The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
The country is in turmoil as the presidential election looms. Racial unrest plagues our cities. Trust in government is at an all-time low. One of the candidates is supported by white supremacists. Political polarization is at its peak. America’s involvement in a foreign war seems endless.
The year, 2020? Yes, but also the year 1968, with Richard Nixon, the Republican; Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, and George Wallace of the American Independent Party are the candidates vying for the American presidency.
In South Vietnam, more than one-half million American servicemen await the outcome. Would the winner bring them home soon? Would he step up the war? Would he stop the bombing. How would they get the news?
As an Army captain and news director for the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) — six radio stations and eight television stations broadcasting news and entertainment programs in English to the troops and civilians up and down the country — I was responsible for ensuring that this special audience got the 1968 election results in a timely, effective manner.
On that 1968 Election Day, the audience, which also included the American ambassador, top military brass and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, got the results in real time, broadcast live from AFVN studios in Saigon on Channel 11. The Jake Tappers, Wolf Blitzers and Rachel Maddows were uniformed Army soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors assigned to AFVN.
Four anchormen were detailed to the broadcast and each was responsible for researching, writing background material, assembling visuals, and knowing not only details about the presidential race, but also homing in on key Senate, House and governor races. Our audience came from all over the U.S.
It was arguably the first live TV election coverage broadcast from a war zone. We did it up right with colorful sets and a teletype circuit connection to the States. No satellite links were available to us then. We had no “magic boards” like NBC’s Steve Kornacki now wields.
AFVN staffers designed the sets, manned the cameras and the control room, and ripped off the teletype paper from the clattering machines to distribute to my off-camera assistant who doled out the news to the anchors. I coordinated the whole operation with a mic system connected to the control room and the anchors.
Because of the time difference, our coverage started in the morning rather than the evening so we could broadcast all day when our audience was awake. And it was a long one. Not until early the next morning did we find out that Richard Nixon had emerged victorious.
Many of the American civilian network correspondents initially thought our broadcast was coming from the States. When they figured out we were reporting right from Saigon, they rushed to our studios to do filmed interviews, shipping them back to their networks in the U.S. So our historic coverage did not go unnoticed.
An American expat who wrote for one of several English-language newspapers in Saigon later commented, “Most impressive was how men of all ranks and services blended harmoniously together to produce a complicated show, requiring long hours of hard work, without acrimony, jealously or frayed tempers. Let’s hope the new American Administration can work half as well.”
Randy Moody is a retired lawyer and lobbyist living in Oro Valley and Lincoln, Nebraska. He served in South Vietnam from June, 1968 to June, 1969.
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