SAIGON — James Garner, the latest Hollywood actor to play the USO Borscht Circuit in Vietnam, feels that the main reason the U.S. public hasn't been sold on the war is because the United States was not attacked.
Garner, a Purple Heart veteran of Korea, says that he personally feels the situation is much like it was in Korea when General Matthew Ridgway addressed the troops and asked, "If you see a burglar coming, do you want to stop him at the back fence or wait until he gets into the house?"
"Here in Vietnam we couldn't wait for some sensational incident to happen or it would have been too late to help these people save their country from communism," Garner added.
The prospect of making a Vietnam tour caught Garner off guard, he readily admits. "I asked them what they thought I could do — no songs, no dances, no jokes. But here I am."
Traveling solo around the country, he has arrived at the conclusion that "the morale here is about 100 percent higher than it was in Korea."
Occasionally Garner runs across a GI who wants to try him for size. "They might ask if I was over here on some tax writeoff, or how much I get paid. When I explain that I'm an ex-rifleman private with the 24th Inf. Div.'s 5th Regimental Combat: Team, and came over for nothing, everything is OK."
As for Hollywood and the war, Garner feels it will be some time before any pictures based on the Vietnam war are produced.
"There are a lot of technical problems — getting the right equipment, finding the right locations and such, but above all it is too soon. The pictures made about the Korean War didn't do well at the boxoffice, but World War II pictures are well received now."
Garner is not worried about his most recently released film doing well. "Grand Prix," the story of European auto racing, seems well along the road toward soaking up 40 or 50 million at the boxoffice.
This was a labor of love for Garner, who was a California hot-rodder in his youth.
While he developed a great admiration and respect for the men who drive the powerful Formula I cars, Garner doesn't hesitate to admit that it isn't for him.
Garner, star of the highly successful "Maverick" TV series, is getting ready to mount up again soon when he plays Wyatt Earp to Jason Robards Jr.'s Doc Holliday in a picture that takes up the great lawman's career after the battle of the OK Corral.