What I Did on the Battlefield

Following my recent posts on my work on the battlefield, a reader asks what I actually did. I thought it was obvious. Maybe not. Here’s the answer.

My job was direct support, providing minute-by-minute data on the enemy to friendly forces. I was under cover as a member of the unit I was supporting. I dressed in their uniform, cut my hair like theirs, lived with them. When the time to fight came, I went with them into battle. I tipped off our side as to where enemy was, what his strength was, which units faced us, what they were doing, what they planned to do. All this information came from intercepting and exploiting the enemy’s radio communications.

Sometimes I myself did the intercepting and exploiting of the enemy’s tactical voice communications. I was comfortable in seven different foreign languages, thanks to a God-given talent for which I deserve no credit. So I was able to listen in and keep friendly forces up to date.

The most valuable information came not from my personal efforts but from the complex and thorough signals intelligence system developed and deployed by the National Security Agency (NSA), my employer. In Vietnam, for example, it included a series of army and Marine field stations throughout the country, smaller intercept teams, airborne assets, and ships at sea off the coast of Vietnam—all under cover. All these were linked through a superb communications system controlled by NSA which fed me timely facts and figures on the enemy. That allowed me to tell the units I was supporting which enemy forces were nearby, their location, their movements, and their intentions.

To do that job, I had to be on the battlefield with U.S. and friendly troops. Early on in Vietnam, I earned a reputation for combat support. Unlike other, more sensible civilians, I was willing to do my job in the midst of combat. And I was better at it than any of my civilian compatriots. I felt it was my duty to use my unusual gifts and training to do all I could to help my country.

Our efforts in Vietnam failed. We lost the war. So all my risks were for naught. I escaped under fire as Saigon fell in April 1975. Those days were the worst in my life.

But I comfort myself these days by remembering that I gave all I had for my country. After the fall of Saigon, I came down with serious physical illnesses as a result of being holed up for more than a week in the city with little food and no sleep as the North Vietnamese attacked. But, miraculously, I was never wounded. Nevertheless, I was willing to put my life on the line for my country.

I am justifiably proud.

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