By Hannah Brandt
In 1964, San Francisco native David Kleinberg dropped out of school to travel. He knew something was going on in Vietnam, but wasn’t too worried about being drafted. He thought it was small and wouldn’t last long. By the time he left the country a year later, there were 500,000 Americans in Vietnam, stationed in just half of a small nation.
He went into the war, supporting it. That is, until he was in the jungle, rockets falling next to him. One of them hit a bunker, hitting people he lived with. Especially after the Tet Offensive, Kleinberg became anti-war. He had always been told that American casualties were light, but realized he had been lied to.
Kleinberg was an army journalist during the Vietnam War. He took photos and reported for the Stars and Stripes. In the military, there is usually a support unit in the back, but his unit lived and worked right with the soldiers.
His one-man theatre piece titled “Hey, Hey, LBJ!” will be performed at Mia Cuppa at this year’s Rogue Festival. In it, Kleinberg says in Vietnam he was told, “there’s only two kinds of battles: the ones we won and the ones we won.”
He was editing the division newspaper when his bunker in Cu Chi, Vietnam was hit. They went months being shot at, but he was lucky that he was editing the paper in Bangkok, Thailand during the strikes. Many of those with whom he lived died.
Kleinberg was born in the middle of WWII, which he said was perceived very differently by the American public. According to him, “The Vietnam War, was the most divisive foreign war and gave birth to the counter culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s.”
By the time he returned to the U.S., there were thousands of people protesting the war in the streets shouting “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” He recalled that one of the men who was wounded in his bunker, while covered in blood screamed, “that bastard, Johnson!”
That same year, 60 Minutes’ TV journalist, Mike Wallace, came to Kleinberg’s bunker when he was reporting from Vietnam. Wallace demanded why there was no cover for the bunker. The next day there was a photo of Wallace with a top over the bunker. He had reported on the three soldiers who died, but there was nothing in his report of the missing bunker covers.
Kleinberg attempted to get the video of that report from CBS but was told it didn’t exist. He would like the network to cover his performance piece on the subject now to make amends. Ironically, twenty years after the war, while working as editor of the Sunday Datebook of the San Francisco Chronicle, Kleinberg discovered that he was in footage that was shot Vietnam. It ended up in a PBS documentary.
Now fifty years on from the war, he has launched this solo theater work, delving deeply into the vast trove of material he has to work with. Kleinberg uses protest singers’ lyrics in his performance, including those he saw at demonstrations in the 1960’s, like Pete Seeger. He reconnected with survivors and captured reunion scenes for the first time, thirty years after the fact, thanks to the Internet. They still consider themselves brothers after what they went through.
When asked why he chose this format, he says that he did stand-up comedy for ten years. Kleinberg considers his writing background a foundation for this comedy and theater work. He decided to write his life story and thought this would be an interesting way to present it.
He originally wrote “Hey, Hey, LBJ!” as a documentary, from the point-of-view of a twenty-three-year-old soldier. The piece has had a nine show run at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco. He has also taken it to international film festivals, in Washington D.C. and New Orleans. It has received positive reviews in both the Washington Post and Rolling Stone magazine.
Rogue Festival limits their shows to one hour, but Kleinberg will have a post-show panel which will explore what we did and did not learn as a country from the Vietnam War. Spoiler alert: one of them, he said, is sending poor kids out to fight our wars. This has increased since the abolition of the draft after the Vietnam War.
Of course, rich men have always had the option to pay to send a poor man, servant or slave in their place, going back to the American Revolution. Our military today is made up heavily of working class kids who often join the military as a way to pay for college. Very often these are young men and women of color.
Tongue in cheek, Kleinberg says the power of the piece is that it overlooks the fact that he doesn’t have any acting training. More seriously, “It also shows how war taints everything, how it steals all our humanity. Women are forced to become prostitutes; men are only given steaks in the mess hall if they show how many dead they’ve killed.”
“Fifty years later was the time to do this. There is a time for everything and I couldn’t have done it earlier. My heart and soul is in this piece.”
Rogue Festival begins Mar 3, 2016. Check the schedule below for Kleinberg’s performance times.
FRESNO’S ROGUE FESTIVAL (Mia Cuppa Cafe, 620 E Olive Avenue) Friday, March 4, 6:30 pm Saturday, March 5, 8 pm Sunday, March 6, 2 pm Thursday, March 10, 8 pm Saturday, March 12, 5 pm Rogue Web Site http://www.roguefestival. com/?s=lbj TICKETS http://roguefestival.ticketleap. com/heyheylbj/
David Kleinberg is a San Francisco native who was the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Datebook for 14 years during a 34-year editing/writing career at the newspaper. He served as a combat correspondent for the army’s 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi, Vietnam, 25 miles northwest of Saigon. He went into the field with rifle and camera to report for the division’s newspaper, magazine and the military newspaper Stars & Stripes, and later edited the division newspaper. He was awarded the bronze star for his service, and left the army as a Specialist 5th Class. Hannah Brandt is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper. Contact her at editor@ fresnoalliance.com