He wasn't the DJ on the radio show that spawned the Robin Williams movie "Good Morning, Vietnam." In fact, despite serving there for a year, he never even heard the broadcast.

But John Morrison was something of a Pied Piper himself — and has the front-page article to prove it.

The top story in the Sept. 21, 1967, edition of the Beacon Journal pictured Morrison, a 1966 graduate of Barberton High, using a small battery-powered record player to spin albums.

Not only did Morrison's turntable provide a bit of escape for him and his fellow soldiers, but it also struck a chord with a prisoner of war.

The crux of the story was that after a vicious firefight in which 23 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed while trying to fight their way out of caves, and 35 more were captured, the U.S. soldiers unwound at an encampment away from the front, enjoying music from back home.

Among those captured was a friendly 18-year-old private whom the Americans immediately nicknamed "Peanuts." When Morrison spun The Monkees song "Pleasant Valley Sunday," Peanuts lit up, tapping his feet and bopping along.

"I think he was a cook,” Morrison says, looking at a framed copy of the old story. “We all liked him.”

Peanuts switched his allegiance and led his captors to North Vietnamese hideouts and provided other valuable information.

What the story didn't say is that not long after that serene scene in the clearing, members of a South Vietnamese contingent attached to Morrison's company "talked him into going back down into the caves and trying to bring his buddies out. That didn't work good."

To put it mildly. The moment Peanuts entered — a rope tied around his waist, yelling out his name — he was shot and killed by the North Vietnamese.

"I always felt bad because I don't know what kind of story his parents would have gotten up north," Morrison says.

Brutal tour

Like many of the veterans whom we celebrate on this Veterans Day, John Morrison, 71, has extremely mixed emotions about his military experience.

"I'm proud I served my country," he says, sitting at the kitchen table of his house in the Portage Lakes. "I just wish I would have had a better reason, a belief in why I was there."

When he came home in May 1968 and enrolled at Kent State that fall, he was not offended by the antiwar protesters.

"A lot of me agreed with them. I didn't see too much need for the war. I didn't know why I was there, didn't know why we were there. It didn't make sense.

"I know a lot of people were saying, 'Oh, you're there to stop communism.' But it didn't do anything, really.

"The only thing I can figure out is they got to test how different guns worked. It was a testing ground."

And a dying ground.

Morrison was involved in countless firefights, most of which he still has no desire to talk about. His music helped keep him going — and made him popular among his mates.

The record player was a Singer, smaller in dimension than the 33-rpm albums it played. In addition to The Monkees, he toted around Bob Dylan, Chad and Jeremy, Eric Burdon and The Animals, The Supremes and The Temptations.

The record player operated on flashlight batteries, which were easy to get from the Army.

Fortunately, Morrison didn't have to lug his equipment all day. Most of the time the backpacks were picked up in the morning by a helicopter and returned for the evening meal, which was inevitably in a different location.

When his tour ended, he gave the turntable and albums to a soldier who was just arriving.

But he brought home plenty of other things, most of which he would rather have left behind.

A loss of hearing because of gunfire.

The aftereffects of exposure to Agent Orange.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.

For those ailments, he receives about $800 a month from Veterans Affairs. A pension from the carpenters' union also helps keep him afloat.

He became a carpenter after dropping out of Kent State. Because he was working all night for Consolidated Freight and going to school during the day, his candle eventually burned out. He didn't last long enough at KSU to be on campus for the shootings on May 4, 1970. But two of his friends were wounded — Alan Canfora and Tom Grace.

Head north?

When asked whether he ever considered fleeing to Canada, Morrison admits he considered it. “I'm glad I didn't, because I survived.”

A high school buddy of his considered it, too.

“I was back home and he was on his way to Vietnam,” he recalls. “We went to Woodstock. Then I drove him to the airport.

“We got to the airport and he wasn't sure about leaving. I should have drove to Canada that night, because he didn't survive. Got ran over by a tank driven by a thoroughly drunk sergeant.”

He grimaces at the memory.

On this day, Morrison is alone in the house. When asked whether he is married and/or has kids, he chokes up. Eventually, he tells you about his wife, Linda, who died from cancer after four decades of marriage.

“It will be two years on Jan. 3,” he says, the tears trickling down. “I'm having a hard time with that.”

He has two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One of the grandkids is a special-needs student whom he picks up each day at the bus stop.

“She keeps me grounded.”

Music helps, too. He re-bought some of the Vietnam albums and today has a large collection of vinyl. When the Lovin' Spoonful made an appearance at Lock 3 as part of — yes — a Woodstock anniversary concert, he brought an album cover and got it autographed by the band's founder and star, John Sebastian.

Getting better

Morrison will never fully leave Vietnam. Who could?

“I used to not talk about Vietnam at all, but then I got a couple of things from watching the 'Platoon' movie: 'Once you get back to the world, it will all be gravy.'

“I like that saying. 'Cause that's how we talked. We weren't in the real world in Vietnam. It wasn't part of our world. It was like going to a different planet.”

Would Morrison feel better about his sacrifice had he served in, say, World War II? Undoubtedly. But you don't get to choose your wars.

I hope we realize by now that Vietnam vets deserve every bit as much respect as those who served in any other era.

Anyone who ever put on a uniform made sacrifices. Here's a salute to all of you.

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.