Coming to Terms

The last of my six published books that I’ll write about here is Coming to Terms, a collection of ten short stories. Only one of them is about Vietnam. All of them are about, as the Foreword says, “men and women confronted with pain as a consequence of love and hate, goodness and evil.” As is typical of my writing, the stories tell of events that really did happen; once again I have engaged in fiction in name only. These are all sets of events I stumbled across during my life as a husband, father, soldier, and caregiver for the dying.

In preparing this post, I flipped through a copy of Coming to Terms and read fragments. The stories and the predicaments of the characters to this day still bring tears to my eyes. I wrote about people I care deeply about.

Secretocracy

During the years after my return from Vietnam in 1975, my employer, the National Security Agency (NSA), sent me abroad on a number of assignments but also posted me to other agencies. One of those postings was to the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to work on the national intelligence budget before it was submitted to Congress for financing. While in that job, I refused to fund a program submitted by the then-president because it violated U.S. law and treaties we had signed with other nations. The president was furious. He stripped me of my clearances and assigned me to an empty warehouse in Anacostia, the D.C. slums, with no job to do. He couldn’t fire me without cause because he knew I could sue him—he was hoping I’d resign. I didn’t. When the end of his term came and he was replaced by a new president, I was reassigned back to NSA, my clearances were restored, and I resumed my career as if nothing had gone wrong. I got the clear impression that the government was deeply embarrassed by the former president’s treatment of me.

So I wrote a novel about my experience. I set it during the Trump administration, because Trump had in fact persecuted intelligence budgeteers who refused to approve his illegal programs.

No-Accounts

The next book is different from all the rest. Here’s how it came to be:

When I returned to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, I had a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I knew I needed to focus my attention away from myself on people who needed my help. By the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was raging. The disease was invariably fatal, and we didn’t know how it was transmitted. People were terrified. Men were dying on the street because no one would go near them, let alone help them. I knew that if I volunteered to take care these men, I’d run the risk of contracting AIDS. Risking my life wasn’t new to me, thanks to my time in combat. So I volunteered to help fatally ill men die.

Over the next five years, I cared for seven men who died of AIDS. We eventually learned that the disease was transmitted by the transfer of bodily fluids, so I was safe. Granted, I did once stab myself by accident with a hypodermic needle I had used to inject one of my patients, but I never came down with the disease.

I was so moved by my experience that I wrote a novel about a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS, No-Accounts. The author Juris Jurjevics had the following to say about the book: “Tom Glenn lived his novel seven time as a volunteer assisting HIV infected men to die. This is fiction taken from life written by a hero who accompanied the terminally ill as far as any mortal could, devoting himself body and soul to their comfort and helping them make their exit with dignity. It is one man’s story of committing unconditionally to another.”

The Trion Syndrome

The next book to be considered is in some ways the darkest. Because of the time I spent on the battlefield in Vietnam and elsewhere in the years following the fall of Saigon, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), a mental disorder that results from experiences so harrowing that they damage the soul. I endure PTSI because of the unspeakable things I observed and participated in during combat. Because I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances, I was not permitted to go for therapy to help me cope. I had to do it on my own. I learned early on that I had to bring the unbearable memories into my conscious mind and train myself to react more calmly. The best way for me to force myself to face the memories was to write them down. That led to my books about Vietnam, and especially to The Trion Syndrome.

Trion is about a Vietnam vet, Dave Bell, suffering from PTSI and how it very nearly destroys his life. It tells of his panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and depression as he tries to recall something he knows resulted in death. When he finally does remember, he goes to pieces.

The rest of the book details his struggle to come to terms with his memories. He runs away to the country in Maine, becomes a bum, then attempts suicide. Then one day, someone new shows up at his door. His life is permanently changed.

Friendly Casualties

The second book of mine that I want to discuss is Friendly Casualties. I published it as an ebook in 2012 after I had tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to find a publisher willing to bring it out in hardcopy. It’s the only book of its kind that I have ever come across: the first half is a series of short stories; second half is a novella that resolves the issues left incomplete in the stories.

The central concern in the book is, as in so much of my writing, the Vietnam war. I wanted to express my sense of loss that we were defeated in that war after so many I knew died trying to win it. I devoted my youth to Vietnam. I first arrived there in 1962 at age 26 and left for the last time at age 38 under fire when Saigon fell in 1975. During the intervening years, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. I had two accompanied tours there with my wife and four children—my kids still remember living there.

Friendly Casualties has a new life: Adelaide Books of New York will be publishing it in hardcopy sometime this year. The cover they chose for it is shown above. The background is a portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., known to so many of us just as The Wall. It displays over 58,000 names of American servicemen who died in Vietnam. I am deeply moved and humbled.

Last of the Annamese

Since a flea market is coming up in which I’ll be hawking and autographing my books, I decided it would be a good idea to do a blog post on each of them. I start with Last of the Annamese.

The book has been awarded more prizes than any of my other books. It tells, in fictionalized form, the story of my escape under fire when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese invaders on April 29, 1975. Another writer, Stephen Phillips, called the book a proverbial bookend companion to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Like all my books and stories, Annamese is fiction in name only—every event described really did happen.

The name of the book comes from an alternate name for Vietnam, An Nam. Many centuries ago, when the tribe that eventually became known as the Vietnamese resided in southern China, the Chinese derisively named them the yueh nán  (越南)—which in the language that tribe spoke became Việt Nam. It means those who cross over to the south or the troublemakers in the south. Over the centuries, after the Vietnamese travelled south into what we now call Vietnam and established their own state, they went by many different names. One of those was “An Nam,” which means “peace in the south.”

One of the principal characters in the book, South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh, doesn’t like being called a troublemaker in the south, so he uses the name An Nam for his country. A person from An Nam is called (in English) an Annamese. Hence the book’s title. Which of the book’s characters is the last Annamese is up to the reader to decide.

Flea Market

I’ll be selling and autographing my books at a flea market less than a mile from my house in early October. The Hickory Ridge Flea Market, open from nine to twelve on the morning of Saturday, October 8th, will give me the opportunity to offer my five (and maybe six, if the hardcopy version of my novel-in-short-stories, Friendly Casualties, is in print by then) books to the public.

My books, all fiction, are:

Last of the Annamese, my best-known work, tells the story of the fall of Saigon as I lived it, escaping under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.

The Trion Syndrome, the story of a Vietnam vet suffering (as I do) from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and how he copes.

No Accounts, drawn from my years of caring for dying AIDS patients, tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS.

Secretocracy, the tale, based on what actually happened to me, of the president of the U.S. lowing the boom on an intelligence budgeteer who refuses to fund an illegal operation.

Coming to Terms, a collection of short stories about, as the Foreword says, “men and women confronted with pain as a consequence of love and hate, goodness and evil.”

Friendly Casualties, whose first half is a collection of short stories with a second half a novella that tells the outcome of those tales.

Hope you can make it.

Vote for DeSantis (2)

Having overseen more covid-19 deaths in Florida than in any other state, DeSantis went on to outdo himself: he used over $600,000 in taxpayer dollars to lure 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers onto a flight to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where he dumped them and left them without resources. That, in addition to being grossly immoral, may have been illegal.

Despite all that, DeSantis remains one of the most popular governors in America, according to a new poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for U.S. Term Limits. Statewide, 64 percent of Florida voters approve of the job DeSantis is doing, versus just 24 percent who disapprove. Support for DeSantis is broad across nearly all political and demographic groups.

I am forced to conclude that those who vote to keep DeSantis in power value conservative political values above the lives of their fellow citizens. I’m reminded of my questions about who could possibly vote for Donald Trump. Both DeSantis and Trump care greatly about retaining power and little about the welfare of citizens.

Who could possibly vote for such men?

Vote for DeSantis?

Watching what’s going on in Florida during the governorship of Ron DeSantis forces me to ask: who could vote for this man?

DeSantis’s record speaks for itself. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in Florida, DeSantis has resisted imposing restrictions such as face mask mandates, stay-at-home orders, and vaccination requirements. In May 2021, he signed into law a bill that prohibited businesses, schools, cruise ships, and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination.

One result: by autumn 2021, Florida had had more deaths than any other state during the Delta variant spike, and altogether over 58,000 people in the state died from the virus.

Things got worse in 2022: by September, Florida had logged, for the third month in a row, more COVID-19 deaths than anywhere else in America. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Florida’s COVID death toll grew by 1,614 people in August. Many, perhaps most, of these deaths could have been avoided by vaccines, face masks, and other precautions which DeSantis refused to approve.

More next time.

Democracy in Decline

I was shocked to read on the front page of the Washington Post of September 19 that a dozen Republican election candidates are refusing to say that they will accept the results of their contests. They may, in other words, reject the voters’ decision and maintain that they won the election, validated and verified vote counts notwithstanding. This is the latest damage to our democracy instigated by Donald Trump, who to this day claims that he didn’t lose the 2020 election. The evidence of his defeat is undeniable and overwhelming. What he is doing is, in effect, to contradict the will of people. And now other Republican candidates are joining him.

Refusal to accept the results of an election is the epitome of fascism. It means to claim the right to rule regardless of the will of the people. It’s Hitler and Mussolini reborn. The Republicans are saying they will rule us whether we want it or not.

It’s time for us to get out the vote and defeat these fascists.