Why am I writing this book?
The short answer is that I have a true story to tell you, one that I believe you will find interesting and possibly beneficial. This story recounts my war-related experiences as a young foot soldier in Vietnam. Killing and dying are not my story, although they could be. Instead, I want to share with you what I have learned about the value of life and how to survive against overwhelming odds. Despite the mental and physical toll that I endured when my life was in imminent and constant danger, my story shares how human relations also played an important part, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. I will share with you the strength that I found in my religious and family values. My experiences have changed my life forever, and by sharing them with you, I hope that they will change your life also. My life prior to the war was rather uneventful, but it changed dramatically following my return from Vietnam. I was a lowly automobile mechanic in Patterson, New Jersey when the Selective Service System, commonly known as the Draft Board, picked my number to serve in the United States (U.S) Military. My service in the U.S. Army lasted just over two years, including nearly a year of medical treatment for combat wounds in various military hospitals. When I returned to civilian life, I could not return to work as an automobile mechanic because of my combat injuries. I had two choices: I could have lived the rest of my life as a ward of the government, which was rather appealing at the time, or I could have pursued something more worthwhile in my life. I decided to use my veteran’s benefits to pursue a college education and improve my lot in life. I obtained a bachelor’s degree from Montclair State University and a law degree from Seton Hall University. After a short career in the legal profession, I became a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. Then I had a long career as an Operations Officer, a real-life Agent 007, in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). I have done many interesting things in life that few people get the opportunity to do in a lifetime. Surviving the Vietnam War and the serious injuries suffered because of the war was a remarkable feat for me, as it would be for anyone in a similar situation. The life that could have ended then went on to different and better things. For instance, few jobs in the world are as interesting, exciting, challenging and rewarding as being a field operative in the CIA. However, in terms of human emotions, my combat experiences have had the greatest impact on my life.
Why did I wait over forty-five years to tell this story?
Indeed, it would have been logical to write the story much earlier in time. However, in my case, is just was not possible to do it any sooner. For me, the passage of time seemed relatively short. In my mind, most of the events described here occurred yesterday. With respect to these events, I have lived a day at a time all of these years, trying to put distance between these painful memories and myself. It has been a long and trying journey. The physical wounds healed, but the emotional ones remained exposed for much of this time. I could not have been able to tell the story sooner. Even now, it is extra ordinarily difficult to narrate most of the events. However, I feel obligated to share these experiences, convinced that it would be beneficial to read them.
Juan R. Rivera, J.D.