My Father (2)

Early in my college years, I got a bank account so I could write checks for tuition and other expenses. One day, I noticed that several checks were missing from my check book. When my bank statement arrived, I found one of the missing checks. It was made out to cash and signed with my name. I recognized the handwriting. It was my father’s.

When several more checks showed up, I changed my payroll signature from Thomas L. Glenn to Thomas L. Glenn III. That stopped the forgeries.

At age twenty-one, I graduated from college and enlisted in the army to go to language school. I asked my mother not to let my father know where I was or how to get in touch with me. After I graduated from language school, the army assigned me to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. When I finished my enlistment, NSA hired me. By then I was married. I settled my family in Maryland. For the next ten years, I saw to it that my father didn’t know how to reach me.

When my mother collapsed with stage three alcoholism, I flew to Oakland, closed down her apartment, and took her to West Virginia to live with her family while she recovered. I saw no sign of my father.

A year or two later—I don’t remember how long—she was diagnosed with lung cancer from her heavy smoking. Not long after, she died with me close by.

Two months after her death, I got a phone call from the Oakland police. They had somehow tracked me down. They told me that my father had been killed in a bar brawl and asked what to do with his body. If I didn’t claim it, he would be buried in a pauper’s grave. I told them to go ahead. To this day, I don’t know where his grave is.

As I look back on my father’s life, I’m forced to conclude that he was mentally unbalanced. I know that he was dependent on impressing others with his importance and success. But I still can’t imagine what motivated him to do the things he did.

I learned from him. I swore that if I ever had children, I’d take good care of them so they’d never have to go through what I did as a child. My three daughters and my son are all now healthy adults.

I kept my promise.

My Father

When I posted my piece about my callsign in Vietnam, TG-3, I mentioned that my father forged checks against my bank account. A reader found that hard to believe. Here’s the full story.

My father was a lawyer in Oakland, California. When I was twelve or so, he sent my mother and me on a trip across country to West Virginia to visit her mother and family. We came home on a luxurious train trip through Canada.

Years later, I found out that my father got the money to pay for that trip by embezzling $40,000 from one of his clients. He was indicted and convicted, debarred from practicing law, and spent the next few years in prison. We lost everything—our house, the cars, our savings. My mother and I moved to the Oakland slums where we rented a small flat. She got a job as a telephone saleswoman in a jewelry store. Her dependence on alcohol became more pronounced.

When my father got out of prison, he lived with us and became a bum. As far as I know, he never, in those years, had a regular job of any kind. Shortly thereafter, he went back to prison. I don’t know what for.

I honestly don’t remember how many times he was imprisoned. From my early teenage years on, I became more and more self-reliant. My mother became completely addicted to alcohol. I was forced to take care of myself. In my teens, I had part time jobs as a paperboy, working as a delivery boy for various stores, and waiting on customers. I went to college at the University of California in Berkeley because I could afford the tuition. I worked twenty hours a week while in school and did the best I could to avoid my father.

More next time.

My Addictions (2)

Continuing my catalogue of addictions:

Early in childhood, along with music and piano playing, I discovered reading. I learned that books offered information, insight, entertainment, and a means to grow intellectually. I read everything I could lay my hands on, and the local library got to know me. I was most attracted to fiction. I knew instinctively that even though I was reading stories that never happened, these tales gave me insights into real life in a way non-fiction couldn’t.

Reading has stayed with me all my life as a favorite pastime. It has led to book reviewing which I now do regularly. That craft also taught me to read more carefully, knowing I’d be called upon to tell other readers about new books.

And that brings me to my greatest addiction: writing. By age six, I already knew that my vocation was writing. Throughout the first third of my life, I tried to escape from it. I studied dancing, acting, music, languages, and leadership. By my early twenties, I had a family and needed to support my wife and children. Writing didn’t pay, but signals intelligence did. I studied Vietnamese for a year, then spent thirteen years constantly in Vietnam, exploiting North Vietnamese communications in support of U.S. forces. After escaping under fire when Saigon fell in 1975, I went on to other escapades that I can’t discuss because they’re still classified.

Through it all, I wrote. I retired as early as I could to write fulltime. Most of my writing was fiction about Vietnam, a subject not popular among American readers after 1968. So much of my output never saw print—until 2012. As a new generation of Americans came along and wanted to know what happened during that war deemed so shameful, my writing started to sell. Now I have seventeen short stories and four novels in print with two more books due out next year.

But I don’t write to get published. I write because I have to.

So there you have my addictions—weight lifting, music, piano, reading, and writing. Each has enriched my life.

My Addictions

I have in my life activities that I find so fulfilling that I am addicted to them. They feel to me as though they are critical to my health, survival, and sanity. Without them my life would be drab and incomplete.

One is weight lifting, sometimes called weight training. For many years, I’ve had my own weight bench, barbells, dumbbells, and an exercise bike. I was also a runner until several years ago when I had knee replacement surgery that went awry. I haven’t been able to run since.

I didn’t run or lift weights for health reasons. I did it because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing matches a runner’s high or the sense of sheer vitality that comes from a good, hard session of lifting weights.

Unfortunately, as injuries and illnesses affected me, I became less able to engage in my favorite exercises. I haven’t been able to run at all for several years. Then a couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation and finally has the upper lobe of my right lung removed by surgery. I have tried several times to resume weight lifting but haven’t had the bodily strength. I’ll try again this spring.

Another of my predilections is music. I discovered classical music as a child, and my fondness for it soon grew to love. For years, I composed and even took a BA in music from the University of California. These days, I have less free time than ever before, but I still squeak out an occasional hour for listening to my recordings. My all-time favorite composer is Bach, with Brahms not far behind.

My love for music led me to teach myself as a child how to play the piano, even though I didn’t own one. While in high school, I scraped together the money to buy the cheapest piano I could find, an ancient upright that lasted me all the way through college. Today I have a Steinway grand, a gift from my daughter, that doesn’t get the attention it deserves because I’m too busy writing and doing readings and presentations.

More tomorrow.

My TG-3 Desk Name Plaque

On my writing desk in my office, I have a name plaque made of black stone, presumably marble. It’s a triangular wedge, a foot long and three inches high, an inch and a quarter wide at the bottom and pointed at the top. On the back of it is a fanciful black dragon among white clouds. On the front is a long white rectangle with “TG-3” in black in the center, surrounded by dragon fins.

The plaque has a crack in it. Years ago, I dropped it and broke it, then carefully cemented it back together. I had to repair it. It’s one of my prized possessions from the Vietnam war.

Army troops I was working with in the Da Nang area of Vietnam in the late 1960s gave it to me. They told me they had paid a craftsman to carve it from marble quarried from Marble Mountain, close to the seashore not far from Da Nang.

They were especially pleased with the plaque because it memorialized my radio callsign, TG-3. The troops came up with that letter-digit combination. They took it from my payroll signature, Thomas L. Glenn III, which they found hilarious.

I didn’t explain to them that I used that silly moniker because my father, Thomas L. Glenn, Jr., had forged checks against my personal account, under the name I used, Thomas L. Glenn. I added the “III” to my payroll signature to foil him. It worked, but I have been stuck all my life with a ridiculously pretentious name. I reduced it to “Tom Glenn” for my author’s name.

My presence among the troops was already the source of mirth. Here I was, a civilian who outranked some of their officers, pretending to be an enlisted man. I lived with the troops and dressed in their uniform and went into combat with them. The disguise was to prevent the enemy from discovering that they had a spy in their midst. When I finally got the guys to call me “Tom” and not “Mr. Glenn” and “sir,” I knew I was a member of the team. When they gave me the TG-3 plaque, I knew I was one of them.

Some of the men who gave me the plaque were killed close by me on the battlefield.

I’ll never forget them. I’ll never cease to grieve over those who were lost. And I will always treasure the plaque they gave me.

Max Hastings’ Vietnam (2)

And I was taken aback when I came across a half dozen names of people I knew in Vietnam. Hastings interviewed them. I know why Hastings never tracked me down for an interview. My work in Vietnam was still classified when he was researching his book. I could have added rich details to many of his stories, especially about the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

For all his masterful research, Hastings nevertheless failed to see that the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front (NLF) were extensions of the North Vietnamese, completely under the iron control of Hanoi and never independent. In fact, the NLF never existed at all. It was a fiction created by the North Vietnamese communist party.

My only other criticism of Hastings’ work is his consistent negativity. He finds little to admire in the actions anyone involved in the war. That hurt. So many of the men and women I knew in Vietnam were devoted patriots, trying their best to defeat what they considered an evil enemy. Many gave their lives in that endeavor. They deserve respect. I honor them.

Hastings arrives at conclusions almost identical to mine about why the U.S. lost the war. I devoted a series of posts here on that subject late last month. It was a combination of our failure to understand the enemy—his guerrilla strategy and limitless determination and willingness to suffer enormous casualties—combined with the corruption of the South Vietnamese government and our own national hubris. But Hastings added an element I hadn’t thought of: the U.S.’s decision-making was based solely on what was good for the U.S., not on what was good for the Vietnamese or would work in Vietnam. And our leaders too often decided on moves that would improve their electability. That ended up costing thousands of lives. Such an approach was doomed to failure.

Hastings chose the right subtitle for the book: an epic tragedy. Millions died and nothing was gained.