I had the singular honor to be asked to do the keynote speech for the gathering following the Maryland Honor Flight at the American Legion on 11 May. That day, volunteers had accompanied forty-odd veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to visit monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At the end of the trip, we came together for a celebratory meal, the bestowing of honors, and my speech.
As any reader of this blog knows, veterans are sacred to me. I served beside so many on the battlefield. The willingness of all of them to give up their lives for the good of others and the deaths of so many beside me in combat changed my life. These men and women—ordinary, everyday citizens—deserve every honor we can give them.
I spoke at the end of the celebration. I had the full attention of everyone in the room. Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of what I had to say. That notwithstanding, here’s the text of my speech:
The time has come for all of us to recognize and thank the veterans who are with us today. Please rise, if you are able, and join me in a round of applause for our Maryland veterans.
My job today is to honor you, our Maryland veterans, who put your lives on the line for the good your country and your fellow citizens. I want to start by telling you who I am, then tell you a story.
My name is Tom Glenn. I am a veteran, but my time in combat came after my military service, when I, an NSA civilian, was operating under cover in Vietnam as a signals intelligence operative. I was supporting U.S. troops on the battlefield. 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—what we called TDYs—that I lost count.
I was sent to Vietnam repeatedly for several reasons. One, I knew North Vietnamese radio communications like the back of my hand. I’d been intercepting and exploiting them fulltime since 1960. Second, I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. But most important, I was willing to go into combat with the U.S. units I was supporting, both army and Marine Corps, all over South Vietnam. That made me very popular with the troops. So no sooner did I get back to the states then a message would come saying, “send Glenn back,” and back I’d go.