Yesterday, Sunday, March 20, I attended the Gilchrist Fourth Annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration at Martin’s West, a sort of luxury reception center in Baltimore. Gilchrist is a hospice where I volunteered to work with the dying for a number of years. It has been celebrating its annual welcome home event honoring Vietnam veterans for several years but didn’t hold it for the last two because of the pandemic.
I got started in hospice care at the height of the AIDS epidemic. For five years, I took care of seven AIDS patients—all gay, all died. As the medical community progressed in preventing AIDS deaths, I went on to work with other dying patients. I stayed with it for seven more years and worked with more than thirty patients. I finally had to quit when I got too old and feeble to lift and carry the patients.
I qualify as a Vietnam veteran many times over. Between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. But I was not in the military—I was a civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) operating under cover a member of whatever unit, army or Marine, I was supporting on the battlefield. I was comfortable in the three languages of Vietnam (Vietnamese, Chinese, and French), and my job was supporting the unit I was assigned to by providing data from signals intelligence (the intercept and exploitation of the enemy’s radio communications) on which unit we were facing, what its location was, its strength, and its intentions.
I had two three-year tours in Vietnam and so many shorter trips, called TDYs (temporary duties, lasting four to six months), that I lost count. I ended up heading the clandestine NSA operation in South Vietnam in 1974 and 1975 and was the last men out when the North Vietnamese seized Saigon in April 1975.
More next time.