CLEVELAND - In the late 1960’s Larry Morrow and WIXY 1260 AM were the kings of local radio.
“We had the highest ratings in Cleveland and the highest ratings in America,” recalled Morrow. “But we gained all of that popularity because the songs we played were for teenagers. The promotions we were doing were short skirt contests, the mini skirt contest and the big bust contest.”
Morrow recalled the station was looking to take things to the next level, “we were looking to gain respect from adults and from the community.”
And so it was one day in 1969 when Morrow said he was called into the office of station management where they were talking about Vietnam and the number of Cleveland area men and women who were now serving overseas and they asked Morrow how he felt about maybe going over to Vietnam to interview them.
“I said ‘I was in the Marine Corps and I came out ok, I'm not so sure I want to go to Vietnam,’" recalled Morrow.
The simple fact was the former corporal didn’t think they’d honestly get the clearance to go and at first they were denied, then one day came a call from a Colonel at the Pentagon.
“And he said ‘Larry, President Nixon would like an end to the war and so we would like to send you over to Vietnam, interview all of the Cleveland area kids,’” recalled Morrow. But they also wanted him to interview others and get their honest views of the war. They then wanted him to file a report with them once he got home on what he found.
Morrow agreed and the Pentagon gave their permission but also a promotion for when he got his papers they were addressed to Major Lawrence D. Morrow.
“I called back right away and I said, no, no, no I was a corporal,” Morrow told them. They said no, Colonel Melton will explain to you when you get to Saigon. And so it was Morrow would later learn that the promotion was for his protection.
“If you get captured they’ll negotiate to get you back,” Morrow was told as an enlisted man there were no guarantees.
On his journey Morrow traveled all over Vietnam on a C-130 meeting over 200 service members from Northeast Ohio and doing taped interviews with 55 of them which would then be aired on WIXY over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as part of the station’s “Bring the Boys Home” campaign.
Morrow would talk to them about where they were from, their service and often take their dedications to be later played for loved ones back in “the world” as Morrow said they referred to life outside Vietnam.
Towards the end of the roughly two-week trip Morrow had gotten the routine down to a science which enabled him to be caught off guard one day.
“My last day there my visit was to Cam Rahn Bay Hospital and there were a few Clevelanders there and when I walked into the hospital I threw my tape recorder over my back and I had my Marine Corps uniform on and I walked through these green doors and I took about two steps and had to retreat, turn around and come back out.
“I was devastated when I looked on the side of those green doors, it said amputee section,” he said.
Morrow composed himself and walked back in to hear from a guy in one of the first beds “hey the Duker Larry Morrow is here from the world.”
Morrow did the interview with the soldier who had but one condition. “He said I will do the interview provided that you don’t mention in the interview that I lost my right leg from the knee down because he said when I get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas I want to surprise my Mom and Dad with my brand-new leg. What a story and I just walked out of there crying like a baby.”
He left each of the service members he talked to with a promise. “I made an agreement with every single person I interviewed that when you come home, I’m taking you to lunch and I did with many.”
There were though two lunches that were never a possibility for there were two men he spoke with who were killed in action and never made it home. It was something that bothered him and so when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was dedicated in 1982 Morrow made sure he was in attendance.
“I reached up and touched their names and I said I’m here for our lunch, I kept our agreement.”
Morrow’s decades on the air enabled him to have conversations with so many people whose names we all know but he says it’s the names we wouldn’t recognize that stay with him.
“To this day if there is one thought or one phrase that connected me to this city, not at the head level but at the heart level, it was my trip to Vietnam."