November 10, 2017
Colloquium Speaker: Tom Glenn
Tom Glenn has worked as an intelligence operative, a musician, a linguist (seven languages), a cryptologist, a government executive, a care-giver for the dying, a leadership coach, and, always, a writer. Many of his prize-winning short stories (seventeen in print) came from the better part of thirteen years he shuttled between the U.S. and Vietnam as an undercover NSA operative supporting army and Marine units in combat before escaping under fire when Saigon fell. With a BA in Music, a master’s in Government, and a doctorate in Public Administration and trained as a musician, actor, and public speaker, he toured the country lecturing on leadership and management, trained federal executives, and was the Dean of the Management Department at the National Cryptologic School. In recent years, he has spoken extensively on his writing, offered many presentations on fiction craftsmanship, and, more than forty times, given a presentation on the fall of Saigon. Maryland Public Television interviewed him and 15 others in its 2016 salute to Vietnam vets aired in May 2016, and his memoir article on the fall of Saigon has been published by Studies in Intelligence and reprinted in the Atticus Review and NSA’s Cryptologic Quarterly. His writing is haunted by his five years of work with AIDS patients, two years of helping the homeless, seven years of caring for the dying in the hospice system, and Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, a consequence of his time in Vietnam. These days he is a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books where he specializes in books on war and Vietnam. His Vietnam novel-in-stories, Friendly Casualties, is now available on Amazon.com. Apprentice House of Baltimore brought out his novels No-Accounts in 2014 and The Trion Syndrome in 2015. The Naval Institute Press will publish his latest novel, Last of the Annamese, in March 2017. You can access his blog at https://tomglenn.blog/
Tom Glenn was in Saigon as an undercover signals intelligence operative in April 1975 when the North Vietnamese attacked the city. Weeks before that, when signals intelligence made it clear that the North Vietnamese were going to move against Saigon, he wanted to evacuate all the Americans he was responsible for. He had 43 men working for him, and their families (and his family) were living in Saigon.
But the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, didn’t believe the evidence from intercepted North Vietnamese communications that an assault was imminent—he cited “communications deception”—and refused to allow Glenn to evacuate his people. Glenn’s stateside boss, General Lew Allen, Director of the National Security Agency, ordered him to close down the operation and get everyone out before someone got killed. Martin wouldn’t hear of it. Glenn made him a proposition: If he’d let Glenn’s people to go, Glenn himself would stay in Saigon until the end with a skeleton crew to keep the intelligence communications going. The Ambassador turned him down.
So Glenn cheated, lied, and stole to assure that none of his subordinates or their wives or children was killed or wounded. He got them out of the country by any ruse he could think of. Toward the end he bought a ticket on Pan Am with his own money and, with no authorization or orders, put one of his guys on the plane and told him to go. That was the last Pan Am flight out of Saigon.
Despite the Ambassador, by 27 April, only three of Glenn’s staff were left—Glenn himself and two communications technicians who’d volunteered to stay to the end. On 28 April, the onslaught began. The three were shelled, and both rockets and artillery rounds hit their compound. An adjacent building was destroyed, and two Marines at their gate were killed. Mid-afternoon on 29 April, when the technicians were finally evacuated by helicopter, Glenn’s work was done. When he flew out on a chopper at dusk, thanks to Marine Colonel Al Gray (later Marine Commandant), the aircraft took slugs in the fuselage but managed to escape. Glenn hadn’t slept in days and had eaten nothing but bar snacks to survive. Back in the states, he was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, ear damage from the shelling, and pneumonia due to sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue, and inadequate diet. It didn’t matter. All his subordinates and their families survived.
For his work during the fall of Vietnam, Tom Glenn received the civilian Meritorious Medal, his proudest possession.