In February of 1967, Nancy’s connection to American troops in Viet Nam was manifested in two compelling ways: her first USO tour and the inclusion of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Anderson Platoon.
As illustrated above, Associated Press reported Nancy’s February 6, 1967 arrival in Saigon for her USO tour:
“His helmet serving as a table, Airman Henry J. Hamill, Chicago, Ill., receives the autograph of Nancy Sinatra as she arrives at the Tan Son Nhut airbase at Saigon to entertain troops in Vietnam. Hamill, a member of the 377th Air Police Squadron, was on hand to make the singer’s arrival a safe one.”
Nancy reveals how she became dedicated to our troops and veterans:
“All of the people in my generation were involved in one way or another with the Viet Nam war. They were enlisting, drafted, escaping to another country or a marriage and children they didn’t really want. I knew I had to do something so I called the USO and volunteered to go and entertain the troops.
Nancy recalls her first USO tour:
As Nancy performed for the 196th Light Infantry at Tay Ninh on February 14, 1967, she showed her boots.
“Each outfit put us up wherever they could–sometimes a building, sometimes a tent–with shells going off over our heads. We spent one night on the carrier Kitty Hawk. My God, I was terrified. But once you are committed to something like that, you move past the fear.”
As Nancy was beginning her month-long USO tour, her recording of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” could be heard in producer and director Pierre Schoendoerffer’s Viet Nam War documentary The Anderson Platoon. Its February 3, 1967 premiere on French TV was broadcast as La Section Anderson by the public channel ORTF’s (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) monthly show Cinq colonnes à la une. The film chronicles six weeks during the fall of 1966 in the lives of thirty-three Americans in the platoon led by Lt. Joesph B. Anderson, Jr. (pictured below in Ebony magazine photos*).
Pierre Schoendoerffer (left) and Lt. Anderson (right) are pictured in a defoliated zone.
Of the unit’s thirty-three men, five died in action and several others were wounded. The platoon is shown taking a Viet Cong prisoner.
In the 1967 version of The Anderson Platoon, Nancy’s recording of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” is featured as the soldiers march through mud, in the following clip. It is important to note that the re-edited 1987 Hollywood Video Library version, which employs narration by Stuart Whitman, is not the original documentary and includes only the introduction to Nancy’s song. Schoendoerffer’s use of “Boots” in his original film creates a haunting dichotomy: While Nancy’s recording was omnipresent as entertainment on American radio, television and record players, its presence on the documentary’s soundtrack underscored the perils faced by American troops half a world away.
Nancy explains the connection between her recording of “Boots” and the troops:
“The combination of the pinup pictures in Stars and Stripes and my hit song ‘Boots’ brought me thousands of letters from G.I.s, along with several pairs of army boots. Many troops adopted ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin” as their marching song.”
A pair of army boots was presented by Brigadier-General James E. Herbold, Jr. to Nancy from FLC (Force Logistics Command), after she had sung to U.S. troops near Da Nang.
Schoendoerffer’s documentary would eventually air twice in the U.S. on CBS-TV (July 4 and July 25, 1967). The film would also be given a U.S. theatrical release, resulting in the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 40th Academy Awards (April 10, 1968).
In the June 30, 1967 issue of Life magazine, Stephen Heckscher reviewed the then-upcoming CBS broadcast of The Anderson Platoon:
“The camera is constantly present on the faces, the tension, the frustration, anger, hopelessness and pathos of war. Schoendoerffer takes no sides, politically, but says at the outset that he ‘is on the side of the soldier.’ It is understandable. He fought at Dienbienphu and was a prisoner for four months afterward.” …
“The men who fight in the film are full-fledged, card-carrying human beings to whom war has suddenly become a terribly personal thing. Television has been content to build them up as professionals doing a job. For Schoendoerffer they are what they are–well-armed civilians.”
*In an October 1967 Ebony magazine article, “The Anderson Platoon: Frenchman films Viet war of Army officer and his men,” Lt. Anderson offered his thoughts on the documentary:
“The film stresses comradeship among the men, and this really exists. You get lasting friendships, because these are people that you work with and get to know during extremely critical situations.”
The original French version of The Anderson Platoon was released on VHS by Home Vision in 2000.
Two decades after her first USO tour, Nancy recreated the experience for the “Chao Ong” episode of the television series China Beach. An ABC-TV press release, dated May 24, 1988, promoted the June 8, 1988 broadcast of Nancy’s episode.
Nancy’s China Beach appearance was prominently featured in TV Guide’s ”Insider” section of the June 4-10, 1988 issue.
During Nancy’s hour-long interview on the April 17, 1995 episode of Geraldo Rivera’s talk show, she introduced her 1967 USO tour escort officer, Captain Frank Livolsi of the 11th Cavalry:
“He’s my hero. He always will be.”
From her 2004 reunion with Frank Livolsi, Nancy shared this photo.
On November 7, 2008, Nancy was honored with The Lifetime Achievement Award at the Annual Salute To Veterans Day Breakfast:
With her usual modesty, Nancy acknowledged the honor and emphasized the importance of veterans’ issues:
“Honors such as this are given to unworthy civilians like me who try to help the people who really deserve the honors. That said, I accept them because by doing so I help bring other civilians into the fold by my presence at these events. If my name on an invitation will help get people to the event, I’m there.
“When you attend and support our veterans’ breakfasts, lunches and dinners your eyes will meet eyes that have seen the horrors of battle, eyes that have seen their friends blown to bits or airplanes shot down from the sky. Those eyes will haunt you forever.
“[...] if you want to help a veteran just sit and listen to him. If he is shy, ask questions until he begins to open up. The young ones don’t say much, the older vets say a lot. Let him talk and tell you his stories. Let him ramble, let him repeat himself, and take an interest in what he is saying, don’t just sit there being polite. A one-on-one conversation that you may forget as soon as you walk away from him, will stay with him and give him something to remember forever. If you can do this for just one veteran, you have accomplished something, believe me.