Vietnam and My Children (2)

My oldest daughter, Susan, also remembers a little of her toddler years in Saigon in 1963 and 1964. We had three servants, a cook, a house-cleaner, and a nanny for Susan. From them, Susan learned Vietnamese and French, but she knew very well that English was the language of her mother and father. My wife and I both spoke Vietnamese and French, but she wouldn’t answer us unless we spoke English to her.

Susan enjoyed her second stint in Vietnam as a teenager in 1974 and 1975. Transportation around Saigon was quick and cheap, and she and her friends came and went alone or in groups making the most of their freedom. She and the other children (except for my son, Paul, who was only three when we arrived) attended the excellent American school and had plenty of time for play.

But the younger children, more than Susan, were aware of the underside of life in Saigon. They disliked the stink of the city which I had grown so used to that I no longer noticed it. The growing poverty in the streets distressed them as did the ever-present beggars, many dismembered by the war. By the time the North Vietnamese were at the ramparts and the signs of war were becoming a daily occurrence, they were anxious to leave.

I kept returning to Vietnam because I was needed. I knew North Vietnamese communications well. I’d been intercepting them and exploiting them since 1960. I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. And I was willing to go into combat with the troops, army and Marines, and share their life on the battlefield. That made me all but unique. If I didn’t do the job, nobody would. It was all voluntary—no one forced me to go. I felt it was my patriotic duty. The real losers were my children.

More next time.

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