Does anyone beside me ever stop and wonder “what has happened to the time?” It was 50 years ago that I received orders for Vietnam. I was a new father, Amy was three months old and I spent a lot of time thinking about those rice paddies thousands of miles away from Chattanooga.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I kissed my precious daughter and wife goodbye and left Lovell Field wondering what was ahead and would I ever return home alive. Before leaving my last duty station, Fort Jackson, SC, I had talks with several of my buddies who had just returned from Southeast Asia, and their stories were mixed. Young soldiers were coming home in body bags; a few of them were my friends from high school.
The flight across the country took several hours and I finally arrived at Oakland, Ca. While there I got to go see the Oakland A’s and meet Gene Autry. Then came news I still find hard to believe. Some of us were being diverted to various other U.S. installations, and my next stop would be Germany.
I’ve told this story before, but to my surprise I ended up at the American Forces Network, Frankfurt West Germany. I remember it was a Tuesday and I was greeted by SSG Joe Maggard, who was from the Tri-Cities, upper East Tennessee. He didn’t hear my tape or anything, just told me I’d go on the air the following Monday because the person doing the morning country show was rotating back to the states. I was still in shock. I was getting a program on a network with the potential of reaching 21,000,000 people.
The show “Town and Country” was heard all over Europe. The program was aimed at our troops and their families, but as I quickly found out, there were a lot of country music fans on the continent. I received mail from listeners in England, France, Belgium, Germany and even one from East Germany. When the Russians didn’t jam the station, they heard the program over AFN Berlin.
I remember sending my longtime friend, Hamilton County Executive Dalton Roberts, a tape of one of my programs. He wrote back saying how much he enjoyed the show and thanked me for playing Nat Stuckey’s “Don’t Pay the Ransom,” a song he’d written. We stayed in touch until I got home.
Chattanooga broadcaster Jerry Lingerfelt was also a pen pal. He’d worked at WDXB, and by this time was general manager of WDEF, then WGOW – WYNQ. Jerry told me the only other broadcaster he knew that was on the American Forces Network was Dick Davis, who had done the evening shift at WDEF for several years. I still have a letter Jerry sent me.
Being on the air every day at the network came with responsibility. My superiors gave me very little guidance on the music or structure of the show, but were always pointing out small ways I could improve.
There was one point from Program Director Bud Miller I’ll never forget, “Guys always come out of the news with a fast song.” Mr. Miller said, “News is depressing and the music need to be something to change one’s mood.” Mr. Miller, who introduced my program every day, was hardworking and one of the best broadcasters I’ve ever met. I learned so much from him.
Another memory I’ll never forget is my 30-second conversation with Glen Campbell. He and Anne Murray were in the studio for an interview with Niteside Host Chris Davala. As I rounded the corner in the hallway, I came face to face with Campbell. He spoke, first commenting on my German name. I then took the liberty to ask Campbell his favorite song to do on stage. He responded, "It’s not really a song, but I like to do the narration 'Friends' from my 'Galveston' album." Campbell penned the lyrics. He said, “The words say mountains.” Then he said, “Nice meeting you.” and walked into the studio for the interview with Davala. Campbell and Murray were in Europe for several appearances. AFNE Parks Seward made a picture of the couple and gave us copies.
I’ve lost touch with most of the professionals I worked with at AFNE. Many of them have died, but because of Facebook I’ve been able to reconnect with a few and share memories.
I’ll always believe it was my mother's and grandmother's prayers that landed me that military assignment. It definitely was a high point of my nearly 55 years in broadcasting.