During the Vietnam War, few people had an experience quite like Boise resident Dave Frazier. He served as a public relations specialist for the Traffic Management Agency (TMA) of the Military Assistance Command, the military outfit in charge of moving supplies, equipment and people around Vietnam by land, sea and air. In his PR role, Frazier traveled throughout Vietnam taking pictures and writing stories about the work of the TMA while fighting was going on around the country.
Frazier tells the story in his new memoir “Drafted! Vietnam at War and Peace.”
You may know Dave Frazier as the editor of the website the Boise Guardian. But his self-appointed role as watchdog, and usually critic, of everything done in local government is a hobby. Frazier had a long career as a professional photographer and photojournalist.
That career he says, is what got him drafted. He was spending all his time freelancing for news outlets and ended up flunking out of the University of Michigan in the Spring of 1966. The next year he was in Vietnam.
But his photojournalism background brought Frazier to the attention of a colonel. Frazier says the colonel wanted to be a general and thought getting positive press would help.
“Since we ran the transportation I was able to hop a ride about any place and go from the DMZ to the delta taking pictures,” Frazier says.
One of the trips Frazier took was with presidential candidate, and father of a future presidential candidate, George Romney. Frazier says back home Romney was getting some bad press after he changed from supporting the war to opposing it. Frazier thinks Romney’s trip to give aid to an orphanage in the highlands of Vietnam was an effort to revive his presidential bid.
“And in one sense it was an antiwar statement,” Frazier says. “It was, ‘we don’t want to do guns, we want to do some good.’”
Frazier was in Saigon for one of the major turning points of the war, the Tet Offensive.
"Prior to the Tet Offensive living in Saigon was almost a holiday," Frazier says. "We were supposed to wear civilian clothes whenever possible. We were not allowed to carry weapons prior to that, which seems kind of funny for soldiers. But after [the Tet Offensive] we weren't allowed to be out without a weapon. We went from being tourists to real soldiers."
Frazier’s encounters with historical figures didn’t stop when he returned to the states. His book details encounters with the likes of William Westmoreland, commander of military operations in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968.
While covering a presidential visit in Detroit for United Press International, Frazier struck up a conversation with Westmoreland. Another journalist took a picture that ran in several newspapers with the caption, “two journalists discussing the war.” Frazier says they were actually talking about how long it took them to stop having diarrhea after leaving Vietnam.
Frazier’s book is a parade of anecdotes ranging from irreverently funny, to heartwarming, to downright hard to believe. But, as he likes to point out, he's got the pictures to prove them.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
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