Saturday, February 08, 2014

Jerry Norton & Vietnam

I have posted on this blog before ( about my high school/collage friend and political mentor, Jerry Norton, who died too soon late last year; but, I have just discovered a wonderful reminiscence by one of his army buddies who served with him in Vietnam. I reproduce it here:

How the Ability to Type Saved the Lives of Two Skytroopers!" I first met Jerry Norton in the second week of February, 1970, in the tropical paradise of Phuoc Vinh, South Vietnam. How we got there is a story for the ages and the fact that we both survived Vietnam came down to a unique weapon--the typewriter, proving once again that words are mightier than the sword. Both of us were drafted, he from Oregon and me from Ohio. Jerry did basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington and artillery school at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I did basic at Ft. Dix, New Jersey and infantry/81mm mortar school at Ft. Lewis. We both were assigned to the lst Air Cavalary Division. Jerry to Vietnam several months before me and was assigned to a lst Cav artillery battery in Song Be. (The Cav operated in III Corps with brigade headquarters in Son Be, Quan Loi and Tayninh. The division commander operated out of Phuoc Vinh), Jerry was part of a l05mm howitzer crew and fired that gun daily as the enemy constantly blasted Song Be and sent the bad guys through the wire on a regular basis. Jerry's first lucky day came when he learned the battery commander had no clerk who could type. Jerry quickly volunteered, being a renowned typist, and he came off the line. However, he was not completely safe, which became apparent one night when the VC attacked Song Be yet again. Jerry grabbed his M-16 and headed for the Green Line, but incoming rockets splashed schrapnel every where and Jerry was hit, but not very badly. He won the purple heart and I believe he carried at least one piece of schrapnel forever. Jerry's second lucky day came shortly thereafter when he read a recruitment ad in the Cav's weekly newspaper, advertising for people with journalism degrees and real-world experience for assignment to the Cav's Public Information office in Phuoc Vinh (In its infinite wisdom, the Army never trained enough people to be clerk/typists or PIO types, which is why they had to be recruited in Vietnam). Jerry sent a resume to the PIO commanding officer, Major J. D. Coleman, was interviewed by Coleman and bingo, Jerry was out of the artillery and sitting pretty in the PIO office in Phuoc Vinh. Having dodged rockets and survived, there is no doubt his assignment to Cav PIO saved his life. Likewise, being able to type saved my life. I was two days away from being sent to the "boonies" with an infantry company to kill the bad guys. A personnel corporal appeared out-of-nowhere and announced that if anyone could type 30 words a minute and had a college degree, come see him immediately. I did. The corporal reviewed my personnel file, saw that I had a BA in journalism from Ohio State; a MA in journalism from Wisconsin plus real-world experience working for the Wisconsin State Journal and a secondary Army job title of 71Q (Information Specialist) and called the very same Major J. D. Coleman in Phuoc Vinh. I didn't even have to interview. The next day I was in Phuoc Vinh, out of the infantry and the mortar platoon--all because I could type. It saved my life! Jerry and Terry, both saved because they could type .Because of that bond, we remained friends for 44 years. Life in the 1st Cav PIO was interesting and boring.  We had reporters, photographers, artists and broadcast people preparing stuff for the weekly newspaper and four-color magazine. We had PIO offices in Phuoc Vinh, Song Be, Quan Loi, TayNinh and Bien Hoa. All of us competed to get stories, pictures and art work in the weekly newspaper or our four-color magazine. The broadcasters did taped interviews with "Skytroopers" and sent them to hometown radio stations, which was a big hit. There were four "plum" jobs in Cav PIO:  1) 90-120-day temporary assignment to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network in Saigon; 2) 90-120-day temporary assignment to the military newspaper "Stars & Stripes" (to the bureau office in Saigon; 3) editor of the weekly newspaper which put you in Saigon every Thursday and Friday to put the newspaper together for printing and, the most coveted job of all--editor of the division magazine, which included a 30-day temporary assignment, usually to Tokyo, to assemble and print the magazine.  There was never any doubt in my mind that Jerry would get the magazine job and he did. And absolutely nobody complained. Jerry let me write one of the stories for his issue. I got the job as editor of the newspaper and later, when I extended my tour in Vietnam to qualify for an immediate discharge, I got the magazine job.  The money had finally run out, so I was down-graded to 30 days in Taipei, Taiwan. While in Phuoc Vinh, Jerry and I learned just how boring it was being stationed at a base in the middle of nowhere. The base was several hundred acres, complete with its own airfield for countless helicopters and three-different Air Force prop planes (no jets). Only helicopters were allowed to spend the night. We only had "outhouses" and bathing took place standing below a 55-gallon drum of water with one spicket. Entertainment consisted of drinking (beer, liquor and cigarettes could only be bought with a GI ration card); your own 8-track tape machine and you own radio; one television in the 1st Cav Press Camp (complete with a bar (beer only sales) and the infamous "After Chow" jungle volleyball games (no rules-kill or be killed). We had a large press contingent pass through our press camp, including reporters from ABC, NBC, CBS, New York Times, Washington Post and just about every big-city newspaper.  More times than not, we sat in our editorial shop, talking politics, going home and what we missed the most.  Jerry always headed up the political talks and his conservative outlook was not always appreciated but everyone soon learned that if you want to argue politics with Jerry, you had better have your facts well in hand. In fact, if you wanted to talk about anything with Jerry, you had to be up-to-date and relevant in your thoughts. One night Dave from Michigan tried to argue with Jerry (Oregon) about which state was the better to live in and which was better to visit as a tourist--kind of a Chamber-of-Commerce shoot-out!  Dave never understood that his gun wasn't loaded and he didn't have a chance against Jerry. Those of us who witnessed this epic battle of words were convinced, when the smoke cleared, that when we returned to the "World" we should move to Oregon.  Lesson learned:  don't mess with Oregon or Jerry! When I left the Army, a friend helped me get a journalism job in DC (bad recession in 1971) and Jerry and I were roommates He in two different apartments in Alexandria. He was working for YAF at the time in various editorial positions. Politics was his love and he ran for the House of Representatives in the Virginia legislature. I had moved on to work in the national trade association world with the lobby for the distillers. My generous boss passed along some of the "good stuff" and I sold cocktails at fundraisers for Jerry's election. He won the Republican primary but lost the general election. If he had won, I am convinced Jerry would have remained in politics forever. His focus changed and off he went to the Columbia School of Journalism and his second wife. Believe it or not, after escaping Vietnam, Jerry went back to gather material for his thesis. His wife was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines and he flew at virtually no cost. Jerry arrived back in Vietnam after U.S. forces pulled out and before the North Vietnamese took control of the entire country. Jerry rode buses all over South Vietnam, most notable Route l, the only north-south paved road in the country. How he could go back there is beyond me, but Jerry had a nose for the story, the travel and adventure. I believe the Foreign Correspondent bug invaded him during this second posting to Vietnam. Jerry got his MA from Columbia and returned to DC where he took a job with Phillips Publishing Company as vice president and chief editor. But he wanted to be a daily reporter and he wanted to write about business and economics. A fellow Buckeye, Linda Vance, bureau chief for Commodity News Service, gave Jerry his first daily reporting job and the career began. He moved to London with CNS and then on to the Far East, highlighted by a 25-year career with Reuters. It was hard to stay in touch with Jerry (no email), but we crossed paths in the 80s when I passed through Hong Kong and Jerry was the Business Editor the South China Morning Post, the most prominent English-language daily in Hong Kong. The first night, Jerry gave me a tour after work (the job and the story always came first). My second and last night, we were to going to have dinner at one of Jerry's favorite joints. But a story came up and he didn't get to my hotel until 9:00 p.m. So we sat in my room looking out over Hong Kong Harbor, eating $15 burgers and fries with countless bottles of Heineken. We told more stories and lies then most mortal men could imagine; talked about all our buddies from the lst Cav and laughed until we cried. At one point, I just stopped, looked at Jerry and said, "Norton, we are a one hellua long way from Phuoc Vinh." Ever the suscint reporter, Jerry simply said, "No Shit!" And then we laughed until we could no longer breathe. The Bond of theTyping Fools of Phuoc Vinh had been reconnected, re-established and reconfirmed despite years of not seeing each other. I didn't see Jerry again until 2011 when he took a Reuters job in DC but Email kept us up to date. I was visiting my son and daughter and Jerry and I had lunch together in Shirlington with another old buddy, Dave Collogan, who had just retired as the 40-year editor of the publication, "Business Aviation." The stories, the lies and the BS were endless, but priceless. I talked to Jerry regularly after, exchanging emails, too. But little did I know that it would be the last time I would see him. There is no doubt in my formerly military mind that Jerry is sitting up there at the right hand of the Editor-in-Chief, writing his speeches, proclamations, press releases, blogs and all social-media material. Maybe Jerry can get me a job on his staff when my time comes? Not likely, as Jerry rode the "Up" escalator and I think the "Down" escalator has my name inscribed in fire and brimstone. But I learned long ago to never underestimate Jerry. He could work with anyone and  accomplish anything! Jerry was a tremendously talented journalist and reporter, but more importantly, he was a great guy. Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee and nobody didn't like Jerry Norton. His sense of humor, his wry smile that covered his face when he cracked off yet another pun and his ability to get along with everyone are rare qualities in this divided country. Jerry and I are tied together at the hip because we were brought together reluctantly by our Uncle Sam and the simple fact we could both type. The typewriter, I firmly believe, saved out lives Out of those old Royal and Remington typewriters came a story of brotherhood that lasted 44 years but should have lasted much longer. If ever one man deserves to rest in eternal peace in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery, it is Jerry William Norton. Rest in peace Skkytrooper. Gary Owen, mo fo!
Posted by J. Terry Turner on 01/24/2014

Since hearing of Jerry's passing I have seen many of his friends from    various times in his life  come forward with their wonderful  stories about Jerry and their friendship and how he touched so many people. That speaks well of a man!