My father is a Vietnam Veteran and served two tours. After graduating from McAllen High School in 1963, he enlisted into the Army and went to Fort Leonardwood (Lost in the woods) in Missouri (edited…for some reason I said Kansas, I don’t know why but I had Kansas on my mind) for Basic Training. Somewhere along the way, he was selected for a unique Military Occupation Skill (MOS) for a unique organization.
The organization was called the United States Army Security Agency or USASA for short. Their motto is, “In God we trust all others we monitor”. It is hard to find his units because they were all given false names. He was always assigned to a Radio Research Company or unit and trust me, the Army spends no money on research especially with a platoon of men. I know that his first duty station was in Okinawa and that he was assigned to the 101st Security Detachment, thank you very much military yearbook! But really that is all.
You see, what Father did in Vietnam was just recently declassified and well, dad being an old spook and spy, will still guard those secrets. And I am ok with that. But here are some stories I learned while growing up prior to me joining the profession. So what this unit did, based on open sources, was to triangulate the enemies radio communication signals to determine their location. You had those that worked specifically on that requirement while others did morse intercept and linguistic work as well. Dad was neither one of these. I think now I know what he did but because it is still an active MOS I will just leave it at that.
First, Dad was very popular with the North Vietnamese. The story is this. My mom was able to get command sponsorship to travel to Okinawa to be with Dad. I think the first thing they bought was a small stereo for their newly acquired military housing. And well Mom had to go to the commissary (grocery store) from time to time to buy food. See, dad drove the one car to work and they lived down below the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Club. So everyday, at 5pm, mom would look out the door up the hill and if she saw the car coming down then she knew he was coming home for the night. Otherwise, Dad was busy with something. So one day, mom is at the commissary, it’s a small base where everyone knows everyone and she strikes up a conversation with someone and they informed her, “Oh you are Pancho’s wife, oh yeah he has a bounty of $50,000 on his head by the North Vietnamese”. Not something one would say to a newly wed bride.
When Dad was in Vietnam in one of his tours, they went on a convoy. Dad packed extra ammo and mind you, these were 20 round clips. So he probably took about close to 400 rounds of ammunition. Again, an officer made fun of him because he was taking all that ammo. To put this in perspective, every mission I went out on in my tour to Afghanistan, I carried 300 rounds of ammunition on my kit plus an additional 90 rounds in my go bag. Of course, his convoy gets ambushed and that officer finds my dad and begs for ammo. My dad politely told him no. Of course I am sure it was more colorful than that! I also remember him one time talking about how tracers are cool to look at when you are firing them but not cool when it is the enemy’s and trying to kill you.
There are other stories as well, but the last memorable one was when my son was going to get ready and head off to basic training with a military intelligence MOS. My dad said, “You know when I was in Vietnam, I had to brief a gentleman from the CIA on enemy activity. Of course we never used his real name because he had a false name so we all took turns briefing Mr. CORDS. Eventually, he became the head of the CIA.”
Even though I don’t know much of what my dad did during the Vietnam War, it was what he did afterwards that really inspired me. We all have heard the motto “leave no man behind”. Well Dad did just that. He volunteered most of his time during the 1970s and 1980s with the American G.I. Forum when it was run by then Dr. Hector P. Garcia. Dad rose up through the ranks and was always caring and reaching out to his fellow veterans. That sense of selfless service even out of uniform was evident. I can’t recall the number of parties we had at the house just full of veterans. And I was just in awe at all these great men of valor and honor.
Lastly, it was my Dad who taught me to be quiet and listen to my NCOs. As a young officer, I would always get a complemented by Sergeants if I ever went to OCS. I would always say, “Sadly, No. But my Dad was an NCO and he taught me well.”