|How does a warrior
face Fear? Does he or she swallow it or spit it up. On Christmas,
and two of his long-term buddies from the Late Show visited our troops in
Afghanistan. They brought gifts of Courage, Conviction and
Right Actions with them to help the troops swallow Fear without a gag.
Find out why they are Sentinels of Vigilance.
28, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 472
Letterman Brings Laughter To
Terrorism Battlefield Troops
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 28-- Laughter is one sure
cure for Terrorism. It drives the Beast of Terror out of
hiding, and sends him scurrying on his way.
Letterman helped drive the Beast of Terror out of Kandahar for
On Christmas Day, Dave
Letterman tickled the Beast of Terror's not-so-funny bone.
He replaced the grim, desolate emptiness of war with a bellyful of
Leaving his New York studios at the
Ed Sullivan Theater, Letterman plus his musical sidekick Paul Shaffer
and Dave's favorite stagehand, Biff Henderson, a Vietnam veteran,
climbed aboard a plane en route to visit U.S. troops at Kandahar,
Letterman is the winner of seven
Emmy's as a talk show host over the past twenty years. The
55-year-old comedian was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Schaffer
has been his musical director for 19 years. Henderson has been
directing the Letterman cameras since 1980.
I like the idea all three
buddies made the trip. There's nothing more exciting
for a front-line troop than to see "famous people" walk into a battle
zone and put themselves at risk to make you laugh and to drive up your
spirits. It's like the whole nation came to see you, to
support you in your battle against the enemy.
Henderson, Letterman's Stage Manager since 1980
I didn't know Letterman
was going. I'm not one of his fans, and, for the record, not one
of any late night talk show host fan club. But recently,
I've found myself watching him. About a month or two ago I
flicked on his show and found myself enjoying his wry wit. I
think I became a fan when he returned from his heart attack and
mounted the stage as a "wounded warrior." Perhaps it was the
fact he was willing to give his life for a laugh, or to provide a
smile in someone's gut that drew me to him.
Letterman's Musical Director and sidekick for 19 years
On Christmas when
I flicked on the set I noted there was rerun on the air, and just
assumed Ole Dave was taking a respite from the show to enjoy Christmas
with friends and loved ones. I didn't know he was in Afghanistan
tickling the ribs of the troops, or showing them his support and
thanks and that of the millions who watch his show.
Over the years I've had
some experience with USO shows that bring entertainers to troops in
far-off lands. When I was in my late teens I spent 18
months in Goose Bay, Labrador, working as a civilian for the Strategic
Air Command. Because of my U.S. citizenship, I was granted a
high security clearance and printed sorties--mission data--for B-52
bombers on patrol near and around Russia.
The "King of USO," Bob Hope brought
his troops up one year. I was on the inside loop of
helping organize the show by printing up flyers and invitations.
I got to rub shoulders with the cast of characters like Jerry Cologna,
Hope, Miss Universe, Anita Bryant, and, enjoyed one of the great
moments of a teenager's life. At the private reception
held after the big show, Jane Mansfield was the leading lady in the
reception line. I was there early helping set up the facilities
when my boss came up to me and said that Jane needed my help.
"King of USO"
I remember glancing
around embarrassed, wondering what he was talking about. But,
you didn't argue with an air force colonel so I dutifully followed him
to the door where the famous people were lining up to greet the troops
for the reception. Mickey Hargitay, Jane Mansfield's husband,
stood by his wife's side and smiled at me, one of those rich, toothy
smiles of a weight lifter who looked like he had been carved out of
granite. I tried to avoid looking at Ms. Mansfield's huge
breasts spilling out of her low-cut sparkling dress that forced all
eyes to her cleavage.
The colonel led me directly in front of Ms.
Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay. "Ms. Mansfield would
like you to pin on her corsage, Cliff," he said, a smile twitching at
the corners of his mouth. Mickey handed me a box with a
purple orchid in it. Ms. Mansfield's face worked into a
"Hi, Cliff. The colonel says you've worked
very hard to get everyone here, and I'm glad he picked you to put this
My hands trembled when I took the box from
Mickey. I looked at Ms. Mansfield's chest, then at Mickey.
"That's all right, sir," I stammered, "you can do it." I tried
to push the box back to her husband.
"No. No. Please, I want you to
"Yes," Ms. Mansfield confirmed.
I will never forget trying not to let all
the blood in my body pulse into my face, but it did. I stumbled
to get the box open and extract the delicate flower. I held it
and the small pearl-tipped pin awkwardly, staring at Ms. Mansfield's
breasts rising and falling in the silver sequined dress, trying to
figure out where I could pin the flower.
"Right here," she said, touching her left breast.
Then she sucked in a deep breath and took my hand and guided it up so
I could place it inside the dress as I attached the flower.
"Just don't stick her with the pin," Mickey
My hands were sweating. I hand my left hand
inside Ms. Mansfield's dress pushing out so I could shove the pin
through the dress material. I felt like a surgeon-in-training
with all the world watching my every move. It seemed
forever before I got the pin anchored. In retrospect, it was
much too short a time.
"Great job, thanks Cliff," Ms. Mansfield said.
Then she cupped my face and kissed me. I thought I was going to
Mansfield and husband, Mickey Hargitay
"You did good, Cliff. No
blood." Mickey pumped my hand. I nodded, mouth dry, heart
racing, and retreated toward the bar to get soda. I had
become a man. My rite of passage from child to man was
pinning an orchid on Jane Mansfield.
Four years later I was in
Vietnam. It was hot and sweltering, quite unlike the icy cold of
Goose Bay Labrador. The war was turning ugly. Back
home protestors were burning the American flag and draft dodgers were
running to Canada. College campuses called us "baby
killers" and marches on Washington were growing as angry protestors
doused themselves with kerosene and set themselves on fire.
The idea of a nation supporting the troops
was far from the foreground of anyone's thinking as we got parts and
parcels of events about how Americans hated us and the war we were
fighting. It made dying for your country hard.
entertaining in Vietnam
Then Bob Hope and the USO came
trooping through the incountry. It was refreshing to feel
the surge of appreciation, and to know that all the bad press the war
was getting was negated by the risk entertainers took to make us
laugh, to remind us we were America's football team and they were our
I felt good, if only for a short time.
Then, the biggest even in history occurred.
One that I was to miss.
For months I had been planning a trip to
Saigon. I wanted to see the innards of the nation, to walk its
famous streets, photograph its monuments, its buildings, its history.
I had seen the jungles and villages that grew rice, but not the
civilized history of Vietnam.
It took some arm twisting to get special
orders to go, and I was all set when I heard that John Wayne was
coming to visit my unit, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. I
wrestled with canceling my trip to Saigon. I was the chief
reporter for the battalion and would have unlimited access to the
famous actor who was every Marine's role model--the Sergeant Striker
of the movie Sands of Iwo Jima which played 24/7 in Oceanside, the
town just outside Camp Pendleton where the 1st Marine Division
headquarters was located.
Sgt. Striker in "Sands of Iwo Jima"
I wanted to get a
picture of John Wayne with a "john wayne." I knew it would
be a meaningful picture and Wayne was a hero of mine (at least in his
films). A "john wayne" is a little can opener every Marine
carries on his dog tag chain. It has a sharp, curved tip that
folds against a small square piece of metal. When you get
your C-Rations, you use the "john wayne" to open the cans.
It was a simple can opener, but had acquired the name "john wayne," a
form of tribute to our celluloid hero.
I arranged with my photographer to get the
picture. I gave him my "john wayne" and told him to get a close
up of Mr. Wayne's face and the can, with Mr. Wayne opening it. I
told him the picture would become immortal, not quite as strong as
Rosenthal's Iwo Jima shot, but definitely would rank in the top ten of
"most memorable shots."
John Wayne with a "john wayne." Yes, I
thought, we would have a great picture. Then I climbed
aboard the plane to Saigon.
But the picture never got taken. When
Mr. Wayne came to the battalion, it appears a Viet Cong sniper had
something else in mind for him. Mr. Wayne came under
sniper fire, the first time in his life anyone had ever really shot at
him. I heard there was a furious rush of people to get Mr.
Wayne to safety, and a million pounds of lead was unleashed toward the
My picture got lost in history, thwarted by a
V.C. sniper. But, the good news was that John Wayne was
truly battle tested. He survived combat.
It is hard to explain to anyone who hasn't been
in combat the feeling of joy and exhilaration when an individual or
group risks their lives to come to the battlefield to entertain you.
I guess that's what I liked most about David
Letterman's spur-of-the-moment decision to jump on a plane and go
visit American and Allied troops in Afghanistan.
He didn't take modern day Jane Mansfield's with
him, or 21st century Jerry Cologna's or Miss Universes. He took
himself, Paul Shaffer, and Biff Henderson--his two sidekicks.
They went as people, famous people, to shake
hands, laugh, share and show support to people who volunteered to give
their lives to fight Terrorism, who wait for the clarions of war to
sound, who have been trained to die for people sitting back watching
television and eating feasts in the security of their homes and
I thought of Dave Letterman as a true
Sentinel of Vigilance. He just "went" without fanfare.
He want because he wanted to, not because he had to, or was driven by
some commitment to become the next Bob Hope.
I thought about
how he helped drive out the Beast of Terror in hundreds of young Army,
Air Force and Marine warriors who sit in sandy foxholes or man
equipment poised to defend and attack the enemy.
In battle, I remember the loneliness of
waiting to die. Of trying not to think of death's
face staring back at you from the unknown.
Warriors swallow Fear as most gulp air.
They know they can't afford to let it take root in them. If it
does, they become useless, liabilities, and often die because they
But stuffing Fear doesn't mean you
erase it. It's still there. It's hidden under rocks of
Courage, Conviction and Right Actions. But Fear does push
ups. It waits. It struggles to surface.
The Beast of
Terror in Afghanistan
Dave Letterman, Biff Henderson
and Paul Schaffer helped quell that restless Fear in the warriors'
secret souls. Even though he didn't come with a huge mass
of people to perform a road show, he came from the heart. One
guy to another guy. Man-to-man, man-to-woman.
Warrior to warrior.
Back in Vietnam, John Wayne didn't
have to come to Vietnam. He came as a man comes to other men,
not as an entertainer comes to entertain. He came to show his
support as an individual, to express his personal convictions that he
appreciated what the troops were doing, and to let them know he
understood their private loneliness without having to run banner
headlines about it.
I particularly liked Letterman's
statement about "thank you." He was telling how the troops
thanked him for coming and he stopped and said, "No, thank you.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for coming here." To
his television audience he added "they are so good, so smart, so
resourceful, they are America's best." He, Shaffer and
Henderson agreed it was their best Christmas ever. Letterman
appeared humbled by his experience.
He had it right, though.
He reminded the world that the troops in Afghanistan are all volunteer
troops. No one was drafted into service. These were
the young men and women who stood quietly up and took the oath to
defend their country. Some made that decision prior
to September 11, 2001, some after. Letterman was there to
thank them for standing up for their country, for risking their lives.
While it might be a stretch for some
to liken Dave Letterman to John Wayne, I find it an easy step.
In his quiet, non-headline way, Letterman and his buddies decided to
spend Christmas in the Land of the Beast of Terror.
looking the Beast of Terror in the eye
They didn't blink an eye
about going to thank their comrades for risking their lives.
They just climbed on planes and went, three guys, three amigos, to
shake hands and look guys and gals in the eye and say, "Thanks."
That's what John Wayne did.
He came to Vietnam to tell the
troops they were the heroes, not he.
Dave Letterman, Paul Schaffer
and Biff Henderson did the same.
They picked up the Sword of
Vigilance, the Shield of Vigilance and handed it to the troops, their
gifts to those who volunteered to die in the battle with the Beast of
For expressing their Courage,
Conviction, and Right Actions in the face of Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency, the VigilanceVoice is proud to present them the Sentinel
of Vigilance Award, Christmas, 2002.
Dec. 27--Cries of Peaceful World Falls On Deaf Terrorism's
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