Military radioman who inspired film speaks to Fort Meade graduates

DJ tells real story behind `Good Morning, Vietnam'

October 16, 2002|By Gabriel Baird | Gabriel Baird,SUN STAFF

Vaughn McMillian has seen the Robin Williams movie Good Morning, Vietnam at least 30 times. In fact, he liked the 1987 film so much that he chose broadcasting as his specialty in the Navy.

Yesterday, McMillian got the chance to meet the military radio personality that Williams' Academy Award-nominated performance was based on: Adrian Cronauer.

McMillian said that while Williams taught him about entertaining an audience, Cronauer was funny, too - and offered some good broadcasting tips.

"For my taste, he was more impressive than Robin in the movie," said McMillian, 41.

Cronauer was the speaker at the graduation of McMillian and 13 classmates from Fort George G. Meade's Defense Information School in Anne Arundel County. Graduates go on to be military journalists.

Before meeting Cronauer, McMillian wasn't so sure how the real man would stack up against the famous actor.

"I don't really expect Adrian Cronauer to resemble Robin Williams," McMillian said before the ceremony while on a cigarette break with one of his classmates. "I think Father Time has crept up a little bit."

But the differences between the 64-year-old man and Williams' portrayal of him were more than skin deep.

He started his speech by debunking the movie's inaccuracies. Primarily, he said, he hadn't been as zany or anti-establishment as Williams.

"If I had done half of the stuff he did, I would still be in [Fort] Leavenworth," Cronauer said, referring to the military prison.

While he did teach English to the Vietnamese during off-duty hours, he said the movie was wrong to suggest it was to get the attention of a Vietnamese girl.

"At least not any one girl in particular," he said.

The lines drew laughter from the crowd of about 120 school faculty, students and family members of the graduates.

The movie also was wrong to make him a liberal when in reality he has always been a Republican, he said.

In 2000, Cronauer helped George W. Bush's presidential campaign. The Arlington, Va., resident now serves as special assistant to the director of the Defense POW, Missing Personnel Office.

As Cronauer ended the talk, it seemed as if he had forgotten to recite the line that the movie made famous.

Then as though it just occurred to him, he said he remembered another difference between him and Williams.

He said it was wrong of Williams to deliver it as a rising crescendo. Instead, Cronauer said he had stretched out the first word to stall, using the time to get organized before going on air.

"Gooooood," he said, holding out the vowel sound for about 10 seconds as he pretended to be looking for a record to play, putting on his glasses and fitting the headphones over his ears.

Then he finished the phrase with his last breath of air. "Morning Vietnam!"

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