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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have five novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York published my latest novel, Secretocracy, in March 2020. It will bring out my newest collection of short stories, Coming to Terms, in July 2020

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.

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, due out in July 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

 

My Music

I’ve reported several times in this blog that I knew by age six that I was born to write. I’ve also mentioned my various attempts to escape that fate. The most serious among those efforts was my foray into music.

I had shown a strong attraction for music from my earliest childhood. During grammar school, I taught myself to read music and to play the piano at school, using the pianos available there. I also dabbled in theater and considered being an actor. In fact, my first year at the University of California, Berkeley, was with theater as a major. But by my sophomore year, I was settled into music. I had decided I was a composer. Using money earned from part-time jobs, I bought my first piano, an ancient upright missing some keys.

Four years later, I took my BA in music. The study of languages consumed me for several years, but I kept up with music, playing the piano regularly and experimenting with composition.

Some years later, I tangled with church music. I established and ran two Catholic church folk groups made up of singers, guitars, flute, and clarinet for whom I did arrangements and composed folk hymns. That led to two masses I wrote for a combined force of musicians including choir, folk singers, guitars, organ, tympani, flute, and clarinet.

Both masses were very successful and were performed after I left the parish. For all I know, they may even be in use now.

Over time, my devotion to foreign languages and, most important, writing drew me away from music. But I always found time to play the piano and to listen to what soon became a vast collection of recordings. Then, some years ago, I subscribed with my oldest daughter to the dance season performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. We always arrived early enough to have an after-dinner drink in the cocktail lounge. Because it was so early in the evening, the piano player for the lounge had not yet arrived. I can’t resist pianos, so I had to try the grand piano provided to entertain the patrons.

More next time.

Make College Affordable (3)

Through it all, my thirst for learning never weakened. By careful scheduling, I was able to go to grad school. The George Washington University admitted me provisionally at first, due to my second-rate undergraduate grades. The fees, while more than what my undergrad schooling cost, were affordable. I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t dumb at all. I got straight A’s all the way through to the doctorate, of which I am irredeemably proud.

Back at NSA, I didn’t fit the mold. Working with the military in Vietnam had taught me early on to lead, not manage. Leading meant cultivating and supporting subordinates to help them achieve all they are capable of. Applying that approach to the civilian workforce proved uniquely effective. I was promoted rapidly, albeit begrudgingly, into the upper reaches of the executive service. That allowed me to retire as early as possible with enough income to write full time without having to worry about earning a living.

I’ve exploited that advantage to the max. I now have six books in print with two more in the works.

None of that would could have happened had it not been possible for a mediocre student from a poor family to attend one of the world’s greatest universities. But those opportunities no longer exist. The University of California in Berkeley in 2019-2020 charged $14,253 as a year’s tuition for student from within California and $44,007 for those from out of state. The university states that “We take pride in knowing that 38% of students pay nothing out of pocket for tuition due to grants and scholarships and that around two-thirds of students receive some form of financial aid.”

It’s commendable that U.C. helps deserving students with good grades, but what about kids like me with apparently mediocre ability?

I tell this story to illustrate the dilemma that the U.S now faces: the poor cannot afford to go to college. Were I starting out today, I’d be condemned to a blue-collar job with little opportunity for advancement.

President Biden’s moves to make community college free are the first step toward making a college education available to all, no matter their income. We need to join the rest of the democracies in the world in making college possible for all.

Make College Affordable (2)

Four years after I started college, I missed my gradation ceremony because I collapsed from exhaustion from working twenty hours a week and taking a full load of college course credits at the same time. I was in the university hospital and could hear the ceremony being conducted out of doors nearby. But I did graduate with a BA in music.

Meanwhile, since childhood, I had shown a distinct flare for languages. I taught myself French and Italian while still in grammar school, took four years of Latin in high school, and studied German in college. When I graduated from college, I knew I’d be drafted into the army within months, so I instead enlisted with the proviso that I’d go to Army Language School, later known as the Defense Language Institute, to study Chinese, a language that had always intrigued me. But the army, in its wisdom, decided not to teach me Chinese but to teach me Vietnamese instead. I was stuck, forced to learn a language I had never heard of—we didn’t call it Vietnam back then; we called that part of the world French Indochina.

It turned out I loved studying Vietnamese. Asian tonal languages are based on a way of thinking so different from western languages that I had to learn to think in a totally new way. The study was intensive. We spent six hours a day in class and were required to study two hours on our own each night. That was five days a week for a full year. When I graduated first in my class of ten, I was assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), an organization I had never heard of. Being close to Washington, D.C., I enrolled at Georgetown to study Chinese. The fees were low enough that I could afford them on a soldier’s salary. So by the time I finished my enlistment, I was comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. NSA hired me and immediately sent me to Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, when Saigon fell and I escaped under fire, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S.

My work after 1975 is still classified. I had demonstrated my willingness and ability to support friendly forces on the battlefield in combat, so I as assigned to similar work in different parts of the world. By then I was proficient in seven languages other than English. The reader is free to guess where I might have been assigned.

More next time.

Make College Affordable

When I graduated from high school, advisors discouraged me from going to college. My grade point average was poor, they pointed out, and they didn’t honestly think I was intelligent enough to make it in higher education. I didn’t dispute them. I didn’t believe that I was very smart. But I was determined to get a college education, no matter what.

I had had a rough childhood, My mother was an alcoholic, and my father was in and out of prison. As soon as I was able, I got part time jobs to be sure I’d have enough to eat and clothes to wear. Doing well in school was the least of my concerns, and I accepted the judgment that I wasn’t very intelligent.

My parents, despite their faults, were educated. My father was a lawyer, my mother a school teacher. I knew from their example and from watching other families with children my age that a college education made a major difference in how much one could earn and, more important, the quality of life.

Most important was that I had a thirst to learn. I had known since I was six that I was born to write, but there was a whole world of knowledge I needed to have to be able to have things to write about. College was simply a necessity.

I knew that writers never had any money. So I cast about for a profession and hit on music. I had a natural talent for music, and it didn’t require the kind of intelligence other professions did. So I majored in music in college.

The University of California, Berkeley, was only a short bus trip away from Oakland where I lived. And the tuition was only a little over fifty dollars a semester. My high school grades were just barely good enough for me to be admitted. I could work half time (twenty hours a week) and earn enough money to pay for tuition and books and keep myself fed and housed, albeit at a poverty level. I went for it.

More next time.

American Corporations that Pay No Tax

I was shocked to discover that, in the U.S., 55 major corporations paid nothing in federal taxes on their 2020 profits. My personal tax bill is in the thousands. The shielding of the wealthy from taxation comes largely from Trump’s 2017 push to reduce taxes for the rich.

Biden is now working to reverse that change. He’ll be successful only if the Republicans fail to thwart him. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have offered legislation that would impose a 3 percent total annual tax on wealth exceeding $1 billion and 2 percent total annual tax on wealth from $50 million to $1 billion.

None of these changes will go forward unless Democrats are able to unify all their members in support of the proposed legislation. If even one Democratic senator balks, the legislation will likely fail.

My sense is that we may have to wait until after the 2022 elections. I suspect that, thanks to Trump and his supporters, the Republicans will suffer an historic defeat. Then we can move ahead on creating fair taxation in the U.S.

Get Rid of Guns

The number of gun deaths so far in the U.S. in 2021 is 12,515, according to the Gun Violence Archive 2021. We have averaged more than one mass shooting per day so far this year.

What does it take to get Americans to put a stop to the killing? More than a week ago, President Biden proclaimed that “gun violence in this country is an epidemic.” The ratio between numbers of guns in civilian hands and number of gun deaths is constant for all nations throughout the world—the more guns, the more deaths. Our neighbor Canada, for example, has a little fewer than 35 guns per 100 people and suffers fewer than two deaths per 100,000 people per year from gunfire. The U.K. has fewer than five guns per 100 people and has only .2 fatalities per 100,000 people a year from guns. The U.S., on the other hand, has the highest gun ownership in the world with 120.5 guns per 100 people—we have 20 percent more guns than people — and our annual gun death rate is 12.21 per 100,000 people.

As I have said repeatedly in this blog, the argument that the American culture is a gun culture is meaningless. Equally irrelevant is the defense that the right to gun ownership is guaranteed by the Constitution. Any belief or practice that costs us over twelve thousand lives in four months must change. And the only change that will reduce the number of gun deaths is reducing the number of guns. The statistics are overwhelming and beyond doubt.

So I urge any and all to push hard for legislation that will decrease the number of guns owned by civilians in the U.S. The time to stop the carnage is long since past.

Veith Q&A

I recently published on the Washington Independent Review of Books website a series of questions I posed to George J. Veith, author of the newly published Drawn Swords in a Distant Land: South Vietnam’s Shattered Dreams (Encounter Books, 2021) and the answers he provided. I’ve known Jay (that’s what he goes by) Veith since 2008, when he interviewed me about my own long history of operating in Vietnam as a clandestine agent supporting U.S. and friendly forces with signals intelligence against the North Vietnamese. At the time, Veith was working on his first book about the Vietnam war, Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75 (Encounter Books, 2012), in which he briefly quoted me.

During our interview earlier this year, Jay confirmed that he, like me, saw Hanoi as the iron control over Vietnamese communists operating in South Vietnam during the war who were not regular members of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), as the north Vietnamese styled themselves. We Americans called these people the Vit Cng or VC, an abbreviation for Vit Nam cng sn that means Vietnamese communist, but the communists themselves never used that term. The North Vietnamese called them the National Liberation Front or the Provisional Revolutionary Government, pretending that they were an independent movement opposed to the government of South Vietnam. They were in fact communist military irregulars—local forces and guerrillas—controlled by Hanoi.

Jay pointed out the two big surprises in Drawn Swords: the true nature of the Anna Chennault affair and the offer the Chinese communists made to Dương văn Minh (the Americans called him “Big Minh”), South Vietnam’s last head of state, to insert troops into South Vietnam to defend against a conquest by North Vietnam. Jay was taken aback that neither of those revelations took me by surprise. As I thought about it, I realized that I had already known about both events at the time they occurred from classified sources.

You can read the full Q&A at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/an-interview-with-george-j-veith

April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (15)

The bird that I escaped Saigon in, for some reason, was not a CH-53 but a small Air America slick. As soon as we were airborne in the pouring rain, I saw tracers coming at us. We took so many slugs in the fuselage that I thought we were going down, but we made it. All over the city, fires were burning. Once we were “feet wet”— over water—the pilot dropped us abruptly to an altitude that scared me, just above the water’s surface, and my stomach struggled to keep up. It was, he explained to me later, to avoid surface-to-air missiles. All I remember of the flight after that is rain and darkness.

I was conscious when we approached the USS Oklahoma City, flagship of the 7th Fleet. The pilot circled repeatedly before coming down very slowly on the ship’s small floodlit helipad. He told me subsequently that he, a civilian employee of Air America, had never before landed on a ship.

I learned later that during FREQUENT WIND—the evacuation of Vietnam—71 American military helicopters flew 662 sorties between Saigon and the ships of the 7th Fleet. The operation extracted more than 7,800 evacuees from the DAO and U.S. Embassy on April 29 and 30 1975, not counting the U.S. Marines that had landed in Vietnam that day to execute the evacuation. We have no record of the number of Air America helicopters flown or the number of sorties.

The previous posts in this series give the complete story of my escape when Saigon fell. But two more details remain to be told.

First, the Marine colonel, whom I had known since he was a captain years before as we both crisscrossed Vietnam and who then saved my life as Saigon fell, went on to become Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Al Gray, long since retired, is known for his devotion to his mission and his concern for the wellbeing of his subordinates. He is a hero to today’s Marines. When I mention to Marines that I know him, they are in awe of me.

Second, I mentioned that as I escaped via helicopter I was carrying the two flags that had stood on either side of my desk in my Saigon office, the stars-and-stripes, and the national flag of the Republic of Vietnam, that is, South Vietnam. I carried those two flags in my hands on my flight to the Oklahoma City. I kept the flags by my side as we sailed to the Philippines. I carried them under my arms as I flew from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pearl Harbor, from there to San Francisco, and finally to Washington, D.C. When I returned to the National Security Agency (NSA), I brought the flags with me.

Today those flags are on display in the National Cryptologic Museum on Fort Meade, Maryland.

April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (14)

The remaining events of 29 April 1975 are confused in my memory—I was in such bad shape I was starting to hallucinate. As I learned later, I was suffering from pneumonia (due to sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue, and poor diet), amoebic dysentery, and severe ear damage from the shelling. As the artillery attacks continued, I begged Al Gray to get my two communicators out as soon as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the idea that, after all they’d done, they might be captured, wounded, or killed. Sometime in the afternoon, when finally they went out on a whirlybird, my work was done.

I recall being locked in a room alone and told to wait until I was called for, trying to stay awake in my chair as the building pitched from artillery hits. I didn’t want to board a chopper until I got confirmation that my communicators were safe aboard a ship of the 7th Fleet. And I wanted to get to a telephone to confirm that our Vietnamese counterparts were being evacuated. As far as I knew, they were still at their posts awaiting orders. But there was no telephone in the room, and I couldn’t leave because the South Vietnamese air force officers who had forced their way into the building to demand evacuation were still on the prowl.

The next thing I remember is being outside.

It was getting dark, and rain was pelting the helicopters around the compound. The rain was weird. The dry season wasn’t due to end for almost a month, and here it was, pouring rain. I protested to Al Gray that I wanted to wait for confirmation that my two communicators were safe before I left, but he ordered me, in unrepeatable language, to get myself on the chopper now. I climbed aboard carrying with me the two flags that had hung in my office—the U.S. stars-and-stripes and the gold-and-orange national flag of the now defunct Republic of Vietnam.

More next time.

April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (13)

By the time the embassy told me it couldn’t help me, the Marines from the 7th Fleet (cruising out of sight from land in the South China Sea) had landed in Saigon, flown in by helicopter. I tracked down Al Gray, the Marine colonel in charge,  and asked if he could fit us in with his guys when he pulled out. He reassured me he would.

We got word that armed South Vietnamese air force officers had forced their way into the building and were on the loose, demanding evacuation at gun point. Offices were to be emptied and locked. We were to proceed at once to the evacuation staging area, an office the Marines had secured. We sent our last message announcing we were closing down. It was a personal message from me to my boss, General Lew Allen, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA):

1. HAVE JUST RECEIVED WORD TO EVACUATE. AM NOW DESTROYING REMAINING CLASSIFIED MATERIAL. WILL CEASE TRANSMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS MESSAGE.

2. WE’RE TIRED BUT OTHERWISE ALL RIGHT. LOOKS LIKE THE BATTLE FOR SAIGON IS ON FOR REAL.

3. FROM GLENN: I COMMEND TO YOU MY PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THE BEST NSA CAN GIVE THEM FOR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH BUT ESPECIALLY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED.

Even though the message was from me to General Allen, I still began the third paragraph with the words “FROM GLENN.” I wanted to be sure he knew it was me speaking.

We destroyed out comms gear and crypto and locked the door as we left for the staging area.

More next time.