WTIC Alumni Site
In Memory of and Designed
by Bill Clede
WTIC GOES TO WAR
by Bob Dwyer, as told to Dewey Dow
It began with hush-hush meetings in the office of
the CEO, Paul "Fritz" Morency. Days later I was called into one of those
meetings myself and given the jolting news, announced to the public at noon on Wednesday,
September 22, 1965.
The news release made it sound simpler than it
turned out to be:
"WTIC-TV and Radio will send a reporter-photographer team to Vietnam next
month to cover the role being played by Connecticut and Western Massachusetts residents in
the war there."
The reporter was Assignment Editor the late Paul Kuntz and the man behind the
several cameras was me, Bob Dwyer, photo-journalist not-so-extraordinaire.
None of us in the news department had the remotest notion of the difficulty of what
we were undertaking or the broadcasting history it would make in these earliest years of
TV news. It was 90-some interviews, several hundred photos and four bulging scrapbooks
later before we were back with our families after a month of sweltering heat, loading and
unloading, equipment-cleaning, endless shooting and audio-taping, and mud-trudging over
some 2,000 miles of the buggy hell-hole they called Vietnam.
It was a
running story from September to the follow spring in much of the media of Southern New
England. The newspaper clippings alone would fill a large basket. Radio and TV reports ran
morning, noon and night--from An Ka, Saigon, Ben Hua, Tan Son Hut, and elsewhere. As we
moved by chopper, jeep, personnel carrier -- you name it -- we shot near enough film to
cover the length of Hartford County. Yet what happened after the trip may have been as
important, as I think back. More on that later.
Some 50 GIs were primed and ready all along the way because of early promotion
urging listeners to identify their GI loved ones to us before we left. The logistics at
the station were enormous, involving several staff members and hundreds of man hours. Some
field activities were under the direct guidance of Mr. Morency, President Leonard
Patricelli and News Director Tom Eaton. Many phone calls passed between us on how to find
key contacts, what to shoot once in the field, even corrections for lens openings.
After thousands of miles in an airplane, Saigon
was in sight. The pilot came on the intercom and announced, in French, that the airport
was under attack and he was diverting to Bangkok. Our introduction to the war was delayed
for 24 hours. We went in to Saigon on a CIA plane.
Another time, on our way from Da Nang on a C-130 aircraft to Saigon.. It leaked
during a rainstorm. To inform the two civilians on board that everything was all right,
the pilot announced over the intercom, "If you hear three blasts on the horn, that
means we are crashing straight ahead."
When I think of Vietnam today, this isn't a story about the heat, mud, long hours
in drenching rain, it's about the men and women who would rather be home with family and
friends but who were there and were proud to be serving their country. They were happy to
talk with a couple of guys from home. It's about two men we met, Bill and Jerry, with whom
we spent a lot of time and who, two months later were dead.
Da Nang isn't about Paul's doing a standup in pouring rain while shots were fired
over our compound that night. It's about having a hamburger and a beer at the Marine camp
with Dickey Chappele, the first woman correspondent in Vietnam. Two days later she was
dead. She stepped on a land mine while out with the marines.
A night in An Khe with the 7th Cavalry, Custer's old outfit, the
division band had been choppered in. The men were treated to the strains of Sentimental
Journey and thoughts of home.
Many of these scenes live with me daily for the last 36 years.
It’s interesting to look back on some of the notes on content for a TV special
we did on our return: "Pearl Harbor tie-in ... Saigon scene-setter ... action film
... weird war ... general aerial of countryside ... talking with patrols ... mortars,
sweeps, ambush .... how to tell a VC ... tribute to VN army ... 2 marine pilots ...
monsoons ... chaplain comments on morale .. silent bit on baptism ... what GIs think of
Vietnamese people ... what do VNs think of us ... civic action projects ... hospital
appeal ... why do they fight? .... closer on Saigon hotel roof."
Mainly, we tried to spotlight the contributions the people from New England both in
the war and on the civic front. One of Paul’s reports made this clear:
"The war is strange to we Americans. It is a war of no front lines, no safe
rear areas, constant sniper fire and booby traps. The morale of the men we interviewed is
sky high. They know why they are here and what is expected of them. They know they must
carry a rifle in one hand and use the other to direct the citizens of Vietnam toward the
road to freedom and democracy. Tearing down the morale of the Viet Cong and building up
the confidence of the Vietnamese people in their government is the dual role of all
American military men. Most units are doing their best to assist the build-up side of this
mission with a civic affairs program."
Perhaps my favorite story involves one of the best-known names at CBS. Their
Vietnam news bureau was at Room 209 at the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon. Since we had trouble
with our room arrangements there, Sam Zellman (CBS Bureau Chief) gave Paul a room at his
house for the night and assigned me a sleeping room at the bureau normally used by a
correspondent. I was awakened in the night when that correspondent returned, ready for
bed. I told him to go away and come back in the morning. Which Morley Safer did.
Back in the Hartford studios, the news crew presenting our film and audio on-air
included Larrye deBear, Bill Mill, Sherm Tarr, John Ferguson, Dewey Dow, Stan Simon and
Sid Stewart. Producer Bill Marks took charge of many of the special radio cut-ins during
the Bob Steele program, "Mikeline," Bob Nelson’s afternoon show, the
fifteen-minute news at 6:00 and later.
On our way home, one very special moment for me was the filming at dawn on the
memorial to the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor. We filmed the raising of the flag as it is
done each morning for any ship of the line. We used this sound-on-film piece to open our
TV special weeks later. As a veteran of WWII it was a moving moment I’ll never
forget, standing on the spot where the great ship went down when the Japanese attacked our
Pacific fleet on December 7, 1941.
On the date of the attack, the announcer on duty was handed a note to break into
the religious program and report the news of the attack. That announcer was our friend
As I said, perhaps more important than the war reporting was what happened after we
After the post-trip TV special, the station was swamped with an avalanche of
clothing, soaps, lotions, and other articles intended for expectant mothers in the region
of An Khe. We had met an Army doctor trying to care for a civilian population of 18,000 at
a run-down, three-bed cottage. We asked what was needed to renovate the only medical
facility in the Central Highlands. Capt. (Dr.) Larry McKinstry and staff, with the help of
us and others, were able to bring this tattered cottage from primitive conditions to
near-modern medical standards and expand the hospital besides.
TV3 and WTIC AM & FM coaxed its audience to donate more than 1,500 "Baby
Bundles" and some $6,000 in cash. The staff alone gave over $1,000. Paul and I
received $1,116 in honoraria from 55 speaking engagements. Contributors included 486
people in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Washington DC with donations ranging
from 25 cents to $500. This helped buy an incubator so that infants born at An Khe would
have a better chance of survival.
A few weeks after the "Baby Bundle" campaign started, Capt. McKinstry
wrote that "women are coming from miles around to have their babies at our hospital
because of the bundles." Some of the patients were refugees from Viet Cong villages
where the word had spread. Ultimately, the staff was shipped a two-year supply of
The success of the bundle drive convinced Morency & Company that listeners
would support a second campaign -- to build a real hospital for the An Khe region. The
response was swift and overwhelming. McKinstry had estimated that a 60-bed hospital could
be built for $4,000. Within a few days the listeners had given more than $6,500. In fact,
they continued to send donations long after the on-air campaign ended.
Along the way a bit of history was made. We believe ours was the first non-network
news operation to present such coverage about the Vietnam hostilities and in the process
we presented Southern New England’s first news film in living color. For me, the
project was surely one of our station’s proudest moments.