The American Legion

On the third Thursday of every month, I attend the monthly meeting of my American Legion Post. The Friday before that, I join my fellow members in the monthly luncheon. I feel at home with other members, all veterans like me, men (and a few women) getting on in years who know what it means to put their lives on the line for the good of their country. I and many of the others are men who joined the military during the years before the draft was eliminated in 1973. And a sizable number, again like me, know the rigors of the battlefield and have experienced the death of men fighting by their side. They’ll tell you, as I would, that they fought not for God or country or patriotism but to save their buddy fighting next to them.

The biggest difference between them and me is that I had finished my enlistment in the army before I faced combat. After the end of my army service, I went to work for the National Security Agency (NSA) which, because of my linguistic skill (I spoke Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam) sent me to Vietnam to support troops in battle with signals intelligence, the intercept and exploitation of enemy radio communications. I worked under cover as an enlisted man in whatever unit, army or Marine, I was supporting. I lived with the troops, slept beside them on the ground, ate C-rations sitting with them in the dirt, and went into combat with them.

One of the miracles of my life is that I was never wounded despite repeated work on the battlefield in combat. My best guess is that the enemy took aim at the man shooting at him rather than the guy carrying radio equipment.

So I feel at home with combat veterans. The oddity is that those of us who survived the battlefield recognize each other. A look, quick thump of a fist to an arm, and a knowing smile is all it takes. And we share both a pride in our achievement and a recurring secret sense of horror at what we went through. I’m sure that all of us, to some degree, suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.

We know that our experience changed us, not always for the better. But we know we’d do it all over again if asked.

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