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“Good Morning, Vietnam”

“Good Morning, Vietnam”

by William H. Benson

August 9, 2018

     Two Viet Cong terrorists—Hynh Phi Long and Le Van Ray—parked their bicycles on the riverbank across from My Canh, the Mekong Floating Restaurant, in Saigon, and left behind bags strapped to their bikes’ handlebars that contained bombs aimed at the restaurant. The first bomb detonated at 8:15 p.m., on Friday, June 26, 1965, and the second, just minutes later.

     In Vietnamese, My Canh means “beautiful view.” It was a vessel, or a barge, that floated in the Mekong River, in downtown Saigon, connected to the riverbank by a twenty-five foot long gangplank, a popular establishment frequented by the Vietnamese, as well as by the French and American soldiers and civilian advisors. More than one hundred people were relaxing and dining on the barge that night.

     The twin bombs killed thirty-two people at the restaurant, including thirteen Americans. More than forty-two more were wounded. Minutes after the blasts, Maxwell Taylor, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, arrived at the scene to survey the carnage. “He shook his head, got back into his car, unable to believe what had just happened.”

     Norman Schwarzkopf, a newly-minted officer and a West Point graduate, had arrived in South Vietnam that same day. He and another officer had wanted to dine that evening at My Canh, but due to jet lag they had selected the roof garden cafe atop their hotel, the Majestic.

     “We had just placed our orders when wham,” recalled Schwarzkopf in his 1993 autobiography, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero.” From the roof, he and his friend looked down and saw the wounded customers moving slowly across the walkway to shore. He said, “I watched as the second explosion blasted them from the gangplank into the water. That was my welcome to Vietnam.”

     An American airman name Adrian Cronauer had finished dinner and walked across the gangplank, but was still in the area, visiting with friends, when the two bombs exploded. He worked as a radio announcer, and wanted to report on his next day’s morning show, Dawn Buster, the bloodshed he had witnessed, but his superiors refused, because, they said, “it had not been officially confirmed yet.”

     Cronauer later said, “But I had seen it. I was there. All the news agencies knew! No; censorship ruled.” He decided to “swallow the stupidity and obey.”

     Headlines called it, “The Terrorist Attack that Shook the World.” The horrific crime was an example of maximum impact. “It was a trendy location during prime time, Friday evening, just after 8 o’clock, an international venue, and only a few blocks away from foreign news bureaus.”

     During the previous six months, the Viet Cong had bombed Saigon’s Brinks Hotel, the U.S. Embassy, and the airport terminal, but those terrorist acts had failed to shock the public and ignite the outrage that the bombing at My Canh did.  

     Fifteen years later, in the late 1970’s Adrian Cronauer wrote a script for a possible television show based on his experiences in Vietnam, similar to M.A.S.H. Years passed and his script languished in the reject pile. A movie producer saw the script, and converted it into the 1988 movie, Good Morning, Vietnam, that starred Robin Williams, a fictional account of Cronauer’s experiences.   

     Like Robin Williams did in the movie, Cronauer did stretch out the word “good,” but as a delay so that he could find the next record to play or the next page of news.

     Cronauer admitted that “if I had acted in real life as Robin Williams did in the film, I would still be serving time in the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.” The one scene in the film not fictional though was the bombing of the restaurant, but called “Jimmy Wahs.”

     Cronauer said, “When I was stationed in Vietnam, I did interviews with the troops out in the field, and one of the reactions I got from them was frustration. They would be in hot pursuit of an enemy unit, but they would have to disengage because the unit would cross over some invisible barrier or border. Vietnam was fought as a no-win war.”

     Adrian Cronauer met Robin Williams at the film’s premiere showing. “The two men shook hands, and Williams said he was glad to meet Cronauer, who replied that he was glad to meet himself too.”

     Adrian Cronauer passed away last month on July 18, 2018, age seventy-nine, and Norman Schwarzkopf died December 27, 2012, age seventy-eight, both men veterans of the Vietnam war.