A Minnesota PBS Initiative

A Year as an Army Journalist

I worked for a year as a GI journalist in an army combat unit, the 1st Cavalry Division, ending in August of 1971. It was my job to poke around our division, everywhere from firebases and the jungle to the deep rear. 

Portrait of a soldier smiling.

Here I am during the dry season mission. I was told repeatedly that my clothes were too clean and my smile too big to be mistaken for a grunt.

Because I was working for the army, I focused on the activities of units and the life of fellow soldiers more than combat action. Because of where I was station - near Saigon - and a relatively quiet time regarding fighting for my division, what I experienced was not particularly traumatic.

I wrote a book called "War Stories" that was published last year that was based on the letters I sent home to my parents, the articles I wrote for the division newspaper and magazines, and photographs.

Because my publisher told me I could use only so many pictures, I have other photos plus some articles to share with you.

Soldier portrait in Vietnam.

There was a good deal of status in clothes full of dirt and sweat. A beard was an extra plus. This is what a grunt should look like - you can tell he's not a low status denizen of the rear like me.

Soldiers taking supplies from a helicopter.

Units working in the jungle were usually resupplied by air (helicopter).

Soldiers building a bunker.

Putting a roof on a firebase command bunker was backbreaking work. The men are moving a log to lay above the hole that would house the bunker.

Soldiers watch a helicopter pick up cargo.

I had friends who ran the control tower of a helicopter landing pad so I got a look from the tower.

Interior shot of office. Two young men sit at desks behind typewriters, a dog sleeps under the foreground desk.

Several fellow Public Information Office (PIO) staff sit at desks in our office.

African-American soldier in a chair with a "power to the people" poster behind him.

Ed Howard, a clerk in our office, wanted his picture taken with his Black Power poster in February, 1971.

Soldier looking at poster in an office.

Late in my time in Vietnam, once we only a brigade and our main office came to Bien Hoa, we got a new relatively luxurious somewhat air conditioned PIO office in 1971.

Soldier at a desk in an office.

Another view of our plush office is shown here in the middle of 1971.

A small group of PIO staffers sitting inside an office.

A small group of PIO staffers played with a Polaroid camera one evening. I'm on the left.

Young man in uniform, sitting outside and holding a medium sized dog on his lap.

I'm dressed in the pressed fatigues I was expected to wear on Bien Hoa Army Base holding our pooch, Blanche, in February, 1971.

Front page of a magazine spread. "CACHE" is in bold letters and it stylized to be partially hidden behind leaves. The photo is if of three soldiers in the jungle on a mission. The spread is on a bright green background.

The first time I went out on a mission with an infantry unit, we found several caches. This article in our division magazine came from that outing. Photo credit: First Team Magazine 1971.

A newspaper article featuring Vietnam War coverage and Chinook helicopters.

I flew in helicopters, like these Chinooks, several times a week and took them for granted. This was one of the last stories I wrote in Vietnam and published well after I left.

Soldiers sunbathing and swimming at a pool.

Bien Hoa Army Base had its own swimming pool, which frankly I'd forgotten about, but this is evidence of its existence.

Soldiers departing a helicopter.

A band is coming out of a Chinook at Sandy Pad as seen from the control tower.

Soldier resting under mosquito netting.

Malaria was a constant danger; we not only took two pills to stave it off but slept under mosquito netting. My buddy Alan Brown - my fellow writer - lounges in bed.

Press release from 1st Cavalry Division PIO.

We would send press releases with stories that were used in outside papers. This clipping is from May, 1971.

A CAVALAIR newspaper article featuring Vietnam War coverage.

I wrote for our division newspaper, the Cavalair, a weekly newspaper. This is what the first page looked like. I would write on papers I sent home, telling my parents what I'd done.

Two shirtless soldiers sitting on sandbags inside the doorway of a hooch.

My first posting in my division was in Song Be, also known as Fire Support Base Buttons. Several other PIO staffers sit at the entrance to the hooch where we lived. This was in September of 1970.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: Bien Hoa, Vietnam Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Military Service

Military Branch: U.S. Army

Unit: 1st Cavalry Division Public Information Office

Specialty: 71Q20, Information Specialist

Saigon street scene.

I photographed more Saigon streets and managed - unintentionally probably - to get a self portrait with camera in the lower left corner.

This story is part of Civil Rights Movement and the War.
View the story collection.

Story Themes: 1972, 1st Cavalry, Animals, Army, BIen Hoa, Combat, Conrad Leighton, dog, Journalist, Look, News Coverage, Photographer, Photography, Saigon, White Bear Lake

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