Two developments precipitated my escape from a sense of isolation after the fall of Saigon.
One was the discovery that I wasn’t the only person to suffer the aftermath of combat. Not only that, but reacting to the horrors of battle with shattering memories was a healthy, normal human response. Rebounding without shock was unhealthy; not rebounding at all was sick. Combat sickens healthy people and leaves the sick unmoved.
And there were lots of us from a variety of wars. None of us wanted to talk about what we’d witnessed and participated in. That’s the nature of the disease. For many years, I couldn’t talk about my experience because my presence and work in Vietnam on and off for thirteen years was classified. To this day, I still can’t talk about some events. It’s not because they’re classified; it’s because I can’t control my emotions.
But I learned that we veterans didn’t need to talk to help each other. Each of us knew what the others had been through. Most important, we found that we were not alone with our brutal memories. We were a band of brothers and sisters, ready to help one another.
The second development was the gradual declassification of my work in Vietnam. By the beginning of 2016, I was free to discuss what had happened to me while supporting army and Marine units in combat before 1973 and what I had experienced as the head of the covert NSA operation in Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973. I could tell the world what had transpired during the fall of Saigon and how I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
Now I can publicly own my status as a veteran of the war in Vietnam. And I can hear and savor the words I so ached for: “Thank you. And welcome home.”
I still cry when I hear them.