like a tobacco leaf, and the last blindfolded man felt the tail and said the elephant is like a clothes line. They were all absolutely right, but none of them singly or together gave you an accurate picture of what an elephant was.
'We have a very unfortunate accident of semantics in the Bill of Rights, where it mentions the freedom of the press. For a long time people have used that to imply that perhaps electronic communication is not entitled to full protection under the first amendment as is printed material. That's sheer nonsense. The Bill of Rights doesn't have anything to do with protecting the product of the printing press, but it has to do with protecting the whole process of gathering and disseminating information and news. I've maintained for a long time that if Benjamin Franklin had invented television rather than bifocals, the first amendment would have read freedom of media, because that's what it really means.
'You have to consider the way the news media were structured in those days. At that time it was possible to differentiate between news for the troops and news intended for consumption for the folks back home. A lot of the coverage in Vietnam was censored because it was stuff that could not be aired in a war zone without compromising the mission of the men who were involved. But there was a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, too.'
He also noted that much of the news was sensationalized for consumption on the home front. 'For instance,' he said,'someone was quoted as saying, 'We have to destroy the village in order to save it.' That was one individual idiot making a comment out of context. Many people, though, believed it really was the philosophy of the war.' Cronauer also noted that much of the news coverage was skewed because many people in the military were going to Vietnam to get their tickets punched, make a name for themselves and then move on to bigger and better things, rather than staying there for three or four years to develop a full understanding of the war. 'There were people with no geographical or geopolitical or historical context for all this, and so much of what was reported was isolated incidents and completely out of context,' he said. 'It allowed those who were opposed to the war to marshal public opinion against it. The fact that we were not fighting a war to win made their task that much easier.
'Vietnam was fought as a no-win war,' he observed, 'and when you don't have an objective to win, you've reduced the whole effort to waking up in the morning and seeing how many NVA and VC you can shoot ï¿½?? if you were allowed to shoot at all. It became a body-count game. But that was a political decision forced upon the troops. The troops never wanted to do th
'When I was stationed in Vietnam, I did interviews with the troops out in the field, and one of the reactions I got from them was one of frustration. They would be in hot pursuit of an enemy unit and then they would have to disengage because the unit would cross over some invisible barrier or border.' He also cited another example: 'They'd be sitting there receiving incoming fire, and not only were they not permitted to return the fire, but they weren't even allowed to load their weapons without permission from headquarters.'
Cronauer also noted that, while during the Vietnam War it was possible to separate news for public consumption from battlefield events, today such separation is hardly possible. 'We saw that in Desert Storm,' he said. 'Can you imagine an Iraqi artillery officer watching CNN as one of its reporters describes the location and blast of one of the Scud missiles in, say, Tel Aviv? That's something that could easily be used to direct the fire of even more missiles to other targets in the city.'
Cronauer said he believes there must be some control of information taken out of a war zone. He also thinks the American people can make intelligent decisions about a war without having the minute details of every skirmish presented to them, no matter how sensational, in full and living color. On the other hand, he believes the military will try to clamp down on all the information it is allowed to. 'We saw in Desert Storm that the military and media came to an uneasy truce,' he said, 'and that is about the best we are going to get, because the military is never going to trust the media with information, and the media isn't going to trust the military with it either. I think that attitude helps to keep both sides a little more honest.'
Cronauer also believes that it would be ludicrous for the media to be able to influence the conduct of a battle. 'Once during the Somalian conflict our troops came in, supposedly for a secret landing in the middle of the night,' he said. 'And when they hit the beaches, all the television lights lit up the beach so that it could be broadcast. That's ridiculous.
'We cannot be the policeman to the world,' Cronauer commented. 'A while back, during the Reagan administration, Casper Weinberger, then the secretary of defense, tried to outline the lessons we should have learned from Vietnam. It became known as the Weinberger Doctrine. It says, among other things, that there are certain criteria that should be met before involving our troops in a conflict: there must be a definable and significant U.S. interest to be served; there should be significant support for it on the home front; the goal should be definable and we should go in to win; and it should have a sound exit strategy after the first three objectives are obtained.' He added, 'We saw the results of that doctrine achieved in Desert Storm. In Bosnia we are seeing what happens when those principles are violated.'
Cronauer said he maintains that the military should not be an organization for social experimentation. The sole purpose of the military is to defend the country and to win wars: 'Anything that contributes to that is good and anything that detracts from its ability to do that is bad.'
Although Cronauer said that he does not have a real desire to go back to Vietnam to visit, he knows of some veterans who have gone and others who are planning to go back. 'I believe that American business interests would have the most positive effect there by moving that country more toward a market economy,' he said. 'That's the best thing that can happen to them.'
This article was written by Gordon Zernich and originally published in the February 2001 issue of Vietnam Magazine.
From National Museum of the Air Force:
In his own words:
On November 11, 2006 ï¿½?? Veterans Day ï¿½?? famed Vietnam disk jockey Adrian Cronauer addressed the American Veterans Centerï¿½??s Ninth Annual Conference in Arlington, Virginia. Mr. Cronauer, who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam, spoke to an audience of several hundred students and fellow veterans. The presentation was carried by C-Span television. In this issue, we print the transcript of his speech.
How many of you have seen the movie Good Morning, Vietnam? Well that does wonders for my ego, probably doesnï¿½??t hurt my bank account either. Because of the ubiquity of that film on late night television, my 15 minutes of fame has stretched well beyond 15 years. And over that period of time I have found that there are certain things people always want to know; about Good Morning, Vietnam, about Armed Forces Radio, and about Vietnam. And I thought that I would, before I get into the meat of what I wanted to say, the serious stuff, answer some of those questions. And the number one question people always ask, is how much of that movie is real? Well I see a number of uniforms and a number of people I am sure are veterans, and anybody who has been in the military or has had any connections with the military would know, that if I did half of the things that Robin Williams did in that movie I would still be in Fort Leavenworth. Thereï¿½??s a lot of Hollywood exaggeration and outright imagination in the movie. For example, yes there was someone there named Adrian Cronauer, and yes he was a disc jockey in Vietnam, and yes I did teach English during my off duty time. I did not teach my class how to swear and use New York street slang and I wasnï¿½??t teaching because I was trying to meet this particularly beautiful Vietnamese girl, at least not one particular beautiful Vietnamese girl. I did try to make it sound like a state-side radio station, and I did have trouble with censorship, and I did start each program with yelling ï¿½??GOOOOOD Morning Vietnam!ï¿½??
Now I did not get thrown out of Vietnam. I stayed for my full one-year tour and was honorably discharged, thank you. None of the characters in the film are based on actual people for legal reasons like invasion of privacy and slander and so forth, so they are all stereotypes. But as is true with any good stereotype, you name any character in the film and I could probably think of half a dozen people that I knew during my four years in the Air Force and I suspect that any of you could too. In the movie it shows bags and bags of fan mail coming in and a whole bank of telephones just ringing off the hook with requests. Never happened. I mean think about it. There just arenï¿½??t telephone booths out in the rice paddies. Where are they going to call? But I did find out when I went out into the field to do interviews that sometimes people would recognize my name, other times they wouldnï¿½??t. I would say ï¿½??GOOOOD Morningï¿½?? and they would say ï¿½??Oh yeah, how about playing a record for me?ï¿½??
At the time I didnï¿½??t recognize how much Armed Forces Radio meant to the people. It has happened now, several dozen times, at a veterans event, a veteran would come up to me, shake my hand and quietly say, ï¿½??thank you, for helping me get through ï¿½??Nam.ï¿½?? And thatï¿½??s pretty rewarding.
One of the questions people always ask is what is Robin Williams really like. The answer is, I donï¿½??t know, because he is always on. You walk up to him say ï¿½??Helloï¿½?? and he starts doing a routine for you. Well, I am a lawyer, not a psychiatrist, so what do I know, but itï¿½??s my laymanï¿½??s analysis that heï¿½??s really a very shy, bashful, introverted person. And he does all of these imitations and routines and shtick as a way of building a wall around himself so you can never get in to hurt the real Robin. And the only time I have ever seen him drop that was when he was with his own little kids, playing with them, because you see, they are not a threat to him.
Now, people ask, are you as funny as Robin Williams? I have already amply demonstrated that I am not half that funny. If I were I would be out in Hollywood going ï¿½??NA NU NA NUï¿½?? and making a million dollars. But, on the other hand, I think I was a better disk jockey. To give you an example, he did the opening sign on all wrong. He just went ï¿½??Good Morning Vietnam!ï¿½?? Which is not the way you really did it. The way you really did it was you stressed the word ï¿½??goodï¿½?? for a very practical reason. Because if you were a morning Disc Jockey, itï¿½??s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, you are going to eventually oversleep and when that happens you come tearing into the station at the very last minute half dressed half asleep and you donï¿½??t have your records pulled, you donï¿½??t know whatï¿½??s going to happen, you donï¿½??t have your contact lenses, you donï¿½??t have your tapes queued up, and as you walk through the door to the studio you hear the news man saying ï¿½??Thatï¿½??s the latest from the Armed Forces Radio News Room, next news in one hour.ï¿½?? Now youï¿½??ve got to do something. So as you find our headphones and get everything set up you go ï¿½??GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD (all while pulling records from the shelves, putting in contacts, organizing tapes etc) Morning Vietnam!ï¿½?? Thatï¿½??s the way we really did it.
There is one other inaccuracy and that is, it shows that I started my program promptly at 6 oï¿½??clock, which of course is, as I just indicated, not true, because we had five-minute news every hour on the hour. Most of the time I was in the studio before they started the newscast. And I can remember how the newsman would begin it. He would say, ï¿½??itï¿½??s 6 oï¿½??clock here in Saigon. Thatï¿½??s for those of us in the Air Force. For the Army, that is O-six hundred hours, for the Navy, that is 6 bells and for the Marines listening, Mickeyï¿½??s little hand is on the six.ï¿½?? Actually I have a lot of good friends that are Marines, or at least I did before I started telling that joke. I have a lot of respect for the Marines because all of the blood sweat and tears honor and glory are summed up in that motto, Semper Fidelisï¿½??always faithful. We in the Air Force of course had our own motto, Semper Cocktailis. Every service has something that makes them unique. The Coast Guard is the smallest, the Army is the largest, the Marines are the most gung-ho, the Navy has the silliest looking uniforms, and of course the Air Force has the most intelligent men of the services. I mean think about it, it is the only one where the enlisted men send the officers out to get killed. Put them in the cockpit; pat ï¿½??em on the backï¿½?ï¿½ ï¿½??Go get ï¿½??em sir, Iï¿½??ll be here when you get home, and if you are late I will be over at the club.ï¿½??
People have asked what my reaction to the film was, and I was very, very happy. It was never intended to be an accurate point-by-point biography; it was intended to be a piece of entertainment, and it certainly was that. And Robin Williams wasnï¿½??t as much playing me, as he was playing a character named ï¿½??Adrian Cronauer,ï¿½?? who shared some of my experiences in Vietnam. But in reality he was playing Robin Williams, and we all know that. But I take a lot of pride in the number of people who have told me that they believe this was the first film that began to show Americans in Vietnam as they really were, rather than murderers, rapists, baby killers, dope addicts and psychotics. I am here to tell you that I went out into the field close to a dozen times and interviewed hundreds of Americans, and you know what, I never met a single murderer, I never met a single rapist, I never met a single baby killer, I never met a single psychotic, and I never met a single dope addict. Who I did meet were a number of honorable men and women who might not have been so pleased with where they found themselves, but were determined to do their duty as well and as honorably and effectively as they could. And that is the story that is not being told by the media. We look at the image of veterans today, and what is it we are being portrayed as? Oh, the Vietnam veteran is this lonely character, hanging around the street corners, alcoholic drug abusing loser, in dirty camouflage Vietnam fatigues; but in reality the Vietnam veterans are the back bone of society. They are the doctors and the lawyers, the truck drivers the mechanics, the nurses and the people who make our society run. And that again, is not the story that is being told properly.
A large problem is with the portrayal of Vietnam veterans and the war in the media. For example, Walter Cronkite, one of the most respected men since Edward R. Murrow, went to Vietnam during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Any reputable military historian would tell you that the Tet Offensive was a monumental victory for our side. The Viet Cong expected the South Vietnamese people to rise up and join them, which never happened. Instead the Viet Congï¿½??s forces were decimated. It took them years to come to the same amount of force. Yet, Walter Cronkite came back and told the American people that it was a terrible defeat for us and we should get out of Vietnam. Thatï¿½??s the kind of source that we get so often when it comes to military matters, about war and peace. Now this is not a partisan issue. Everybody from Joe Lieberman on the left to William Bennett on the right attacks Hollywood and the media. Now they attack them for their negative values, like drugs and sex and violence. But I think the media today, the mainstream media, are also derelict in their duty to promote positive values. Positive values like patriotism, love of God and love of country. Respect for the flag and the institutions that it represents. Service to oneï¿½??s community, family values, personal responsibility, work ethic, setting goals and trying to accomplish them, leadership, taking justifiable pride in ones appearance, a job well done, I could stand here all day and talk about it. But ultimately, what I am really talking about is pride in being an American. Well, if the media wonï¿½??t promote these values, then what do we do? Then we have to do it for them.
I am so happy to see so many young people here today, because you young people are the next generation of our citizens and our leadership. And too often we have been derelict in our duty to promote proper values with you, our young people. Our attitude has been that well, if you werenï¿½??t there then, there is no way you could understand, so there is no sense even talking about it. WRONG. We have to talk to the next generation. Because if we donï¿½??t tell them where we were and what we were doing, and why we were there and what were the things that were so important that we were willing to fight and even risk dying for, unless we tell them that, all they will know is what they do see in the mainstream media, which is as we know, totally deficient.
Every once in a while I will read an editorial, or an opinion column that says we as Americans have lost our sense of shame. I donï¿½??t think we have, but I do think that sometimes we have misplaced our sense of shame. In an age of excessive diversity and over emphasized cultural pluralism, we become ashamed to speak of this one nation. In an age of rampant secularism and humanism, we become ashamed to talk about that nation ï¿½??Under God.ï¿½?? Too often we become ashamed to talk about the wonders of America and her history. We have to tell the next generation about how we have a representative democracy, a political system that is based on the concept that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. And we have an economic system that is capitalist, and is based on the profit motive. And those words, capitalism and profit, are not dirty words. Rather because of that economic system and that political system working together, hand in hand in just over two hundred years we have done more to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the poor, take care of the homeless, protect the abused and spread freedom and blessings throughout the world. In short we have done the greatest good for the greatest number in the entire history of the world, and the rest of the world knows it! Look at how their best and brightest are struggling so hard to get here. And for that fact alone we have every right to stand up proudly and hold our heads high and say, ï¿½??YES! I AM an American!ï¿½?? But for the sake of the next generation, we must live those values, not just speak them. We must not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk, teaching by example as well as with our words. Because, we are responsible for the education of the next generation of citizens and leaders.
All my friends, all my brothers and sisters, it is so very important that we do this, because if we do not, then our society is in danger of fulfilling the prophecy of the philosopher, George Santayana, who once said, those who will not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Thatï¿½??s a rather pessimistic formulation. I think it was more optimistically expressed by the novelist Herman Wouk, who said, ï¿½??The beginning of the end of war, lies in remembrance.ï¿½?? I thank you for sharing a few of my remembrances this morning, and I thank you for sharing your remembrances with the next generation, I thank you for all you do for your community and your country. God bless you, God bless America, and to my fellow Vietnam veterans, welcome home.
P.S. To this day Adrian Cronauer even after retireing is still working with VET groups in one way or another.A true American and a true friend..A very special thanks to A3C Michael Bell for all his efforts in putting this profile together..
TSGT GARY MCPHERSON,USAF RETIRED.
ADRIAN CRONAUER PASSED AWAY ON JULY 18 2018