The things we did as kids come back to haunt us as we age. As a youngster, I smoked cigarettes, spent hours in the sun, and willingly went into combat. Now I’m paying the price.
When I was growing up, literally every adult I knew smoked. When I turned eighteen, my parents presented me with a carton of cigarettes, a lighter, and a cigarette case. After college and the completion of my military service, I was assigned to Vietnam. Everybody smoked. Only in my fifties did I come realize that smoking was bad for me. So I quit.
Between 1962 and 1975, I was in Vietnam at least four months every year. I had two complete tours there and so many shorter trips that I lost count. It was a tropical climate with intense heat. Like every other guy there, I went shirtless whenever possible. As a result, I got quite tan. After Vietnam, I enjoyed swimming and lying in the sun. From Spring to Fall, I stayed tan.
My whole time in Vietnam, I was a volunteer. I was a civilian signals intelligence operative under cover as military. No one forced me to go. I felt it was my duty. Few others had the knowledge and skills I’d acquired. I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French—the three languages of Vietnam—and I knew North Vietnamese radio practices like the back of my hand. Until 1973 when U.S. troops were withdrawn, I lived with and supported troops, both Marine and army. I went with them into combat even though I didn’t have to. I felt it was my duty to face the same dangers the troops did. Then I lived through the fall of Saigon in April 1975. I wasn’t required to do any of that. I volunteered.
Years afterwards, as I aged, the way I spent my youth came back to haunt me.