How does a warrior face Fear?   Does he or she swallow it or spit it up. On Christmas, David Letterman 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.


Saturday--December 28, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 472
Letterman Brings Laughter To Terrorism Battlefield Troops
Cliff McKenzie
   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.

David Letterman helped drive the Beast of Terror out of Kandahar for U.S. Troops

        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 laughs.
        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, Afghanistan.
        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.

Biff 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. 

Paul Shaffer, 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.

Bob Hope, "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 warm smile. 
      "Hi, Cliff.  The colonel says you've worked very hard to get everyone here, and I'm glad he picked you to put this on me."
       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 do it."
       "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 laughed.
      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 die.  

Jayne 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.

Bob Hope 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 cheerleaders.
       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.

John Wayne, 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 sniper's location.
      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 cities.
       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.  

Kandahar Air Base

       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 hesitate.
        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.  

Letterman 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 Terror.
         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 Ears

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