It was the very first time I had been on an International flight. I was excited to say the least. It was April of 1968 I was working as a singer guitarist with an eight piece band in one of Sydney's popular upmarket venues The Oceanic Hotel Coogee. The offer arrived. Would I like to entertain American troops in Vietnam? Most certainly I would. Where do I sign?
Within a month of the offer I had given notice to my regular band, arranged a passport, publicity pics, necessary injections and a level of energy I have not experienced since.
I left Sydney Australia for what was to be the adventure of a lifetime for a somewhat immature 20 year old. I told my parents that it would be a perfectly safe thing for me to do. "Think of Bob Hope" I said, as though it would be a comfort to them.
I didn't know what I was letting myself in for and neither did they. I only knew that I was growing tired of the seemingly peaceful Sydney suburb I lived in. I wanted to travel.
Arrival Saigon June 6, 1968
l will never forget the initial shock of disembarking from the plane only to be hit with a great burst of heat, a dry, burning climate I had never experienced before. Then the sight of hundreds of military personnel with machine guns and everywhere green uniforms, military equipment and aircraft. The military toys that I once played with as a child now took on a sobering identity. I was in the centre of Saigon - totally bewildered.
The first of our shows was to be an audition before a panel of grading American Officers and USO officials. It was held in Long Bin about an hours drive from Saigon.This would give the agent or the person selling the show a price limit according to the grade. They would then have the freedom to sell the show to clubs in military facilities all over South Vietnam. We passed and were given a fair grade.
That week we stayed, temporarily, in a Chinese hotel in downtown Saigon. To get back to the hotel after the audition show we accepted a lift back from some very friendly Navy EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) guys. The vehicle was an enclosed Navy Jeep. Fortunately my side window was open because the Navy escort sitting behind me accidentally fired a round from a grenade launcher. The barrel was leaning on my shoulder. I heard a "pop", felt a sudden pain like a punch and assumed I had been shot. I calmly blurted "I think Ive been hit."
I was taken to hospital at top speed where i was treated for a minor burn and a very sore shoulder blade. Thank God the window was open. That was my introduction to a long stay in Vietnam.
During that first tour of 11 months and 6 days we had managed more than 116 flights in choppers, gun ships, C130's, many military machines including boats and barges, trucks, jeeps and even motor cycles. Whatever it took to get to the show.
During and after shows the compounds were often under mortar attack, perimeter attacks, fired on while travelling in in choppers and on the ground in trucks and jeeps, we sometimes had to abandoned shows during or before commencement.
I admit though, I did it for the applause.
American troops seem to listen to every word of a song - even if they had never heard it before. They seem to search for songs that were presented with feeling. Perhaps ballads, blues songs, soul songs, home town songs, country songs. It didn't seem to matter. Emotions ran high. They would laugh, sometimes cry, sing along, and most of all applaud loudly. The greatest audiences of my career and inspired me to make music my lifelong vocation.
My "Thanks" to this day
I survived Vietnam as a civilian because of the many brave military servicemen and women who sometimes risked their lives to protect and deliver us to and from performances.
Email me: email@example.com
By Norm Faber
Some Career history
Norm's overseas career started by entertaining American and Australian troops during three long tours of the war zone during the Vietnam conflict. The troop audiences were receptive, appreciative, and showed their appreciation with enthusiastic applause. This in turn motivated him to seek a full time career in entertainment.