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Lew Wallace grad excelled at propaganda campaign

Second Lt. William Forgey has his gold bar pinned by his mother Gladys Forgey following graduatifrom Officer Candidate School. |

Second Lt. William Forgey has his gold bar pinned on by his mother, Gladys Forgey, following graduation from Officer Candidate School. | photo provided

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Updated: August 29, 2014 6:09AM



CROWN POINT — Nothing about Dr. William Forgey’s Vietnam War experience was typical.

Not the order in which he did things — college then military. Not the repeated visits to The Pentagon despite being a low-ranking officer. Not the 30 months he served there when the Army maximum was 18.

But typical isn’t what you need when you’re out for adventure.

Forgey, who was the last class of Lew Wallace High School in Gary to have attended it since kindergarten, graduated in 1960. He then went on to graduate from Indiana University in Bloomington with a degree in chemistry.

He had planned to become a biochemist, but by the end of undergraduate work was burned out and craving “fun, travel and adventure.”

“I knew it wouldn’t be fun,” he said of the Army, in which he enlisted in the spring of 1964, “but I thought the travel and adventure might come true.”

He opted for delayed entry, working at US Steel until reporting to Fort Gordon, Ga., for basic training in October 1964. Then came Advanced Individual Training and Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga.

Forgey was assigned to the 13th Psychological Warfare Batallion and sent to Vietnam in August 1966. Psych Opps, as they were called, were responsible for developing and delivering propaganda to the North Vietnamese. This involved intensive planning in which Forgey had the authority to mobilize personnel and equipment such as printing presses, loudspeakers and warplanes in very short spans of time.

Psych Opps were considered a “force extender.” If propaganda could persuade North Vietnamese fighters to surrender, it equaled American lives saved. The Vietnam War was said to have a kill ratio of 10 to 1, meaning for every American killed, 10 North Vietnamese were killed. Conversely, if you could get 10 to surrender, you were saving an American.

The surgeon general of the North Vietnamese Army was a voluntary surrender, or choi hoi, having become disillusioned when he ran out of morphine with which to treat his suffering soldiers. Within six hours Forgey’s unit had dropped half a million leaflets in which the surgeon general was quoted encouraging North Vietnamese fighters to surrender.

“If you get hurt we can’t help you,” the leaflets read. “You’re going to die.” Within one day millions more had been dropped, he said.

Forgey so impressed his superiors he was sent to the Pentagon after just two-and-a-half months to report on his unit and returned many times.

When the Tet Offensive began in 1968 Forgey’s unit was using 1,000 tons of paper a month in Saigon. He was on a rooftop watching the fireworks display going on 360 degrees around him in honor of the Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, for which the battle is named, when the attack began.

The next morning they made a run for the Army’s compound, driving through barricades to get there unscathed. Rolls of paper weighing 500 pounds each piled three and four deep protected them from shelling inside the compound. “Nothing goes through paper,” Forgey said.

After more and more officers slowly trickled into the compound a new officers’ club was established in the Chinese part of the city. Officers would eat their dinners in flak jackets. “This is just weird, like some weird movie,” Forgey remembers thinking of the surreal scene.

Forgey was devastated when North and South Vietnam reunited.

“It was a huge blow to me,” he said. “That’s one reason I said, ‘I’m out of here.’”

Forgey was a captain upon discharge. He received the Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal and his unit received four citations at various times.

Upon returning to Indiana Forgey enrolled in the department of microbiology at Indiana University as a graduate student. After two years there he got into medical school, starting and selling a mail-order camping supply business along the way. This was an offshoot of his longtime hobby of long-distance expedition travel in remote areas.

He remained in active duty as a project manager for the Pentagon, taking on projects such as getting drones packed with more leaflets to drop after bomb raids. “One time I was there the guy sitting next to me was the guy who had been in charge of the Bay of Pigs,” he said of one of his trips back to Washington.

Forgey has practiced family medicine and immunization travel medicine for 39 years. He also serves as medical director for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, overseeing a staff of 50 to provide medical services to inmates.



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