My favorite story about my experience with soldiers took place just after the 1967 battle of Dak To in the central highlands of Vietnam. I described what happened several months ago in a blog post:
“I was getting to know the soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division. They found my presence hilarious. I was a civilian under cover—lest the enemy discover they had a spy in their midst—as an enlisted man even though I outranked some of their officers. I lived with the enlisted men. I slept in a tent with three GIs, ate C-rations sitting in the dirt with the troops, used their latrines.
“One morning when I woke up, my fatigues, the combat uniform worn by soldiers, were missing. I put on my skivvies and wandered around the cantonment area asking if anyone had seen them. They reappeared about two hours later. The troops had snitched them and taken them to a local tailor. They paid him to sew patches over the breast pockets on each fatigue blouse. They said ‘Glenn’ and ‘Civilian.’ On the two collar points of each blouse, where [an officer’s] military rank would normally appear, the number ‘13’ had been embroidered—I was a GS-13 (civilian rank) at the time. All my fatigue hats were now decorated with the 4th Infantry Division crest.
“The troops couldn’t stop laughing. And I was happy. They now accepted me as one of them. They insisted on taking pictures of me in my enhanced fatigues. I still have one of the photos.”
It was a happy time for me. The only problem was that not all the troops in the 4th Division knew me. Occasionally I’d encounter a soldier who was totally confused by my uniform. He’d spot the “13” on my collar and didn’t have a clue whether he should salute or not.