My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have six novels and seventeen stories in print.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the thirteen years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales. Originally published as an ebook, Adelaide will be publishing a hard copy version in June 2022.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy, published in March 2020, tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the Trump administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation. Coming to Terms, out in August 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

Yet Again: Words

Once more with feeling: words that fascinate me. As a linguist (seven languages), I am constantly engulfed in words. I love them. And English is apparently the richest of languages when it comes to words. So let’s get to it.

Berserk: According to the Merriam-Webster website, “berserk” means (1) an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable; or (2) one whose actions are recklessly defiant. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the word as follows: “1844, from berserk (n.) ‘Norse warrior’ (by 1835), an alternative form of berserker, a word which was introduced (as berserkar) by Sir Walter Scott in ‘The Pirate’ (1822), from Old Norse berserkr (n.) ‘raging warrior of superhuman strength.’ It is probably from *ber- ‘bear’ + serkr ‘shirt,’ thus literally ‘a warrior clothed in bearskin’ (see bear (n.) + sark). Thus not, as Scott evidently believed, from Old Norse berr ‘bare, naked’ and meaning “warrior who fights without armor.”

Doozy: Oxford Languages defines the word (sometimes rendered as “doozie”) as “something outstanding or unique of its kind, e.g., ‘it’s gonna be a doozy of a black eye.’” The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word is perhaps an alteration of daisy, or from popular Italian actress Eleonora Duse (1859-1924)—in either case, reinforced by Duesenberg, the expensive, classy make of automobile from the 1920s-30s.

Bambozzle: The word is defined as meaning to cheat, trick, swindle. It originated in 1703, originally a slang or cant word, of unknown origin—perhaps Scottish from bombaze, bumbaze meaning to confound, perplex, or related to bombast; or related to French embabouiner meaning to make a fool (literally baboon) of; or from the Italian bambolo, bamboccio, bambocciolo meaning a young babe, extended by metonymy to mean an old dotard or babish gull. Related: Bamboozled; bamboozler; bamboozling.

Wacko: mad or insane. It’s an extended form of wack, a word originating in by 1971 meaning a crazy person. Or it is a 1938 back-formation from wacky. Used as an adjective in slang sense of “worthless, stupid,” it appeared in the late 1990s. It may be a variant of whacky—fool—which originated in the late 1800s as British slang, probably ultimately from whack—a blow, stroke, from the notion of being whacked on the head one too many times.

Gadget: Oxford languages defines the word as meaning a small mechanical or electronic device or tool, especially an ingenious or novel one. The word originated in 1886 as gadjet, a sailors’ slang word for any small mechanical thing or part of a ship for which they lacked, or forgot, a name; perhaps from French gâchette meaning a catch-piece of a mechanism (fifteenth century), diminutive of gâche meaning staple of a lock.

More next time.

Paying Our Legislators

Most of the western democracies support their political parties by government subsidies. That prevents what amounts to bribery by private citizens and groups. We in the U.S., on the other hand, depend on contributions from citizens and organized groups such as corporations to finance our political parties. That means that whoever pays the most money gets the most political power.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a good example. It contributed roughly $149,000 to Senate recipients in the 2020 cycle, with nearly all the funds going to Republicans. Gun Owners of America (GOA), a rival gun-rights group, allocated $45,100 to Senate recipients in the 2020 cycle, with 100 percent of proceeds going to Republican figures.

The end result is, as long as Republicans retain power in the Congress, that gun control legislation is at best feeble, at worst non-existent. The only way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of guns in the hands of Americans. But as long at the NRA and GOA continue to buy the congressional votes, gun control will go nowhere.

That’s but one example of the vote buying that is routine in the U.S. Until we change the way we finance our politics, those with money will continue to buy legislation.

Why I Enjoy Words

The joy I take in words—their origin, meaning, history—comes from the man that I am. I spent my professional career as a linguist in seven languages. I worked as a spy using signals intelligence, the intercept and exploitation of the enemy’s radio communications, to inform friendly forces on the enemy’s whereabouts, his intent, and the size of his units. But all that came from my natural bent for languages. As a child I taught myself French and Italian, had four years of Latin in high school, studied German (among other things) in college, learned Vietnamese at the Army Languages School (now the Defense Language Institute), took classes in Chinese at Georgetown University, and studied Spanish at the Howard Community College, next door to me in Columbia, Maryland.

One end result of all that is my fascination with words, especially in English, the most polyglot language currently spoken. I take pleasure in discovering the origin of words and their etymology. For that, I use the classic Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Eric Partridge (Greenwich House, 1983) and the Online Etymological Dictionary to discover how words evolved. But I also trace the history of a given word and how it came to have its current meaning.

The most common and down-to-earth words in English come from the Anglo-Saxon roots of our language. But we have added to our vocabulary by borrowing from French (primarily because of the eleventh century Norman invasion of England led by the French-speaking William, the Conqueror). Later, as we delved into more complex issues, we appropriated words from Greek and Latin. And as Americans traveled the globe, we borrowed words from many different languages around the world.

We have, therefore, more words than we know what to do with. And I as a writer am blessed with endless choices as to what word to use to express precisely my intent.

How lucky can a writer be?


In my piano room, an honored place in my house, I have my wine chest, constructed to my specifications many years ago by a cabinet maker. Its approximate measurements are four-and-a-half feet wide, a foot-and-a-half deep, and three-and-a-half feet high. The right side of the chest consists of six drawers, each designed to hold two magnums of wine. The left side has seven drawers, each large enough to hold three standard-size bottles. The middle section of the chest holds eighteen chardonnay-size wine glasses hung upside down in racks.  It is made of a medium blond wood, maybe maple.

I only eat two meals a day and usually have wine with both. That means that I need to refill the chest when a half dozen drawers are empty—two or three times a year—requiring a trip to a huge wine store named Total Wine about a half an hour from where I live.

I have loved wine since I was a young man. My taste runs to the reds, and these days that means almost exclusively cabernet sauvignon—though I always keep a couple of bottles of champagne on hand to be ready for celebrations. I specialize in cheap cabernets which, as it turns out, come from all over the world: California, Australia, France, and various countries in South America.

I pity the majority of Americans who, unlike our European counterparts, have never learned to enjoy wine. It’s their loss.

Aid to Ukraine

The recent trend among Republicans to call for reductions in our aid to Ukraine is poisonous. It is in the vital interest of the U.S. and the whole western world to do everything it can to assist Ukraine and defeat the Russian invasion.

The war so far has revealed in dramatic detail Ukraine’s astonishing valor and Russia’s obvious incompetence. In the first 388 days of war in Ukraine, the Russian Army lost more than 163,320 soldiers. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have suffered an estimated 13,000 soldiers killed in action.

Comparison of statistics on the two nations is revealing. Russia’s Gross National Product (GDP) is $1.48 trillion; Ukraine’s, at the end of 2020, was $155.5 billion. Russia’s population is 143,449,000; Ukraine’s is 43,793,000. So there was every reason to expect that Russia’s invasion would be a quick success. That it was not is stark evidence of Ukraine’s gallantry.

If Russia’s invasion is successful, we can be sure that others against neighboring nations will follow. It is in the U.S. vital interest to assure that the invasion is a failure. So we must do all we can to support Ukraine.

Like so many other things that Republicans led by Donald Trump support these days, reduction of our help to Ukraine would hurt the U.S. If anything, we must double down and increase out support.

Washington Post Submission

Several weeks ago, I sent a letter to the editor at the Washington Post. To date, the Post still hasn’t published the letter, so I decided to post it here:

Abolish the Second Amendment

The Washington Post continues to report gun killings. Make no mistake: we have so many killings because we have so many guns. The U.S. population has 393 million guns, more guns per 100 people, 120.5, than any other nation. We have twenty percent more guns than people. And each year, some 43,000 Americans are killed by guns.

But the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We interpret those words to mean that there will be no limit on the number of guns anyone can own.

That makes us unique among modern western democracies. Around a third of all American families own guns; many own multiple guns.

It’s time that we change our culture. We must start by abolishing the Second Amendment, then the government must ban firearms, seize civilian-owned guns, and reimburse gun owners.

It’s time for us to come to our senses, join the rational nations of the word, give up our guns, and reduce our number of gun deaths.

End of quote.

My thoughts notwithstanding, things keep getting worse. As of March 20, we have already suffered 117 mass shootings and 9,037 gun deaths. At this rate, we will lose more than 42,340 people to gun violence in 2023.

The time to correct this ugly blemish is long since past. Call upon Congress to act!

Oh! Susanna

When I was four years old, my sister Suzanne, two years older than me, died of polio. Her death changed my whole life. My parents had been separated, but the death of their daughter brought them together again. I and my mother had been living with my grandmother in West Virginia—I was a confirmed hillbilly. We moved to Oakland in the San Francisco bay area to be with my father. Everyone there laughed at my West Virginia accent, and I worked hard to learn how to talk like everybody else.

 As a result of that experience, the song “Oh, Susanna” has always had special meaning for me. It is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864), first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written.

Here are the words of the first verse and the chorus:

            I came from Alabama, Wid a banjo on my knee,

I’m gwyne to Louisiana, My true love for to see.

It rain’d all night the day I left, The weather it was dry,

The sun so hot I froze to death; Susanna, don’t you cry.


Oh! Susanna, Oh don’t you cry for me,

cos’ I’ve come from Alabama, Wid my banjo on my knee

To this day, whenever I hear that song, I remember my sister and grieve once more over her death.

Presentation on the Fall of Saigon

I’ve now done my presentation with slides on the fall of Saigon more than a hundred times. That tells you how popular it is. My most recent offering was last week at the Men’s Forum at the Ellicott City 50+ Center. Even though I wasn’t able to use my slides due to a technical misfit, it felt as though the presentation went very well—the audience was with me from start to finish.

The presentation tells the story of my struggle to get my 43 subordinates and their families safely out of Saigon before it fell to the North Vietnamese on April 29, 1975. The U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, didn’t believe my warnings from the intercept of North Vietnamese radio communications that the city was about to be attacked. He forbade the evacuation of my guys and their families—he believed the Hungarian member of the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), representing a communist government allied to North Vietnam, who told him that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon. According to him, the North Vietnamese wished to join with other patriotic forces and rule jointly.

I proceeded to evacuate my guys anyway. I lied and cheated and stole to get them out of the country. To do that and because of the ambassador, I had to stay until the last minute. After I got all my people out, I escaped under fire on a helicopter while we were being shelled after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon.

I encourage invitations to tell my story because I want people to know what happened when Saigon fell. The Vietnam war was the first war the U.S. ever lost. We were beaten because we didn’t understand how to fight a guerrilla war and because the American public turned against the war and demanded that it end, even if that meant we submitted to defeat.

One of my missions in life is to tell the story of what really happened.

Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement is, in my judgment, cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” And yet, solitary confinement is used broadly throughout the U.S.

The nature and barbarity of solitary confinement was brought forcefully to my attention as I read for review Pete Earley’s No Human Contact: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System (Citadel Press, 2023). The book describes at length the suffering of two solitary confinement inmates, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain—Silverstein spent 36 years in an isolation cell; Fountain was in solitary confinement nearly 21 years. When the review is published, I’ll alert readers.

The continued use of solitary confinement is symptomatic of the U.S.’s failure to join the civilized world. Other modern nations do not imprison people at rates anything like the U.S. As of January 2023, the incarceration rate of the United States is the sixth highest in the world, at 505 per 100,000 people, much higher than any other modern western nation. While the United States represents about 4.2 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 20 percent of the world’s prisoners.

As a nation, we must face out flaws and find ways to correct them. Let’s work together to reform our penal system and, among other things, cease solitary confinement.


I’ve whined before here about my dislike of cold weather and about my disappointment that March promises warmth and doesn’t deliver. The cold continues. As I write, the temperature is only one degree above freezing.

But as I look out at the vegetation surrounding the pond in back of my house, I’m struck by the presence of blooms—daffodils in full flower, and yellow, pink, and red blossoms on flowering trees and bushes. The first day of spring is less than a week away. Warm weather will eventually follow, though it may take a while.

So, as Alexander Pope long ago advised us, hope springs eternal. Where there are blooms, there is the promise of warmth. Someday soon, if I’m patient, I will be comfortably warm again.

But I’m not patient. I want the warmth now. So I go on bundling up and hovering close to my gas stoves.

I have just proven that one can type even when one is cold.