That Photo

A reader noted that in my post on Mission BBQ, I reported on the photograph of me in uniform hanging in the restaurant in Ellicott City and reminded me that I was a civilian during the thirteen years I spent more time in Vietnam than in the U.S., assisting combat forces on the battlefield with signals intelligence. When was that photo taken and why was I in uniform?

The reader is correct that I was a civilian during my Vietnam years. But most of that time—all but the last two years—I was under cover as an enlisted man in whatever unit, army or Marine, I was supporting. That meant I wore the uniform of the outfit I was with, to prevent the enemy from discovering that they had a spy in their midst.

I avoided being photographed because I was operating under cover. But once, I did allow a photo. That was in late summer or early fall of 1967 during the battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands. I was there on the battlefield supporting the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Armored Brigade during combat.

The troops, of course, knew I was a civilian. And they found my presence there—a civilian pretending to be one of them—hilarious. To avoid attracting the enemy’s attention, I lived with the troops, slept on the ground next to them, ate C-rations sitting in the dirt with them, used their latrines, and went into combat with them. As far as I know, the North Vietnamese never discovered my presence.

More next time.

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