Lucky Me (2)

I was on the battlefield constantly during the years of the Vietnam war. I witnessed brutally savage deaths of soldiers and Marines fighting next to me and developed a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). But luck was with me. I never was wounded. More than once over the years, I found bullet holes in the fatigues I was wearing, but none ever entered my body. It was phenomenal luck.

My last job in Vietnam, after U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1973, was as chief of the clandestine NSA operation to keep track of the North Vietnamese campaign to conquer the country. As it became clear that the enemy was about to attack Saigon, I wanted to evacuate my 43 men and their families. But the U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, forbade me to send anyone out of the country. He didn’t believe that the North Vietnamese would attack Saigon. The evidence from intercepted communications made it overwhelmingly clear that the attack was imminent, but Martin refused to change his orders. So I lied, cheated, and stole to get my men and their families out alive under any ruse I could think of. I was successful, but I had to stay until the city fell. I escaped under fire on the night of 29 April 1975.

Once again, luck was on my side. Neither I nor any of my men or their families were hurt or killed. Granted, I was physically ill from being holed up in my office without food or sleep while the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon, but once back in the states, I recovered.

Meanwhile, because of my willingness to face danger to get my job done, I was promoted much faster than my contemporaries. Not long after returning to the U.S. from Vietnam, I was admitted to the Senior Executive Service, the highest paid segment of federal government workforce.

I had learned during my years in Vietnam that the way to create a successful team was by leading rather than managing. My job as a boss was to uplift my subordinates, give them the tools and support so that they could excel, be the best they could be, and fulfill their own potential. I rewarded creativity and inventiveness. I encouraged my people to try new things and test new techniques. If they failed, I gave them a chance to try again; if they succeeded, I promoted them.

More tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “Lucky Me (2)”

  1. Tom, I love reading your accounts of your experiences in Vietnam. It takes me back to my own
    experiences over the 2 1/2 years that I spent there. We owe a debt of gratitude to you for all that you did and accomplished during your service.


      1. Tom, I went over in June 1966 with the Army. Was assigned th the First Cav. Spent three months doing LLVI in the boonies and then
        Was sent the 330th in Pleiku. Spent 1 5 months there running the
        Radio telephone shop. Came back to Nsa for my last year working for Ralph.

        Came on board in Jan 1970 and sent to Bienhoa for a year.
        In short, later worked Cambodian and then after the war, ended
        up in Chinese. Retired end of 1998.


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