I grew up in East Texas, about halfway between Houston and Dallas. By the time I was 18, I found myself on the wrong side of the law in Chicago. A judge told me I could either go to the Illinois State license plate factory, or provide him with proof of my enlistment in any branch of America’s Armed Forces. I left the courthouse, turned right, found an Army Recruiting Station a few blocks away. In the 60s, if you could fog up a mirror the Army would take you.
Not long afterward, in early 1964, I found myself in the Republic of South Vietnam (RVN) as a member of the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam (MACV) with approximately 18,000 other Americans. I spent the year mostly north of Saigon in Pleiku, Ban Me Thout, and finally as part of the team supporting the Vietnamese Military Academy in Dalat.
After returning to “The World,” I was assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. There I learned that the Army believed it was much easier to send successful “advisors” back to Vietnam than it was to make new ones, with “success” being defined as “survival.” I probably misled the Army into thinking that was OK, when I reenlisted for six more years and skipped a “Vietnam Orientation,” foolishly thinking that I’d learned more in a year than I could in an hour.
My second tour in the RVN went in the opposite direction. The Mekong Delta was my home that year, mostly in Bac Lieu Province assigned to the 21st ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam). By 1966 the U.S. build-up in Vietnam was in full swing with Marine and Army units operating in unit strength, mostly north of Saigon.
Once again I returned to Ft. Bragg and spent a year there before being sent to Italy in 1968. Italy was a whole lot more livable than MAC-V. Again, there was a “Vietnam Orientation” and since I hadn’t cracked the code yet, I skipped it. In ’69 . . . you guessed it, I received orders to return to MAC-V. Note to self . . .
During ’69 and ’70, I returned to the Mekong Delta and Bac Lieu Province. This time I was assigned to Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) Team 20.
By then, the war was going through the “Vietnamization” stage, a euphemism for “pulling-out,” which turned over more and more of the support and combat operations to indigenous personnel. However, MACV advisors continued to do what they had since becoming America’s first ante in Vietnam: train the troops, then accompany them on combat operations. Organized directly under General William C. Westmoreland, CORDS consisted of a civil-military structure designed to pacify their areas of operation by training the local populations into Regional and Popular Forces (RF/PF) military organizations and improving the government’s responsiveness. The latter consisted of various CIA Rural Development organizations working to dig wells, build schools, and provide remote medical assistance.
In 1970 I returned to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, where I attended every Vietnam Orientation scheduled. But alas, in early 1972 I received orders for . . . Yup! However, I had less than 90 days until my reenlistment was up and once I pointed out to a crusty old warrant officer at personnel that I had no intention to “re-up,” the orders were cancelled.
In 1974, I finally learned that you can make more with your mind than you can with your back. I went to school, got a degree and was hired by IBM. It’s a long way from the bib overalls of Carlisle, Texas, to the three-piece suits of IBM and even farther from the Mekong Delta to “The World.” Life was great . . . and I was miserable. The VA’s Vietnam Vet Outreach program was my salvation. Not for what it did for me, but rather for what it told me to do for myself . . . write.
And I did, about all the things I couldn’t talk about. That was the genesis of No Survivors, my Vietnam novel. It’s based on real people and events during my three tours in Vietnam, and is dedicated to the more than 58,000 names on The Wall, their families, friends, and all veterans.
In appreciation for all that my fellow veterans have done for me, and in recognition of the fact that well over 150,000 veterans are homeless on the street every night, I donate 50% of the royalties from No Survivors to various veterans’ support organizations.
High Order, my second novel, is based on actual Baltimore Bomb Squad cases. Again, the characters are drawn based on the bomb technicians, patrolmen, and detectives I met while doing research for High Order.
My son Brian and his cousin Matthew man the “Thin Blue Line” in Colorado and Texas. In tribute to my family’s involvement and the many members of the Baltimore City and Baltimore Country police forces and bomb squads who assisted in the writing of High Order, 50% of the royalties are donated to various state and local police support organizations.
The current situation in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows that veterans are seriously under supported. Thankfully, there are many outstanding private groups stepping in to assist our brothers and sisters in arms.
Since many in law enforcement and current and recent members of the military were so critical to the creation of Primary Candidates, I am donating 50% of the royalties to various law enforcement and veterans’ support groups.
I wish you well!