I am the only man I know now living who saw combat as a civilian. For thirteen years during the war, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My job there for the majority of that time was working with combat troops on the battlefield, providing them with information about the enemy obtained by intercepting his radio communications. Most of the time, I didn’t do the intercepting myself but was the recipient of data from sites all over South Vietnam, from aircraft, and from ships at sea. I operated under cover as an enlisted man assigned to the unit I was supporting.
I was a civilian through it all. I had completed my military service before the Nati0nal Security Agency (NSA) hired me and sent me to Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, I did two multi-year tours in Vietnam and many shorter trips, called TDYs (temporary duties), usually four to six months in length. I was comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages that showed up in enemy communications, and early on I earned a reputation for being very good at working with friendly forces on the battlefield. No sooner would I complete a tour and return to the states than a message would come saying “send Glenn back” and back I’d go.
And I saw combat close up and personal. I lived with the outfit I was supporting, pretending to be a unit member. I got to know the guys I was working next to on the battlefield. They were kids, eighteen and nineteen years old. When one of them was killed standing next to me, my psyche was permanently damaged. To this day, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury from watching men die hideous deaths in combat.
My soul, in other words, was subjected to enduring injury. As a combat veteran, I am a member of a rapidly diminishing coterie. Something like 7 percent of our adult population are veterans. Of those, 10 percent saw combat. And nearly all of that number show signs of psychic impairment.
Why? Because combat is one of the most ghastly experiences a human being can endure. Nothing else I know of approaches it in horror. I don’t know how to describe it and wouldn’t if I could.
Nor did my support to U.S. and friendly forces cease with the end of the Vietnam war. After 1975, partly because I spoke seven languages, I was sent to a number of other locations for direct support. Where and when that was and who I was working with is still classified, so I can’t talk about it.
I urge all my readers to reach out to any combat veterans you may know. Thank them not only for putting their life on the line for the good of the country but for bearing the weight of unbearable memories. They suffer from wounds that can’t be healed.
But they can be comforted.