My time in Vietnam had a profound effect on me and on my family. My children all remember their time in Vietnam. Most of their memories are not happy ones. They recall the beggars on the streets, some missing limbs. They remember the filth and the stink of Saigon, especially toward the end. They still speak of the heat and the monsoons.
They also remember my absences. Throughout their childhood, both in the U.S. and in Vietnam, their father was often missing. He was on the battlefield, supporting the troops with signals intelligence. They glumly accepted that he wouldn’t be present at first communions and graduations. Father’s Days came and went with no celebration. They knew where he was but never spoke of it—it was classified.
And the experiences in Vietnam changed me. My linguistic proficiency grew rapidly. I was surrounded by the languages I had learned for my job, Vietnamese, Chinese, and French. Living under cover—pretending to be someone I wasn’t—became second nature. My body grew accustomed to the tropical heat and monsoon downpours.
More important, my soul was damaged. I got to know the soldiers and Marines I lived with, slept beside, ate next to, and went into combat with. I know of no stronger love than that of fellow combatants. I watched some of them die. Their deaths were grisly. My memories of each of those deaths are as vivid today as they were the day they happened. Soul-damaging memories never fade.
I suffered more spiritual injury when Saigon fell. The horror of those days is always with me.
Today we call my condition Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), but for years I didn’t know it had a name. I was ashamed of my inability to shrug off my experiences and resume a care-free life. I knew I needed therapy, but I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances. Back in those days, had I gone for therapy I would have lost my clearances and my job. That was not something I could risk with a wife and four children to support.