Lucky Me

I’m one of the luckiest people I know. Luck has been with me repeatedly during my wild life. That explains why I’m still alive today despite circumstances which should have killed me.

My luck started when I was six years old. With an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, survival was up to me. As a result, I developed self-reliance to the point that I resented having to depend on other people. That ability served me well on the battlefields of Vietnam and elsewhere.

My good luck held when I enlisted in 1958 in the U.S. Army to go to the Army Language School (ALS—now called the Defense Language Institute). I wanted to study Chinese, but the army decided to teach me a language called Vietnamese, which I had never heard of (we called that part of the world French Indochina back then). I spent a full year in intensive study in that unknown language. That chance assignment reshaped the rest of my life.

When the army assigned me to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, after I graduated first in my class at ALS, I discovered that Georgetown University in D.C. was offering evening classes in Chinese. I enrolled. By the time my enlistment was finished, I was comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French (a language I had taught myself as a child), the three languages spoken in Vietnam and used by the North Vietnamese in their radio communications. Luck was with me, and NSA immediately hired me as a GS-11, five grades higher than the normal new hire, and sent me to Vietnam in 1962.

More next time.

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