A group I belong to asked me to do a presentation on my experiences in Vietnam. Some time back, I had given them the fall of Saigon story, but they asked if there weren’t some happy memories from my years in Vietnam.
My blog of several days ago came to mind. I quoted Chuck from Last of the Annamese asking himself if all memories have to hurt. As I said then, they only hurt on bad days.
There were funny things that happened. I’ll try to relate a few of them here.
The troops in just about every unit I supported found my presence among them hilarious. Somehow the idea that a civilian spy was masquerading as one of them cracked them up. But that was only after they accepted me as one of them. As long as they treated me with the distant respect due a superior and called me “Mr. Glenn” rather than “Tom” or just “Glenn” (use of the last name alone was common), we couldn’t work together as a team. So I spent all my time with the troops—ate C-rations sitting on the ground with them, slept beside them in the open or in a tent, used their latrines, dressed in their uniforms (my cover was that I was one of them), and went into combat with them. Sometimes it took a day or two or sometimes weeks, but the troops in all units I served with eventually welcomed me to their ranks.
My favorite story comes from a time when I was working with an army combat unit. One morning (during a lull in the fighting) when I woke up, my fatigues (the work and combat uniform of a soldier) had all disappeared. Dressed in my shorts, I wandered through the cantonment area asking if anyone knew where they were. An hour or so later they reappeared. The troops had snitched them while I slept. They’d taken them to tailor in a nearby village and paid him to sew labels above the breast pockets of my fatigue shirt. One said “GLENN” the other “CIVILIAN.” My two fatigue caps were now adorned with the unit insignia. Giggling and chortling, they couldn’t wait to snap my picture in my newly decorated fatigues.
Now I was truly one of them.