Why I Served So Long and So Often in Vietnam

More quotes from early in this blog:

A reader asked me why I was sent to Vietnam so often over a thirteen-year period. The answer is two-fold.

First, I have an inborn knack for languages. I was comfortable in the three languages commonly spoken in Vietnam—French. Vietnamese, and Chinese. That made me a rarity. The U.S. government had a real find in me and sent me as often as I would go.

Second, few civilian signals intelligence experts were willing to risk the danger of combat. I was. To this day I don’t know why [I was willing when others weren’t]. Part of it was patriotism; part was my sense that it was my duty to share the danger combatants faced. I knew I could be killed, but I didn’t know that repeated exposure to combat would sicken me with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. But I would have done it anyway. Somehow it was a sacred calling: I was gifted with a flair for languages. It was my obligation to use the gift for the good of others.

Nowadays, time, age, and deafness (from artillery hits during the fall of Saigon) have weakened my ability to work in other languages. And I no longer have the physical stamina required for the battlefield. Instead, I write. I earnestly wish people to know what combat veterans have suffered through, and I want other Americans to know what happened in Vietnam, especially during the fall of Saigon. That’s why I wrote The Trion Syndrome and especially Last of the Annamese.

End of quote. Readers ask me if I volunteered to go to Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, I was in Vietnam for at least four months every year. I had two complete tours there with my family, my wife and eventually my four children. Did I have a choice?

Yes. Each trip to Vietnam was voluntary. I could have refused to go. I could have stayed out of combat. My sense at the time was that it was my duty to do what I could to help my brothers on the battlefield.

The costs were formidable. First and foremost is my life-long battle with Post Traumatic Stress Injury. The memories never fade. I’ve learned to cope.

The other cost was born less by me than by my children. As they grew up, their father was so often absent. I admit now that at the time, I thought little about that aspect of my time in Vietnam. Now I realize that they suffered. When I reconsider my past, I conclude that I would have volunteered to go to Vietnam anyway. The work I was doing was too important. But now I recognize that my family paid a price.

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