Between 1962 and 1973, when I provided direct signals intelligence support to U.S. army and Marine combat units in South Vietnam, I worked under cover as a member of the unit I was supporting. The purpose was to assure that the North Vietnamese didn’t discover that a civilian spy was in their midst. I dressed in military uniform, cut my hair like the troops, and worked beside them on the battlefield.
In 2015, when Maryland Public Television (MPT) interviewed me as one of the sixteen Vietnam vets to be featured in its three-part documentary, Maryland Vietnam War Stories, my identity as an employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) while in Vietnam was still classified. So I simply didn’t say who my parent organization was. MPT found photos of me in both army and Marine uniforms. Confused, they finally decided I must have been an army intelligence officer.
The troops I worked with found my presence among them hilarious. Not only was I a civilian but, frequently, I outranked their commanding officer. I went by my own name, Tom Glenn, but when the troops discovered my payroll signature was Thomas L. Glenn III, they couldn’t stop laughing. I had worked hard to get them to call me “Tom,” and not “Mr. Glenn.” Now they started razzing me by calling me “TG3.” That became my radio callsign. I used it throughout my years of supporting units in combat.
The sad part of the story is that some of the guys who so enjoyed my presence and name died by my side during combat. I’ll never get over that. I’m drawn again to the question asked by the protagonist of my novel, Last of the Annamese, my story of the fall of Saigon told as fiction: “Do all memories have to hurt?”