Ron Irwin wears many hats, radio show host on the Dr. Ron Show , author “51-50: The Book”, Splash Magazine Worldwide journalist (https://splashmags.com/index.php/author/ronirwin/#gsc.tab=0), and now contributor to a feature film based on his book. David Hamilton was interested in what makes Ron Irwin “tick” and wanted to understand more about the upcoming feature film.
An interview with Ron Irwin
Hamilton: Good morning Ron. Let’s get right to the big story. You are currently working on a feature film “Too Numb to Lie Down.” Immediately, I have to ask where did that title come from?
Irwin: The entire movie is based on my book “51-50 The Book” which describes how I came to be in the Marine Corps and ultimately in Vietnam. But getting right to your question something extremely powerful hit me with only 3 days left in Vietnam.
Hamilton: Were you shot?
Irwin: Not in a physical sense. No. What happened was I was sent to the flight line to pick up a Marine Corps General. Now understand, I was a mere Corporal, so in relative terms I was a choir boy being sent to fetch the Pope. But with only 3 days left and having seen far too much death and misery I was no longer in awe so I asked the General one simple question. “Sir” I said “May I ask you one honest question and get your honest answer?” “Sure thing” he said “What is your question?” So, I asked, “With all due respect Sir, what the hell are we doing here?” He paused for a long moment and then said: “In all honesty Marine, I don’t know.” Suddenly all blood left my body and was replaced with ice water. I became totally numb. I had seen hundreds of body nags and dozens of pilots fly off to places we never were supposed to be in, only to not return and this General didn’t know why. It was the Pope telling the Choir boy that he, the Pope didn’t know anything about Catholicism
Hamilton: Wow! I can sure see how that would have hit you hard, but does this translate into a movie?
Irwin: As it happens a few months ago I ran into a new neighbor who had moved to Burbank from Wheaton, Illinois to pursue a career as a screen writer. That was not unusual but that he has a couple of films in distribution is fairly unique and he was a very pleasant gentlemen. So, in the course of our conversation I mentioned my book and he expressed interest. Then I gave him a copy and not long after he agreed to write the screen play. .
Hamilton: So just how closely will the movie follow the book?
Irwin: In terms of actual fact 100% but it will place emphasis on some things and ignore others.
Hamilton: Could you share brief outline?
Irwin: The movie begins with two 15-year-old boys chatting, most likely on the beach. They are both part of a boy’s home called Arden Shore Home for Boys which means they both no longer living at their respective homes. But the conversation does set up some of the motivations for Ron in particular. At one point he announces he is going to the book store and walks away. At the book store Ron, who absolutely hates poetry, picks up a tiny book and begins reading. He can’t put it down and when he is done reading it he buys it. And, by the way, I still have that book of Japanese Haiku. This is what starts my march to Vietnam.
Hamilton: How so?
Irwin: Because all of a sudden, I went from caring about nothing to being passionate about somehow getting myself to Asia. Then only two years later I found my ticket.
Hamilton: How did that happen?
Irwin: One cold winter day I was in Waukegan, Illinois when I came upon a post office and there was a sign “Join the Marine Corps.” So, I went in and asked the recruiter if Marines served in Asia and he said “Sure” and handed me a book called “Posts of the Corps.” Sure enough, there were plenty of photos of Marines seemingly having a great time in Asia, so I asked the recruiter for the paper work to join and the process began. After boot camp and infantry training I made my way to the West Coast and boarded a ship heading for Yokohama, Japan. I recall vividly as the ship drew ever closer to the Japanese shore all of the other Marines grew silent. What I felt was a deep inner glow of joy.
Hamilton: Did you then go down to Vietnam?
Irwin: Oh no, that would come later. What happened next was the most wonderful year of my life. I got to visit the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo for free. I got to visit several countries in Asia including Hong Kong where I actually spent an entire night partying with film star William Holden. I couldn’t even imagine a vacation with this much fun. But then I was ordered to go back this time to MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina and that I hated. Very soon, I began looking for ways to get back to Asia.
Hamilton: Interesting, but in all truth, I don’t see much of a movie here.
Irwin: True. That comes from my second tour of duty this time for 13 months in Vietnam. But you see I had become so infatuated with Asia that when offered the chance to go back I jumped at it even though it meant going to Vietnam. In fact, my numbness of the world around me began my very first day and only got deeper each day thereafter. But even as that was happening, there was also an abundance of dark humor.
Hamilton: What was humorous about being a Marine in Vietnam?
Irwin: Oh, the list is endless but just a couple of things starting with my arrival. I was issued the standard gear, a flack jacket and helmet, 100 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, an M-14 rifle, six hand grenades and, I recoiled and actually said “Wow you can get hurt with this stuff.” Then there was the guy I meet my first night in Chu Lai. He had been there several months already and when I saw tracer rounds from a machine gun maybe 300 yards away I asked him if there was something we needed to do like maybe jump in a foxhole. He just casually looked up and then said “No, that ain’t our problem.” Clearly, he had already reached a level of numbness I was just beginning to experience. But from that night to the day the General told me he didn’t know why we were in Vietnam there was a steady stream of insanity from mortar attacks, to incursions, to wild bureaucratic stupidity and the list goes on. In many ways it was similar to the great TV series M*A*S*H only with real bullets.
Hamilton: Will your movie “Too Numb to Lie Down” be similar in content to M*A*S*H?
Irwin: In many ways yes, but it is was happens the day after my conversation with the General that really brings the story home in unforgettable ways and which also explains the title.
Hamilton: Well, what happened on that day?
Irwin: Actually, I am not about to reveal a spoiler but let’s just say among other things I found myself drinking beer with two enemy soldiers after having sex with an enemy woman and all the while watching napalm being dropped very nearby. Then I went back to base and got ready to leave Vietnam.
Hamilton: That is totally insane. I can see a compelling story but how are you going to bring it to the big screen in a way that will entertain?
Irwin: Yes, I should have been killed but I had become just too numb to lie down. And as for bringing it to the screen; I already have the help of screen writer extraordinaire Craig Deering. Also, on board for the role of my Commanding Officer John Strong we have Kirk Taylor who played Private Payback in the Oscar nominated film Full Metal Jacket and the amazing Victor Onuigbo, best known for his work on the hit TV show Shameless. In addition, on board is award winning Director Richard Greenwood. So already our team is strong and getting stronger and I am certain that when completed it will be enjoyed by many.
Hamilton: Truly fascinating Ron. I wish you the very best and perhaps even an Oscar, Is there anything else you want to say.
Irwin: Just one final note. The Vietnam War lasted 20 years and resulted in over 58,000 Americans killed and more than 3 million Vietnamese killed. There is nothing nor anyone who can do anything to rewrite that history but one thing we can do and with this movie I do pledge to do what I can to use some of the profits generated to provide aid to American military veterans in need. I won’t have the complete details until we get closer to actual production and ultimate distribution but I guarantee it shall be done.
Hamilton: That is a wonderful gesture Ron. Thank you for your time today. And should anyone want a copy of Ron’s book 51-50 the Book it is available here.