Featured

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.

 

Books on the Time of Trouble

Since the beginning of the year, I have reviewed two books on the time of Trouble in Northern Ireland. Both dealt with the conflict between the Irish nationalists, also called republicans, and their foes, referred to as unionists or loyalists, aided and abetted by the British government. The nationalists were mostly Catholic, the unionists principally Protestant.

The dispute began in the 1960s and ended, at least on paper, in 1998 when the parties signed a peace agreement of sorts. During the early part of that struggle, until 1975, I was either in Vietnam or between trips. My attention was focused on the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, and I paid little attention to events in Northern Ireland. As a result, both books were eye-openers for me.

The first, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday, 2019), published in February, is for all intents and purposes a history of the low-level war. It’s title comes from a poem by Seamus Heaney about the Trouble:   

     O land of the password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.

Secrecy was paramount for the nationalists. They barely trusted one another and revealed nothing to those who were not known to be on their side.

More tomorrow.

Living Alone and Helping Others (4)

All in all, I conclude that solitude suits me. But, ironically, I have learned the immense value of giving to others and expecting nothing in return. It turns out I have two vocations in life. One is writing, the other is offering a helping hand to those in need.

These days I help a number of people in different ways. I write regularly to a man in prison and have volunteered to testify on his behalf during his parole hearing. I have never met him face to face. He wrote to me after reading one of my books. I came to understand that he needed support and encouragement. So we began a correspondence that has now lasted years.

But my friend in prison isn’t the only one. I care for an older lady friend who needs companionship. I spend time with an older man who is lonely. I exchange emails with a mentally deficient man. These people benefit from time spent with me, a gift I’m more than willing to give.

So here I am, alone and content. I have learned that helping others is a source of fulfillment like no other. I am at peace.

Living Alone and Helping Others (3)

Through it all, even though I was a member of a team of men helping AIDS patients, I worked alone. But I was there for my patients so they wouldn’t be alone.

After the AIDS crisis passed, I spent seven years as a volunteer taking care of the dying in a hospice. I did it because so few others were willing to take on that job and face death. By that point in my life, I had already lived with death on the battlefield in Vietnam and at the side of AIDS patients. I did it because I could do it, and, once again, I did it alone.

Meanwhile, another factor deepened my isolation. That was shame thrust on me for my time in Vietnam. For decades, Americans considered the war shameful. They denigrated those who had fought in that war. Their blame exacerbated feelings of shame I already had—I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) in part because I had survived while soldiers fighting next me had died. It was what’s now called survivor’s guilt.

All sufferers of PTSI assume they are alone, that others are free of the malady. Besides, because of my security clearances, I couldn’t seek therapy. I had to work through the problem alone. Once again, I was on my own.

One major element of my success in coping with PTSI was the discovery that other combat veterans were also subject to the disease. I wasn’t alone after all. My brothers were there with me. Now we help each other and teach each other to take pride, not shame, in our contribution to our country.

More tomorrow.

Living Alone and Helping Others (2)

After U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, I was named head of the covert NSA operation in South Vietnam. I found myself in charge of forty-three men who looked to me for guidance. Their safety and wellbeing, and that of their wives and children who were with them, were my responsibility.

By the time I took over as head of NSA’s detachment in Vietnam, I had already learned that for an organization to achieve, the man or woman in charge had to lead, not manage. I knew my job was to give my subordinates whatever they needed to be the best that they could be. I was there not to control them but to uplift and inspire them. That meant I had to respect them and give them the freedom to fail and the undergirding to succeed. In the simplest terms, I was there to help them.

As Saigon was falling and the U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, forbade me to evacuate my men and their families, I used every ruse I could think of to get my men and their loved ones safely out of the country. I did it without help and often despite resistance from those in power in Washington. Once again, I was on my own. My job again was to help, this time to assist my men and their families to survive.

When the AIDS crisis peaked in the 1980s, I felt called upon again to help. Men were literally dying in the streets because no one would go near them for fear of being infected with a fatal germ. I couldn’t stand to watch it happen, so despite the risk, I volunteered to take care of men dying of AIDS. I worked my way during five years through seven patients, all gay men who died. As we learned eventually, the risk of infection was small—it required introduction of the AIDS virus into the bloodstream. As it happens, I did suffer a needle stick after giving one of my patients an injection, but I didn’t come down with AIDS.

Once again, I found myself working alone to help others.

More tomorrow.

Living Alone and Helping Others

I live alone. I don’t have to. I’m sure if I set my mind to it I could find a way to live with a woman. Or I could find roommates or even join others in a shared house. In my lonely moments, I bemoan my solitude. But it’s really my own doing. It’s what I want.

Aloneness suits me for two principal reasons. First, I am an introvert by nature and by nurture. I grew up as an only child after the death of my sister when she was six and I was four. Further, with an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, I learned by the age of six that I had to depend on myself even for food. Living in a slum, I became wary of others who might try to steal from me or force me to do their bidding. I was determined to find a better life. I knew I had to do it myself. No one was going to help me.

Second, I am a writer. It doesn’t matter whether I want to be or not; I am. I found out as a child that my mission in life was to write. I’ve been doing it ever since.

A writer must work alone. Even when engaged in a joint writing project, the time spent drafting text is of necessity time spent by oneself. Writing is not a team sport.

The life I chose for myself reinforced my seclusion. I put myself through college working twenty hours a week to pay my way and feed myself. When I graduated at twenty-one, I enlisted in the army. In basic training I learned something new: teamwork. I found out that in some endeavors, like combat, the only way to survive and succeed is to work side by side with others. And I discovered that giving a buddy a helping hand offers more satisfaction than anything I can do for myself.

After I finished my military service, the National Security Agency (NSA) hired me and sent me to Vietnam where I served on and off between 1962 and 1975 with two complete tours and many, many shorter trips. My job until the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 was signals intelligence support on the battlefield. That meant keeping friendly forces, army and Marine, informed of the enemy’s whereabouts, movement, intent, and readiness. I found myself in a fulltime helping role. I was there not to engage in combat but to help those who were.

More tomorrow.

Medical Office Staffs

In my long and turbulent life, I’ve faced multiple medical problems, despite being a model of good health. Three times I’ve lived through pneumonia. I survived lung cancer and the surgical removal of the upper lobe of my right lung. Twice I’ve collapsed from exhaustion. And I went through knee replacement surgery.

The physicians who cared for me were, for the most part, better than capable. I wouldn’t be here today if they had failed at their mission. But their office staffs—the people who make appointments, answer the phone, and maintain the files—have so often proven to be incompetent, rude, and clueless that I have several times been forced to seek another practice.

To be clear, I’m not referring here to the medical staff, the nurses, aids, and physician’s assistants. They, like the doctors they serve, are more than proficient.

Why are medical office staffs so often inadequate? I can only guess. My life experience has taught me that often people talented at an art or vocation lack management skills and haven’t any idea of how to lead. Their attention is focused on their calling. They seem to be unaware of the practicalities that support their mission.

The primary care doctor I’m now seeing is a master of his profession. He provides me excellent care. And his office staff is outstanding. It consists of a single person, a woman who has worked for him for years who is a model of accomplishment. My perception, based on fleeting inferences, is that she sees to it that he doesn’t overlook or forget tasks. She’s a marvel.

Is my portrayal of medical office staffs wrong and unfair? I have no idea. I encourage readers to chime in and let me know their experience.

Sandworm

I have just read and reviewed Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers by Andy Greenberg (Doubleday, 2019). My review won’t be published until the book is in print in November, but the story the book tells haunts me.

“Sandworm” is the name given to the entity behind much of the cyber mischief that has disrupted nations and other organizations since the 1980s. It was finally identified in late 2018 as an element called 74455, a subordinate unit of the Russian government’s GRU. “GRU” is the English version of the Russian acronym ГРУ, which means Main Intelligence Directorate. The GRU is Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency.

The work of 74455 was first espionage and later sabotage against countries and organizations unfriendly to Russia. It was responsible for the crippling of the entire infrastructure of Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine (twice), and many other locations. It was behind the hacking of the U. S. Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the damning information leaked to WikiLeaks. Whether the leaked emails affected the outcome of the 2016 election is still open to debate. In June 2017, A. P. Moller-Maresk, a Danish business conglomerate active in transport, logistics and energy, with 574 offices in 130 countries, was mutilated by a cyberattack. The list goes on and on.

The story told in Sandworm shocked me. I had no idea the threat was so great. The U.S. is vulnerable. If 74455 launched a cybersabotage attack against us, government and industry both could be hobbled coincident with the destruction of factories and machinery and the closing of hospitals and schools. It is a terrifying prospect.

As I noted in my review, I’m familiar with the U.S. National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies—I had a thirty-five year career in intelligence. I have no doubt that the U.S. government knows far more about 74455 than Greenberg reveals in his book. And I know that the U.S. created Stuxnet, the most destructive and effective cybersabotage tool known. It was used to attack Iranian computers controlling uranium enrichment at Natanz and destroyed 984 centrifuges, effectively bringing the effort to a halt. It may be that the reason we have not been subject to a cybersabotage strike is that we have tools to ward off 74455’s weapons. Since all information on the U.S. cyber armory is classified, the public has no way of knowing.

What we do know is that our president, while still a candidate, celebrated the hacks of the DNC and even expressed hope that the hackers had breached Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The U.S. intelligence community was unified in the conclusion that Russian hackers were behind the attack on the DNC, a finding that Trump denied.

I know from bitter experience what happens when intelligence is ignored: people die. The possibility that our government might dismiss intelligence or fail to act in the face of a cyber threat is a matter of grave concern.