I arrived in Saigon on my first tour there in 1962, just after the formation of a new entity named Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). It replaced the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG), and I worked in the J2 (intelligence) office of MACV. My job was amalgamating highly classified material, mostly signals intelligence, with other intelligence sources (principally captured documents and POW interrogations) to produced “finished intelligence” on the North Vietnamese efforts to conquer South Vietnam.
As a result of my assignment to MACV, I spent most of my time in Saigon. My trips to the field were to visit small U.S. military posts throughout the country. But both in Saigon and in the field, I quickly learned that the northern dialect of Vietnamese, which I had learned, was very different from the southern and central dialects. I finally got to the point that I could converse with southerners, but the central dialect still confounds me. Fortunately, all speakers of the central dialect I have encountered were proficient in the southern dialect. And the written language is unaffected by dialect.
I loved the work. It challenged me intellectually and linguistically. When my four-month tour was up, I returned to the U.S., gathered my wife and child, and returned to Vietnam for a full three-year tour in 1963. Before that tour was over, the U.S. had begun committing military to combat. I found myself in the midst of a shooting war.