I lost a good many buddies on the battlefields of Vietnam. The worst for me was the grisly deaths, so common in combat. They are a principal source of my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), which will be with me always.
The oddity of my experience is that all my time in combat was as a civilian. I had finished my military service before NSA sent to Vietnam in 1962 to support U.S. military forces fighting the war. I was there on and off for the next thirteen years. Between 1965 and 1973, nearly all that time was taken up with signals intelligence support to army and Marine units on the battlefield. After 1973, I headed the covert NSA operation in Vietnam. On 29 April 1975, I escaped under fire as Saigon fell.
During the years I supported troops in combat, I was always under cover as an enlisted man belonging to the unit I was working with. I lived with the enlisted men and went into battle with them.
The soldiers and Marines invariably found my presence hilarious. Here was a civilian who sometimes outranked their commanding officers humping along side them and pretending to be one of them. It sometimes took as much as a week for them to accept me and call me by my first name. After that, I was one of them but blessed with skills and knowledge that could save their lives.
They loved to take pictures of me in their uniforms. As a result, snapshots of me in army and Marine uniforms were frequent and became the source of much amusement. Fortunately, I’ve always looked younger than I am—I was still being carded in bars when I was in my early thirties—so I looked the part.
My love for those men stays with me today. I call them “men,” but they were really kids. The average age was nineteen. And I will never cease to grieve over those killed by my side.