A super private, and a super loyal friend
Not everything about a GI’s experience in Vietnam was completely negative; not all the memories are bad. Writing in his classic World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, German author Erich Maria Remarque noted that for all the horrors of that particular war, the camaraderie forged among the soldiers in it, even in the worst of times, was something unique and special that civilians could never comprehend. Vietnam was the same as any other war in that respect; those bonds and shared memories will last as long as Vietnam veterans are still around. A compilation of the good memories could be quite long, but in this issue we are highlighting two in particular.
In an interview with Chris Noel, the former rising Hollywood starlet of the 1960s tells why she fell as much in love with the American GIs as they did with her. The Vietnam War became the poster bogeyman of the modern political correctness movement. Opposition to the war was often part and parcel of blind, strident, even rabid hatred of all things and all persons military.All too many in the entertainment industry shunned Ameri – can GIs like lepers. A few stuck with them, and of those, even the biggest names suffered adverse career effects because of it. There was probably no individual whose Hollywood career suffered more than that of Chris Noel. The more Jane Fonda ranted against U.S. troops and called them baby killers, the brighter her Hollywood star shone. The longer Chris Noel supported the guys fighting in the rice paddies and jungles, the deeper her once-promising show biz career sank into obscurity.
Chris Noel’s life became deeply entwined with the Vietnam War, and before it was all over she too suffered personal tragedy. But she never abandoned the Vietnam soldier, or any other veterans. Today she is still deeply involved in the cause of homeless veterans. She may have never had a U.S. military serial number, but she was and still is a true Vietnam veteran in every sense.
Our second blast from the past is not quite as well known, unless you were in the 9th Infantry Division. GI humor is one of the enduring characteristics of the American soldier. One of the most outrageously funny of the Vietnam-era GI comic strips first appeared in 1967. No one who served in the 9th ID could ever forget its most famous soldier, Super Private: The E-2 of Steel. The Wonder Warrior was the insane creation (some said the alter ego) of Spc. 4 Howard Snyder, who drew the comic strip for the 9th Division’s newspaper. For many of the younger soldiers in the 9th, it was most probably the only reason they ever picked up the weekly paper.
“The Adventures of Super Private” was unlike any military cartoon before it. During World War II, cartoonist Bill Mauldin played it straight with his immortal “Willie and Joe,” making his point with pathos and irony. George Baker used silliness with “Sad Sack,” as does Mort Walker with “Beetle Bailey” today. Their cartoons exaggerate situations to just beyond the limit of believability, but not much further. Snyder, on the other hand, was a master of absurdity. His story lines and drawings played endless games with both human and physical nature. “Super Private,” in its own military way, evoked the surreal satire of MAD magazine during its glory days.
“Super Private” was the embodiment of enlisted Army life in Vietnam during the early days of the big buildup. He was the only man who could appear on the KP, the latrine detail, the guard and the charge of quarters duty rosters all at the same time. While pulling night guard duty on the bunker line, he always had a jeep trailer load of potatoes to peel—since he wasn’t available for night KP.
Anyone who was ever an enlisted soldier in Vietnam is sure to see something of himself in the E-2 of Steel. With this issue, we are proud to rerun some of these magnificent memories.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.