Today’s story is in honor of those who served during the Vietnam War, which ended 50 years ago this month.
From 1965-1966, disc jockey Adrian Cronaur hosted a Saigon-based morning wake-up program, “Dawn Busters. Each of his 6 AM broadcasts began with his signature greeting, “Goooood morning Vietnam,” which also became the title of a 1987 movie in which Robin Williams played the radio man.
Cronaur was born in 1938 in Pittsburgh, and by the age of 12, he was making intermittent appearances on a local children’s TV show. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, he helped found a radio station and afterward, he joined the U.S. Air Force. After serving in Greece, he asked to be deployed to Vietnam, where he became a news director for Armed Services Radio. When his morning DJ left, Cronaur stepped into the role.
The show he presided over reached hundreds of thousands of US troops. Like other DJ’s who served in Vietnam, Cronaur wanted above all to entertain the soldiers, to keep up their morale.
He said they’d been dropped into a completely alien environment, and he wanted to give them a taste of home. Years after the war he told a reporter he was glad to know his show had not been forgotten, despite how irritating some vets told him his morning greeting had initially been to them.
“I will be at a veterans’ reunion or something, and a man will walk up to me and shake my hand and very quietly say, ‘Thank you for helping me get through ‘Nam.’ And that’s pretty rewarding.”
The best way he found to uplift homesick GIs “was to sound as much as possible like a stateside radio station. So that’s what I tried to do.”
Initially, the music he was asked to play was more like their parents’ playlist—Sinatra, Bennett, Como, along with some 1950s pop music. Cronaur began introducing the same kind of songs that were being played across America, where many of the troops could have sworn he was broadcasting from as they listened to his show on portable transistor radios.
Sometimes the men who worked at those radio stations faced danger, including five station staff in Hue who were captured by the Vietcong and imprisoned for five years. Les Howard, who DJed in 1970, shared Cronaur’s desire to inspire the troops. “Our mission as AFVN broadcasters was to entertain, to inform, and to soothe. Music, especially familiar stateside songs, was a good way to do that. I believe that, in my own way, I was able to ease the stress of GIs in Vietnam.”
After the war, Adrian Cronaur got married and moved to New York, where he did TV voiceover and radio commercials. He and a friend came up with the idea of a Vietnam War-themed M*A*S*H-type sitcom, but America was still trying to put the divisive war behind her. Years later when Robin Williams saw the script, the time, and the actor, were right. Although Williams took great artistic license with the role, the movie made Cronaur so famous he once said, “Vietnam DJ” would end up etched on his tombstone. He took the money he made from the film to go to law school and became a communications law attorney.
He received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service and throughout the rest of his life, supported community theater, broadcast, and veterans groups in Troutville, Virginia where he lived. In 2018, he died at the age of 79. His tombstone reads, “Adrian J. Cronaur, Sergeant, US Air Force, Vietnam, September 8, 1938 to July 18, 2018. Vietnam DJ. Beloved.”
To all the men and women who served during the Vietnam War, I thank you for your sacrificial service.
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