My blog post of yesterday about the salute brought to mind the men who fought next to me in combat. As I stated yesterday, the strongest love I have ever felt was for the men who fought by my side on the battlefield. And when one of them died in combat, my grieving was intense. Time has not attenuated that intensity.
I need to explain, as I have before in this blog, that during my time in combat, I was not a soldier or Marine but a civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) operating undercover as military. Because of my unusual ability as a linguist and success at using signals intelligence (the intercept and exploitation of an enemy’s radio communications), I was called upon repeatedly to work with friendly troops on the battlefield. Between 1962 and 1975, because I was comfortable in the three languages of Vietnam (Vietnamese, Chinese, and French), I spent more time assisting friendly forces in combat in Vietnam than I did in the U.S.
Until 2016, that work was classified. Now that the job I did is declassified, I can tell you about it. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, from which I escaped under fire, I went on working with friendly forces for another twenty years, using other languages (I speak seven) though where, when, and with whom is still classified.
To be successful in my job, I had to be indistinguishable from the soldiers or Marines I was supporting. That meant I had to live with them—wear their uniforms, sleep beside them on the ground, eat C-rations sitting next to them in the dirt, use their latrines, and go into combat with them. I got to know them at a level of intimacy only possible among troops willing to put their lives on the line for each other.
The repeated losses of fellow combatants over the many years I offered signals intelligence support on the battlefield toughened me in the eyes of others. People remarked that nothing seemed to faze me, that I could withstand fortune’s buffeting and face death—as I did during my years of volunteering to care for fatally-ill AIDS patients—with impunity.
More next time.