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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York will publish my latest novel, Secretocracy, early in 2020.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 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.

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 tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the current administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation.

 

Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit: Afterthoughts

I wrote several posts for this blog earlier this year coincident with the publication of Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War (Doubleday, 2019). I was profoundly moved by the book which praised those of us in Vietnam as the country fell to the communists in April 1975. We did everything we could to rescue the South Vietnamese who would be killed by the conquering North Vietnamese. More than 130,000 were saved. And I was grateful that Thurston included some of my work in his telling. For once, we were not blamed for our work. We were honored.

The book has lingered in my thoughts. Repeatedly, when I returned from Vietnam during the thirteen years I was there on and off (between 1962 and 1975, I spent at least four months every year there), crowds in the airports spit on me and the returning soldiers, calling us “butchers” and “baby killers.” After the war ended, Americans considered it a shameful war. We who participated were shamed. For decades, I never spoke of my time in Vietnam.

But the American attitude has changed in the last few years. Americans now thank us for our time in Vietnam. These days I can take pride in having risked my life to serve my country.

And yet, the history of the war, the errors we made, and our final defeat are still shrouded in ignorance. Even whether we lost the war is still debated. Many times, I have had people ask me whose side were on during the war. The spate of books on Vietnam in the last few years has helped. I was particularly taken with Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam: A New History (Basic Books, 2016) and Brian VanDeMark’s Road to Disaster (HarperCollins, 2018).

But despite a continuing retelling of the Vietnam war history, the American people as a whole know little about what happened and why. All of us should urge our school systems to teach the story of the war to our young people.

For all that, I’m in Thurston Clarke’s debt for leveling the playing field. Thank you, Thurston.

My Wife During Vietnam (2)

By the time I escaped Saigon under fire twenty days after wife and children were evacuated, I was sick with dysentery and pneumonia and was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. I had been holed up for days on end in my office with little food and no sleep as the North Vietnamese first shelled then launched a ground attack on Saigon. I arrived in Maryland in mid-May 1975 but couldn’t go back to my house there because we had leased it to another family for the expected length of our Vietnam tour, three years. My wife and the children landed in Massachusetts on a flight from Europe to stay with my wife’s father. I telephoned her and begged her to come to Maryland. I explained that I was ill and in need of help.

She refused. She said she would not return until I was able to pay off the family in our house and get it back. She and children finally came back to Maryland two months later, after I had regained the house.

In sum, my sickness and need were of no interest to her. I was left on my own to cope with my physical illnesses and emotional wounds. Because I held high level security clearances, I couldn’t seek psychiatric help with my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I was on my own.

Thanks to my childhood with an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, I had long since developed resilience and self-reliance. I got through it all by myself, without help. I managed my health problems and healed myself. I don’t recommend it as a way of life.

The worst aspect of my recovery was the realization that my wife was indifferent to my need. She delighted in being the woman around town in Saigon but didn’t care enough about me to help me when I was at the lowest point in my life, suffering from both physical and emotional illnesses. It was obvious that cared little for me. That was the beginning of the end of the marriage.

During the divorce, she secretly arranged to have one of my children brought into the courtroom just as I was about to testify against her. I wasn’t about to lay out all the evidence of her misdeeds in front of her child. The end result was I lost everything to her in the divorce. It took me years to regain financial standing.

My wife, meanwhile, spent the rest of her life in our family house, alone after the children grew up and moved out. She was content.

My Wife During Vietnam

A reader points out that in recent posts I talked about what my children went through as a result of my time in Vietnam, but I made no mention of my wife. That was intentional.

Here’s the story. While my children suffered from their time in Vietnam, my wife enjoyed it. My absence didn’t trouble her, and during the two tours she was with me in Vietnam, she had servants who did all the housework and cared for the children. She was free to play tennis, go to coffees and lunches and teas, and shop as much as she wanted. She even took advantage of the limousine and driver assigned to me.

During her second tour in 1974 and 1975, she played the role of Mrs. Chief to the hilt. She enjoyed being first among the dependents there. While the children were uncomfortable with the poverty and the presence of war-wounded, my wife remained impervious. When I told her that she and the children must leave Saigon because the North Vietnamese would soon attack the city, she rejected my warning. At an embassy coffee, officials had told her and other dependents that there was no danger—we would not be attacked. She finally agreed to leave on three conditions: she could choose her own date of departure, she and the children would tour the world on the way home—travelling all through Asia and Europe for as long as she wanted— and she could buy a new Buick station wagon when she got back to the states.

I agreed with all her conditions and got her and the children tickets for departure on 9 April. The day before, a renegade South Vietnamese pilot bombed the presidential palace, near our villa, and defected to the North Vietnamese. Now she was more than willing to go. But when I drove my family to the airport on 9 April, I ran into many roadblocks. The South Vietnamese government had declared a curfew in the wake of the previous day’s attack. I finally had to pull rank to get my wife and children to the airport on onto a plane.

More tomorrow.

My Guys in Vietnam (2)

To reduce the anxiety of the guys in my workforce, I decided not to tell them that the ambassador had refused me permission to evacuate them and their families as it became more and more obvious that the North Vietnamese were about to attack. Until recently, I thought I’d been successful in my ruse. But about a year ago, I had coffee with one of my communicators. He told me that they all knew about the ambassador’s orders but didn’t let on to me to reduce the pressure I was under. The communicators were of course reading the eyes-only messages I was sending to my boss, the director of NSA, General Lew Allen, and they quietly shared that news with the rest of the staff.

The bond that formed between me and the men who worked for me at the end in Saigon remains as powerful today as it was when the tragedy happened. The best manifestation of our devotion to each other is a plaque my guys gave me about a year after the fall of Saigon at a dinner where we all gathered to reminisce. Across the top are the words “Last Man Out Award.” Below that is a brass eagle and the following:

“MACV HQS SAIGON, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH VIETNAM

“The fall of Saigon will always remain a monumental tragedy in U.S. history. This is to finally recognize your exceptional leadership while safely evacuating all your employees and the closing down amid the danger and chaos of those final days.

“[Signed] The Women and Men and Dependents of F46”
End of quote. “F46” was our unclassified designator.

That plaque hangs on my office. I see it—and remember—every day. The love I bear those men—and the feeling is too strong to call it anything short of love—has never weakened.

My Guys in Vietnam (2)

To reduce the anxiety of the guys in my workforce, I decided not to tell them that the ambassador had refused me permission to evacuate them and their families. Until recently, I thought I’d been successful in my ruse. But about a year ago, I had coffee with one of my communicators. He told me that they all knew about the ambassador’s orders but didn’t let on to me to reduce the pressure I was under. The communicators were of course reading the eyes-only messages I was sending to my boss, the director of NSA, General Lew Allen, and they quietly shared that news with the rest of the staff.

The bond that formed between me and the men who worked for me at the end in Saigon remains as powerful today as it was when the tragedy happened. The best manifestation of our devotion to each other is a plaque my guys gave me about a year after the fall of Saigon at a dinner where we all gathered to reminisce. Across the top are the words “Last Man Out Award.” Below that is a brass eagle and the following:

“MACV HQS SAIGON, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH VIETNAM

“The fall of Saigon will always remain a monumental tragedy in U.S. history. This is to finally recognize your exceptional leadership while safely evacuating all your employees and the closing down amid the danger and chaos of those final days.

“[Signed] The Women and Men and Dependents of F46”

End of quote. “F46” was our unclassified designator.

That plaque hangs on my office. I see it—and remember—every day. The love I bear those men—and the feeling is too strong to call it anything short of love—has never weakened.

My Guys in Vietnam

My last tour in Vietnam, in 1974 and 1975, was as the head of a covert operation run by the National Security Agency (NSA) in Vietnam. Its purpose was the collection and exploitation of the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese. I and my 43 guys worked closely with the South Vietnamese government to learn everything we could about the enemy and his intentions. We were spectacularly successful even though our warnings about the enemy were often ignored.

All of us were veterans. We’d all served our country in one of the branches of the military. We were disciplined and devoted. And we worked as hard as any group I’ve ever seen.

It was quite a collection of men—at that point, after the evacuation of my secretary, it was male only. The largest group was communicators who manned the comms shop twenty-four hours day. Most of the messages exchanged were with NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland, who would analyze the result of our work and intercept from many other sources to unmask what the North Vietnamese were up to. During the last week or so of April 1975, NSA forecast the North Vietnamese attack on Saigon.

But I also had with me analysts and linguists whose achievements remain unparalleled in my memory. During the last few weeks before Saigon fell, my guys were working around the clock, sometimes snatching what sleep they could in the office. As I struggled to evacuate my people and their families as the end came closer, we were forced to work with fewer hands on deck, but the workload got larger.

What made those days even harder was that Graham Martin, the U.S. ambassador, the man in charge of all U.S. activities in Vietnam now that the military had withdrawn, refused to allow evacuations. He was convinced that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon. He rejected my warnings that the assault was about to begin. I knew I had to get my men and their families out of the country before the North Vietnamese struck. So I lied, cheated, and stole to get my people out. I sent them out on any pretext I could dream up.

More tomorrow.

My Many Tours in Vietnam (2)

My family and I paid dearly for my service in Vietnam. First, my children during those years often had to make do without a father. I wasn’t there, I was in Vietnam. They also endured two tours in-country (what we called Vietnam) when I took them and my wife with me. They lived in Saigon. They disliked it. They yearned to go home. And on their second tour, they got out of the country only twenty days before Saigon fell. They learned the hard way what it was like to live in a war zone in a city under attack.

And I’m still paying the price for my service. After the fall of Saigon, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to inadequate diet, sleep deprivation, and muscle fatigue. I had been holed up in my office during the attack on Saigon unable to sleep and with little to no food for days on end. I recovered from those illnesses but not from the deafness that the close explosion of artillery shells inflicted on me. I’ll have to live with that all my life. But that’s not the only injury that remains with me today.

We didn’t have a name for the malady back then. Now it’s called Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). It’s symptoms are panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and irrational rages. It comes from having witnessed and participated in soul-destroying events. For me it was the grisly deaths I witnessed on the battlefield, so gruesome I still can’t talk about them, and the unbearable happenings as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. The condition never weakens. The unspeakable memories never fade. The victim must learn to cope.

I’ve taught myself to control my emotions when the memories flare. I’ve learned to watch for the warning signs that some sound, smell, or sight will unleash unbearable scenes from my past. These days, aside from occasional nightmares and crying jags, I’m able to muddle through.

Would I do it all again knowing the price I’d have to pay? Yes. I’m a better man for having served my country even though my life was at risk. My children and I suffered because of the war, but we all can be proud that we did what our country asked of us.

At the end of it all, as I age and death comes closer, I can find peace and take pride in what I did. That pride is stronger and more important than the cost.