I’ve just finished reading Mel Carney’s novel Command at Dawn (Deeds Publishing, 2019). I bought the book because it sounded like the story paralleled my own. I was correct. Even though I was in Vietnam almost constantly between 1962 and 1975 and the novel deals with one military tour in Vietnam in 1968, the events the protagonist lives through in the novel bear a striking resemblance to my experiences. The biggest difference is that I went through them repeatedly; Carney’s protagonist goes through them once.
The first third of the novel describes combat in the central section of South Vietnam. Reading it brought back repressed memories of close calls, savage clashes, and brutal deaths. The young lieutenant Scott Ledbetter, the central character, is wounded and medevaced first to Chu Lai, then to Da Nang. I wasn’t so lucky. Unlike the men fighting next to me, I survived without a scratch and had no escape from the battlefield.
I was in Vietnam working undercover to assist U.S. military forces, both army and Marine, on the battlefield. I was an employee of the National Security Agency (NSA). My job was to use intercepted North Vietnamese radio communications to tip off our side about which enemy units we were facing, where they were, and what they were doing. I was so good at my job that I would no sooner finish a tour and get back to the U.S. than a message would come saying. “Send Glenn back,” and back I’d go.
I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam, and I’d been exploiting North Vietnamese communications since 1960. I knew them like the back of my hand. Those skills and my experience made me both unique and of great value to combat forces. So during those years, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S.