You never know when you are going to make a great friend, where it will be and how it will happen. I often think about the moment you know you’re friends with someone, the exact moment in time where you think and feel like you and another individual are friends. I met Glenn, 84, in Thailand and proceeded to spend the next three weeks with him traveling through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I’m not precisely sure when our friendship was solidified; it could have been day one when he told me the word of the day was scrotum, day two when I fell asleep on his shoulder on a car ride, or the very last night before we went back to the states when he only gave me half a hug goodbye so he could give me the other half when we reunited. Whenever we became friends, I’m glad we did because he is someone I will never forget; a person of incredible influence and impact and not to mention, great eyebrows and a uncanny resemblance to the man from the movie Up. I had the privilege to share a more formal conversational interview with him about his life over the air on the way from Cambodia to Vietnam.
Excerpts from our chat…
Born in Oakland, California, he joined the military at eighteen and graduated college with a degree in public affairs from Pepperdine, California before completing his masters in foreign affairs and public administration. He proceeded to spend the next thirty-four years serving in the military in a variety of ways including thirty-six months on a boat in Vietnam, clearing ice in Alaska, doing internal investigations in California and saving people from drowning off the coast of Key West during the Cuban crisis.
Kaila: How did you meet your wife?
Glenn: At a social event hosted by the coast guard in Long Beach. She was a great conversationalist, not pretentious or precocious but the best in all ways; phenomenal. But that’s easy to say when someone is gone, but it’s just the truth.
Kaila: Why do you think she chose you?
Glenn: Her focus on life was narrow and I guess she found me interesting because of my past, present and future travels. I was a roadrunner. We had two kids, one of each, a boy and a girl and they were military brats, raised everywhere.
Earlier on our trip, Glenn had shared with me that nine months ago, his wife passed away after an eight year battle with cancer followed by the tragic death of his son within the same week.
“It hardened me a lot and it’s hard to have fun.”
Despite this self reflection, I would argue that Glenn is just about one of the most fun people to be with; his quirkiness and word vomit about everything kept the whole trip entertaining, with no one knowing what he was going to do next. These strange antics included stealing bathroom signs, making impromptu public announcements, making waitresses giggled at restaurants like when he announced he wanted a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich on raisin toast” in Vietnam and more. He did share with me that most of his life he felt he had been a grumpy man, and wanted to start having some fun which started with a trip around the Adriatic region, a week at home and then this trip to freshen his perspective on life.
Glenn: It’s been an interesting nine months, fatiguing. I went on a trip through the Adriatic in April and am doing this now (traveling Southeast Asia), because at some point it’s going to end. There is going to be no boo-hoo about it (my death); I have a dead man’s card with all my affairs in order and my family are all realists. We all suffer, but move on.
Being that we were on our way to Vietnam, I asked Glenn to talk about his experience there and what he learned which he summed up with the phrase, “a human life is worth something.”
“I questioned my purpose in Vietnam, and didn’t want to be there, it’s not about wrapping yourself in the American flag, it’s just about survival, taking care of your buddies and going home.”
Kaila: All that being said, would you do it again?
Glenn: I would sign up if I could do it again, oh yeah, it’s all i’ve been trained to do. But, people need to die when it’s their time, but not before. To this day, I’m really angry.”
While he was deployed in Vietnam, his kids were in their 20’s and he wrote them at least once a week. However, returning home before re-assignment was more challenging than he ever could have known and didn’t speak to anyone for a week.
As we descended into Vietnam, Glenn reflected on how being here was going to be different from last time.
“Back to where it all started. It’s going to be different, but I don’t know. I know I want to go home, and I’ll get home. And I want to effect some change. You don’t have a choice, all your past choices have failed you and this is going to be how it is. It’s time to go. Nice coming to Vietnam and know that I will leave in three days. The saddest thing is that some people get up and do the same thing everyday, we need to reach out.”
Kaila: Any last words?
Glenn: To sum it up, as Frank Sinatra said, regrets, I’ve had a few.
Kaila: Okay, I’m going to ask you three last questions.
Where have you been?
Where are you now?
A good place in life, a good place, yeah.
Where are you going?
The right direction for me.