THE WIZARD OF SAIGON

In 1969, you were 28 years-old and supposed to be cannon fodder, or rather a shooter’s target, another U.S. Army first lieutenant leading his infantry unit into oblivion; but a funny thing happened on the way to war. Your orders changed.

A Saigon-based colonel whose inflated ego insisted on his own intellectual superiority, surrounded himself with drafted and obligated volunteer Ivy-Leaguers. You were one of them and became the colonel’s indispensable assistant.

Proximity to high-ranking officers usually does not promote positive feelings among other soldiers, especially the professional ones, but as the colonel’s adjutant, your rank helped you position yourself to become the unit’s go-to guy.

Over the course of your year-long assignment in Vietnam, with increasing frequency your fellow soldiers came to you with their problems—or you spotted issues before they became problems. So, they nicknamed you ‘The Wizard,’ the one officer they could count on for help.

Feats included orders moving Orthodox Jews from the field to Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City, so they wouldn’t starve to death. Kosher rations were non-existent in the jungle. You managed to save the military careers of several senior officers, suffering critical psychological problems, by creating medical leave orders to Japan for them where presumably they stabilized and returned later to active duty. Other army professionals became distraught and wanted to go home because of a divorcing and/or unfaithful spouse and the orders you wrote enabled them to do so without damaging their record.

On the lighter side, you made arrangements with your Australian counterpart and others to redirect good meat destined for the generals’ mess to your unit’s barbeques where the usual fare was the least desirable of USDA. Such occasions inspired somewhat ribald and irreverent activities you initiated and maintained like the Green Weinie award for the stupidest thing done during the week, which even the major present at those gatherings admitted lightened the mood of his otherwise discouraged and glum servicemen and women.

In fact, your light-hearted shenanigans so succeeded in improving your fellow soldiers’ attitudes and functioning that one morning, as you entered the compound where you worked, your first steps met a yellow brick road painted onto the concrete floor. It led to your desk where you found a placard created to honor you. It bore your name and a cartoon of the unit’s mascot wearing a wizard’s pointed hat.  After that day, your informal sobriquet was ‘the Wiz,’ the one officer they could rely on.

When your colonel sent you on dangerous missions throughout South Vietnam, your unit surely missed you, your can-do attitude, and your conjuring that probably saved many lives and spirits.

 

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