Years ago, I wrote in this blog about my return trips to the U.S during the Vietnam war. I told about arriving at the San Francisco airport with the troops. Crowds of people spat on us, screamed at us, called us murderers and baby killers. I was already suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), and having the American people condemn me made my suffering worse.
I spent the better part of thirteen years in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 when Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese and I escaped under fire after the enemy were already in the streets of Saigon. I was a civilian under cover as military and served on the battlefield providing signals intelligence support to friendly troops in combat against the North Vietnamese invaders. I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam, and through the intercept and exploitation of enemy radio communications, I was able to tell U.S. troops where the enemy was, what his intent was, and what units he had deployed. During those years, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S.
PTSI is still with me and always will be. It never goes away. I have had to learn to cope with the nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, irrational rage, and depression that PTSI inflicts. Among the hardest memories to bear are those of my fellow citizens insulting me and spitting on me because I risked my life for the good of my country.
I found that the best remedy for PTSI was focusing my attention on others who needed my help. So I volunteered to be an AIDS buddy, helping fatally ill patients to die with dignity. When science found a way to prevent death from AIDS, I went on to work with the homeless for several years, then volunteered with the Gilchrist Hospice for nine years. I finally had to quit that work because I was getting too old and feeble to be able to lift the patients. Then I turned to writing to be able to vent my feelings.
I paid a hefty price for my willingness to serve my country on the battlefield. But it was worth it for the good I did and the lives I saved. And if asked to do it all over again, my answer would be an unqualified “yes.”
I am content.