My Many Tours in Vietnam

More than two years ago, I posted a blog here about why I served so long and so often in Vietnam. It’s time to update that post.

Every year between 1962 and 1975, I was in Vietnam at least four months. I had two PCS (permanent change of station, a stay that lasts two to three years) tours and so many TDYs (temporary duty trips that last from one day to many months) that I lost count. Why did I go into a war zone so often? Was I required to make those many trips to Vietnam?

No. They were all voluntary. I was not in the military—I had completed my army enlistment before the government hired me. I was a civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA). I did it because I felt I had to.

The U.S. was at war. I didn’t question the validity of that war. That wasn’t my job. Few if any other NSA employees had the needed skills to do the job on the battlefield. I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. I was professionalized in many different cryptologic disciplines. I knew the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese as if they were my own—I’d been intercepting and exploiting them since 1960. And I was willing to go into combat with the units I was supporting, both army and Marine Corps, all over South Vietnam. That combination made me unique.

I was, in short, capable of supporting military forces on the battlefield better than any of my counterparts. That made me feel compelled to be of service. My willingness to go into combat made me very popular with the forces serving in Vietnam. No sooner would I get back to the states (what we called “the real world”) than a message would arrive saying, “Send Glenn back,” and back I’d go.

I was and still am patriotic. I genuinely love my country, with all its flaws, and believe with all my heart that it is the best country in the world. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of sitting, safe and sound, back in the U.S. while my military buddies, the guys I’d come to know so well by serving at their side, were risking their lives. If I wanted to live with myself, I had to go back and do all I could to help.

More tomorrow.

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