Moving (4)

Beyond all the physical difficulties of my move to a new house, there is a psychological—or even spiritual—trial for me.

I’m at the time in my life when a man wants a settled, tranquil existence, devoid of physical and emotional tensions. The move is fraught with every kind of strain. I have no time to read, write, listen to music, play the piano, meditate, contemplate, or muse. I won’t be able to use my computer during the move. Maybe I won’t even be able to listen to the radio. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cook or eat at home. Life disruption writ large.

As noted earlier, I am forced to say good-bye to so much that I have loved. That has wakened in my mind the feeling that the move is analogous to death. What will it be like when I have to say farewell to everything? At my age, that moment can’t be too many years away. Maybe the move offers me the opportunity to rehearse the mental and spiritual practices for finding peace.

Meanwhile, I’ll handle the challenge of the move. I’m adept at living through chaos. My survival of the fall of Saigon and my ability to arrange for the escape of my 43 subordinates and their families shows what I can do. But it won’t be painless.

This blog will reflect the disarray that the move is subjecting me to. I may not be able to post at all. If so, I ask my readers to bear with me. I’ll be back in top form once I’m settled in my new house. Be patient.

Moving (3)

Leaving behind the beauty nature created with some help from me is only one aspect of moving.

Moving is a huge amount of work. I will have to move a lot of items myself. The movers will not handle liquids, including beverages, cleaners, laundry materials, automobile fluids (like motor oil and windshield fluid), and paint. They’ll move my outdoor grill but not the propane and that fuels it. They advise me to transport myself fragile valuables. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to manage all that.

The u-shaped maple desk and bookshelves in my office and great room, custom made for me many years ago, will have to be taken disassembled to be moved. That’s scheduled during the week before the move. Once that happens, I’ll probably be unable to continue posting to this blog until after I’m settled in my new place in early June.

My beloved Steinway grand piano, a gift many years ago from my daughter, will be moved that same week. It will be stored during the move and reassembled in my new place next month. I’ll miss it.

In short, the move will test my organizing skills and physical strength to the limit. I’m sure I’ll get through it fine. But the move and everything associated with it has disrupted my life and introduced a level of chaos, eclipsed only by living through the fall of Saigon and its aftermath.

More tomorrow.

Moving (2)

The yard of my house, which I described yesterday, is what I will miss most. It is where I toiled hardest, and it reflects my love for the earth. Flowering bushes and trees I’ve planted include forsythia, rhododendron, weeping cherry, weigela, viburnum, crepe-myrtle, flowering pear, dogwood (both pink and white), rosebud, gardenia, and butterfly bush. In the spring, when those plants come to life, my yard is a constant show of glory.

The house I’m moving to has almost no yard that requires tending. That was deliberate. I’m old enough now that the hard labor required to plant and maintain is beyond me. Besides, I want to spend the rest of my life writing, not caring for a house and garden. But these days, as I gaze at my beautiful land, the sadness of losing it stays with me.

My new house is surrounded by natural beauty. It backs onto a park with a stream. Wild trees are everywhere, and there is next to no lawn to care for. I will spend endless hours on my deck and patio. During good weather, I’ll eat most of my meals out of doors, as I do now, and I’ll enjoy coffee in the morning and wine in the evening watching, smelling, and feeling unbounded nature at my doorstep.

And yet— I’ll miss the cultured beauty of the house I’ll be leaving behind. The beauty in my new place will be equal to the beauty of my old. But it won’t be the same. Some of me will stay behind.

More tomorrow.

Moving

I’ll be moving soon. I’ve sold my house. It was far too large for a man living alone, and I am alone now. I’ve bought a smaller place well suited to my current needs. But as I take a last look at the place I’ve lived for so many years, leaving makes me sad.

This house reflects me. Everywhere are mementos of my long and rich life. Objects from my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam surround me. Ceramic elephants, drum tables, paintings, vases, a marble chess set. Pictures of me and my family. Walls full of certificates and awards.

All of these objects will go with me to my new house. But other changes I’ve made here won’t. I installed two new bathrooms to suit my idea of what a bathroom should be. The walls, inside and out, reflect my sense of color and design. Luxurious draperies through are of my choosing. New appliances and a new sink have changed the utility room. The kitchen boasts a new stove and refrigerator, designed for my way of preparing and maintaining food.

At the back of the house is a four-level deck graced at the lowest level with an adjacent patio that I installed. I have worked hard and spent a great deal of money first perfecting the deck and then restoring it after the years took their toll. It is the most appealing feature of the house.

Behind the deck is the back yard, dominated by a great maple tree, undoubtedly near a hundred years old. Even though it is some twenty feet away, the tree’s branches reach out over the deck. To it’s right, to the north, is a flowering cherry tree, now taller than the house itself. To it’s left, close to the southwestern corner of the extended side year, is a mammoth oak, as old as the maple. In between are flowering shrubs of all kinds.

The half-acre yard surrounding the house is my pride and joy. I have labored many hours there, planting, pruning, mulching, raking, fertilizing. The front yard sports two mature maple trees and a smaller red maple. The small side yard on the north side of the house, about ten feet wide, is only lawn, except for the shrubs along the side of the house, all now much taller than I am.

But the glory of the house is its sloping southern side yard, some forty feet wide and extending from the street to the back fence of the property. When I bought the house, that yard was grass, covering a gently descending hill ending at the tiny stream that flows between my property and that of those behind me. I worked hardest on that part of the yard. It is now filled with flowering bushes and trees. As I write, the Kousa Dogwood, a late bloomer, is in full flower. It dominates the view from the sunroom that runs the full length of the house’s southern side, its walls all windows.

More tomorrow.

Honor Flight Keynote Speech (4)

The end of my keynote speech of 11 May. Yesterday, I told of being met at the San Francisco airport by mobs who spat on us and called us “baby killers” and “butchers.”
The result:

That sickened me even more. I first noticed the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) in the late 1960s, but it became more obvious with each returning trip and encounters with the raging mobs. After the fall of Saigon, when I got back to the states in May 1975, it was severe. At the time, I had top-secret-codeword-plus security clearances from NSA, so I couldn’t go for psychotherapy—back in those days I would have lost my clearances and my job, and I had a wife and four children to support. I had to manage on my own. I knew somehow that to cope I had to bring all my unbearable memories into my conscious mind and face them head-on.

So I did. I forced myself to remember the unspeakable, gruesome deaths I’d witnessed on the battlefield—guys I slept next to, eaten with, joked with, killed in ways so brutal that I still can’t talk about it. I know now that those memories never go away or weaken. They won’t change, but I can. I learned how to cope with the memories by learning to control my emotions. These days, except for crying sometimes, I live a normal life.

But there was another obstacle: when I got back to the world—that is, the U.S.—after the fall of Saigon, I found that no one wanted to hear about Vietnam. It was a shameful war, best forgotten. I was shamed by all who knew I’d been there. For decades, I never mentioned Vietnam.

Then about five or six years ago, I was invited to something I’d never heard of before: a welcome-home celebration for Vietnam veterans. I was leery but finally decided to attend. When I got there, young people, not even born when Saigon fell, walked up to me, smiled, hugged me, and said the words I had so longed to hear for so many years, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”

I cried.

So tonight, I want to do that for you, to thank you. You were willing to put your life on the line for the good of the nation and the welfare of all the rest of us. Accept the thanks of all of us. And representing everyone in this room, I reach out to you and say—

Welcome Home.

End of quote. The speech was well received. And I was grateful for the opportunity to express my admiration and thanks to veterans.

Honor Flight Keynote Speech (3)

Continuing the text of my 11 May keynote speech:

After U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1973, I was named the head of the covert NSA operation in Vietnam. I was still there on 29 April 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. I had succeeded in getting all 43 of my subordinates and their families safely out of the country. The night of 29 April, in the pitch black and pouring rain, the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I escaped in a little Huey helicopter. No sooner were we airborne than I saw the tracers coming at us. We took so much lead in the fuselage I thought we were going down. But we made it. I flew out to the 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea.

The pilot headed straight for the flag ship of the 7th Fleet, the Oklahoma City. In the dark and pelting rain, he flew over the ship and circled. And circled. And circled. Finally, he went down very slowly and landed on the flood-lit helipad of the ship. He told me later that he, a civilian Air America pilot, had never before landed on a ship.

Aboard the Oklahoma City was a young Marine lieutenant named Ed Hall. Ed is now the commander of this American Legion Post, 156.

As a result of what I went through on the battlefield and during the fall of Saigon, I developed an acute case of something we didn’t have a name for back then. Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I had all the classic symptoms—panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and irrational rages. I call it “injury” rather than “disorder” because it’s so obviously the result of an external wound to the soul, not a case of the mind internally going awry.

What made it worse was that, starting in about 1968, as I returned from Vietnam, coming in with the troops landing in San Francisco, personnel on the plane warned us to dress in civvies so that people wouldn’t recognize us as returning troops. It didn’t work. Time after time, we were met by angry mobs who spat on us and called us “baby killers” and “butchers.”

More tomorrow.

Honor Flight Keynote Speech (2)

Continuing the text of my keynote speech of 11 May:

I operated under cover as an enlisted man in the unit I was supporting. I lived with the troops, slept beside them on the ground, sat in the dirt eating C-rations next to them, used their latrines, and went with them into combat. I dressed in their uniform so that the enemy wouldn’t discover that they had a spy in their midst. I was older than the kids —and they were kids; most were 18 or 19 years old—but I’ve always looked younger than my years, so I was able to pass for one of them.

One of my biggest challenges was getting the guys to accept me as one of them. Here I was, a high-ranking civilian, who sometimes outranked their officers, living with them in the dirt. They kept calling me “sir” and “Mr. Glenn.” They shied away from me as if I were special or didn’t belong there.

One story is worth repeating. In the late summer-early fall of 1967, I was in the western highlands operating in support of the 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. One morning I got up from sleeping on the ground next to the troops and discovered that my fatigues had all disappeared. Dressed in my skivvies, I roamed around the cantonment area asking if anybody knew where my uniforms were. They showed up about two hours later. The troops had snitched them and taken them to a local tailor and paid him to sew patches over each of the fatigue pockets. One read GLENN; the other CIVILIAN. On the collars of each of my fatigue blouses, where an officer’s rank would be, he’d stitched the number “13.” I was a GS-13 at the time. And they had put the crest of the 4th Infantry Division on my hat.

The guys found the whole thing hilarious. They insisted on taking pictures of me in my newly altered uniform. From that day on, they stopped treating me as if I was an outsider. They stopped calling me “sir” and instead called me “Tom.”

The only problem arose when I encountered a soldier who didn’t know me and didn’t know what a “13” on my collar meant. He didn’t know whether to salute or not.

That was the beginning of the battle of Dak To, one of the bloodiest during the war. So many of men I was next to on the battlefield were killed.

More tomorrow.