My Most Precious Possessions

When I returned to the real world (the U.S.) after the fall of Saigon in May 1975, I was at an all-time low. I was ill with exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). My wife and children were in Massachusetts staying with her father. When I finally got to Maryland, I telephoned her, told her I was in bad shape, and desperately needed her. I begged her to come to Maryland and help me. She said no. She wouldn’t return until I got our house back. We had leased it to another family for our three-year tour in Vietnam, and we were back a year early. I finally was able to pay off the people in the house and regain possession of it in July. Only then was my wife willing to come back to Maryland.

So I was left on my own to struggle with my physical and psychological problems. I was able to get medical help, but I couldn’t seek psychological counseling. Back in those days, people lost their security clearances if they went for psychotherapy. I had top secret codeword-plus clearances. And even though my marriage was coming apart, I still had to support my wife and four children. So I gritted my teeth and endured the panic attacks, nightmares, irrational rages, and flashbacks.

I stayed in cheap motels—I had very little money—and as soon as I was physically able, I went back to work at NSA. The agency didn’t give me a warm welcome. The employees saw the war in Vietnam as shameful. They didn’t want to talk about it. I and the forty-three guys who had worked for me in Saigon were shunned as though we were tainted. I was moved from job to job within the agency. I told no one about experiences during the fall of Saigon. They didn’t want to hear about it.

More tomorrow.

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