The Pen Project: Saigon 1967

The Pen Project: Saigon 1967

by Peter Eisenhut


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ISBN-13: 9781504360647
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 07/27/2016
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)

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The Pen Project

Saigon 1967

By Peter Eisenhut

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2016 Peter S. Eisenhut
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-6064-7



RING ... RING ... RING ... It was a Saturday morning in April of 2004. I was at home in my townhouse. My wife Carol and I already had breakfast, and she had just left for her community garden. I was sitting at the kitchen table having a final cup of coffee and working the morning's crossword puzzle. It was my quiet time and I was not yet ready to start work on a long list of Saturday chores. Now the phone was ringing. It was still very early in the morning, and I wondered who would be calling. Was it Carol? Was it car trouble? Hoping for the best, I answered with a simple "Hello."

After a pause, a woman's voice said "Congratulations! You have just won a free cruise to the Bahamas ..." I immediately hung up. I got that call at least once every month. No sooner had I resumed working on the crossword puzzle than the phone rang again. This time a man told me that my contract against termite infestation had expired. I politely told him I was not interested and hung up. These calls were very annoying and all too frequent. In my opinion, they were fraudulent, but for some reason the FCC, the FTC, and the new Do-Not-Call List were not able to stop them.

I had taken my last sip of coffee and was thinking of an eight-letter crossword meaning peace and quiet when RING ... RING ... RING ... Lended my thoughts of serenity.

"Hello," I answered, as I wondered what it would be this time.

"Hello, my name is Brandy Evans and I would like to speak to Peter Troutman please."

"This is he. How may I help you?" I was expecting this to be another annoying marketing call. I always tried to be polite, but perhaps there was a hint of annoyance in my voice.

"Mr. Troutman, I hope I haven't caught you at a bad time. I believe you may have known my mother, Donna Wolf."

"I am sorry but I don't think I knew her." The name did not sound familiar. I was intrigued, but I wondered if this could be a new kind of a con job unfamiliar to me.

Ms. Evans responded right away. "Mr. Troutman, you may have known her in nineteen sixty-seven as Donna Cinelli."

The mention of the date and the name was enough to trigger my memory. "Yes ... I did know her. Why are you calling?"

"My mother recently passed away from cancer. Before she died, she specifically requested that I contact you. I am honoring her wish."

"Thank you for notifying me. I am so sorry to hear that your mother passed away, but more than thirty-six years have passed by since I last saw her. I am not sure I fully understand."

Ms. Evans then explained, "Before my mother died, she had determined your whereabouts, and she gave me something she wanted you to have. Mom was very insistent that I deliver it to you in person. I would like to set a time to meet with you and talk about my mother. Would that be okay?"

My curiosity was really peaked at this point. "Well, yes that would be fine. I live in Columbia. Do you live or work in the area? Where can we meet?"

"I live in nearby Ellicott City so we could meet somewhere in Columbia."

"Okay there is a coffee shop called Lakeside down by Lake Kittamaqundi. Do you know where it is? Would that work for you?"

"Yes, I know where it is. Could we meet next Saturday morning at ten?"

"Yes," I agreed. "Please let me have your phone number in case something changes."

Ms. Evans gave me her number. It was the same as the one on my caller ID, but I continued to be baffled by the call. Immediately after I got off the phone with her, I headed downstairs to my home office and logged onto my computer with the intention of tracing the phone number she had given me.

After leaving the IBM Corporation, Carol and I had started a small consulting business. We advised business and government organizations on how to make smart business decisions regarding telecommunications technology. We also did what we called audits or investigations of the use and expense associated with the technology. My home office downstairs was "headquarters." Carol had a separate office upstairs on the third floor. We had computers in both offices, but when we first started the business, the house was not cabled for a data network, and Wi-Fi was still primitive. Running up and down the stairs kept us in shape, but was tiring, so we learned to communicate between the offices using the Internet. I found it very amusing to be able to send an email or a file from the upstairs office, have it go around the world, and end up in the downstairs office in only a few seconds. I guess that gives you an idea about how much of a techie I had become.

I entered the phone number that Ms. Evans had given me into one of my computer applications. Within minutes, I knew that the phone number belonged to a James Evans and was a landline located at a residence in Ellicott City. I had some reasons to be suspicious, as you will understand later, but apparently, there was no need for concern. The call seemed to be on the level and probably not a scam ... at least that was my thinking. I put it aside in my mind and began attending to my Saturday chores.

* * *

My annual nightmare of preparing an income tax return was over the previous weekend, well ahead of the deadline. This weekend I was doing all of the chores that had taken a back seat over the past three weeks. As I ran the vacuum cleaner, a mindless job, I began to recall the intense experience that Donna and I had in Saigon in 1967. We had promised to remember this experience and to stay in touch. Donna Rice, as I knew her then, was an operative with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). I was in Saigon as part of a private contract to implement an intelligence analysis program that I had developed in graduate school. Donna was my contact and the person to whom I reported. Perhaps a more apt description would have been baby sitter. I was an asset and she was my handler. I was in my mid-twenties then, technically very smart and creative, but socially naive. Donna was about the same age. She had had military training and had recently become a field agent for the CIA. Initially her job was to escort me, to introduce me to the military people I worked with, and to keep me out of trouble. However, before I left Saigon in 1967, her assignment, and my involvement, had evolved into much more.

Although Donna and I had become close, I had not seen her since we said goodbye at an airport in South East Asia more than thirty-six years ago. I assumed Donna probably continued in the same line of work, so locating me would have been a cinch for her, but this was the first time she had initiated contact, and she was dead. I could not understand why Donna would want her daughter to contact me after all these years. It kept puzzling me as I attended to my chores.

My foot was on the frame of my upside down lawnmower and both hands grasped the end of a socket wrench. I pushed downward on the handle of the wrench with all the force I could muster. I was trying to replace the blade on my lawnmower, but the damn nut was frozen tight. I set the wrench down and stood up to contemplate a new tactic. At that moment, it dawned on me that I would need to explain to Carol why I was meeting with a Brandy Evans next Saturday.

This was a second marriage for both of us; we often referred to events in our first marriages as occurring in our "prior lives." Our prior lives belonged to our private space. We had learned from our first marriages to respect each other's private space. We had our independence, but we were happy together. Carol knew absolutely nothing about my experience in Saigon or about any of my other short-term projects with government agencies after that. In the 15 years we had been together, we just never talked about it.

Nor had I said too much to my first wife, Penelope, who only knew the general nature of what I did in Saigon. I had signed a non-disclosure agreement not to reveal classified information. Therefore, I never discussed specifics. After 1975 when the North Vietnamese took over, some documents had been declassified, but it was never clear to me as to the classification of information I carried in my head. It did not matter. Since I never had a need to talk about it, I never did. Of course, I knew that I could never reveal the identity and activities of an active CIA operative. However, after more than thirty-six years, and with Donna gone, perhaps things would now be different.

* * *

Saturday evening we had dinner with friends followed by a game of Scrabble, and we got up late on Sunday morning. I changed the bed linen while Carol made our typical Sunday breakfast. Then she spent the next hour doing laundry after which she went off to her garden again. Have you heard the term "golf widow?" Well, I sometimes felt like I was a "garden widower." We often joked about it, and it was not an issue. Perhaps I was putting it off, but it was Sunday evening, before I broached the subject of my experience in Saigon. I told Carol about the phone call and the meeting planned with Brandy Evans. Carol and I communicated openly on most things and I knew I could trust her. Of course, she was initially suspicious and asked many questions.

"Peter, Why were you in Saigon? What did you actually do there? Why did you never mention it before? Who was Donna Cinelli? Had you been in touch over the years? Why would her daughter Brandy want to see you? Have you ever met Brandy before?"

Carol and I talked about Saigon for an hour Sunday night, but there was only enough time to scratch the surface. Carol wanted to know the whole story, everything. Clearly, the whole story would take a while. We both worked full time during the day so we agreed to talk each night, prior to my meeting with Brandy the following Saturday. I never had a reason to tell the whole story until now. In a way, I looked forward to it. I was in Saigon to implement the Pen Project and the Pen Project was my brainchild!

I did not go to sleep right away that night, as the memories of 1967 came flowing back. I still did not have answers for two questions. Why, after all these years, was I notified of Donna's death, and what did her daughter Brandy need to give me?



Carol knew very little about my life prior to our marriage. Each evening, prior to my meeting with Brandy, I told Carol a little more. I started by explaining the events leading up to the project. To my relief, Carol seemed very interested and receptive, and my doubts about how much I could reveal slowly disappeared. So far, I was willing to reveal as many details as I could remember. The more I talked, the more the memories came back to me. The more details I revealed to Carol, the easier I found it to say more.

The idea for the PEN project did not happen all at once. There was never a "eureka" moment. It evolved over a period of years. The idea of uncertainty and probability always intrigued me. I always had an interest in how past events influenced future events. It was this concept that the project was based on.

* * *

It was early on an October morning in upstate New York. The sun was out but the temperature was cool and it was slightly breezy. The word "brisk" comes to mind. George and I stood on the side of a two-lane highway with our thumbs out, holding a sign that said "Watkins Glen." It had been more than fifteen minutes since our first ride had dropped us off about one third of the way to our destination. Where was the traffic? I was beginning to feel the cold and wonder why I had let George talk me into this. What if this did not work out? No, I realized that it was not fair if I blamed George. It was as much my doing as it was his. Perhaps we had both been foolish.

George and I were in our second year at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. George and I were friends. Unknown powers had paired us up in our freshman year and declared us roommates. Fortunately, it worked out. We got along. We were both in the same engineering school, we helped each other with our studies, and we had common interests. By common interest, I am not just talking about girls and booze. I am talking about math, science, and fast cars. Although we had already been on the town together, most of our time we spent studying. After our freshman year, George moved into an off-campus rooming house, and I was living in a fraternity house. However, we had remained friends.

We had been back to school for about five weeks when George called to ask if I was interested in attending an automobile race the following weekend. After more than five weeks with our noses to the grindstone, we needed a break. Attending the auto race in Watkins Glen seemed like a great idea, and I told him so. Then he confessed to me that we had no way to get there. He wanted to know if one of my fraternity brothers, presumably one with wheels, wanted to go. I told him I would ask around and I did. Unfortunately, no one was interested, but me, and I really wanted to go. The race was only four days away when I called him back with the bad news. Perhaps I was the one that suggested we hitchhike.

The big race this day was the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. It was the first time ever that this race had been held at Watkins Glen. The participants would be the top international drivers and carmakers in the world. At the time, the Watkins Glen racecourse, simple known as The Glen, was a 2.35-mile track that included hills, sharp curves, and a tricky chicane at the back end of the course furthest from the starting line. The cars were Formula One open cockpit, open wheeled missiles. They had a look similar to those at the Indy 500. As I remember it, Honda was experimenting that year with a turbine-powered car. It would not be in the race, but it would do trial runs beforehand. News reports had described the high-pitched wail of the engine as it sped around the track. As engineering students, we couldn't wait. Although it was a three-day event, we were only going for the main event on Sunday. Neither of us had access to a car, and there was no public transportation that would have gotten us there, so hitchhiking seemed to make sense. We had left very early in the morning to assure we would get there in time.

We may have been having second thoughts because as we stood there on the side of the road, we began to ask a lot of "what iP' questions.

"What if no one picks us up? How long do we wait? Then what do we do?"

"What if we get there late? Could we still get into the infield?"

"What if we can't get a ride back to Cornell?"

"What if we do not get back to Cornell until late in the evening? Would we be locked out of our respective houses?"

Of course, these were all questions that we considered before we left, but now we were getting anxious about the uncertainty of the outcome.

In spite of our second thoughts, George and I did hitchhike the thirty miles or so to Watkins Glen; we did see the entire race from the infield; and, we made it back at a reasonable time that evening. So, were we just lucky? For sure, there was a great deal of uncertainty. Outcomes could have been much different. How did we reach our decision to do this when there was so much uncertainty?

We considered the probabilities and we considered the severity of the possible consequences. We reasoned that many people would drive to the racecourse from Cornell that morning making the likelihood (probability) of getting a ride very high. On the other hand, what if no one did stop and give us a ride? We reasoned that if we did not get a ride within a certain length of time we would simple turn around and head back. That would not have been a big downside; the time we were not able to study was time we were able to talk and get to know each other. What if we could not get a ride back? We figured the likelihood of not getting a ride back to school was even less than the likelihood of not getting a ride to The Glen. We reasoned that if the person that gave us a ride to the Glen also attended the event, we could ask them to meet us and bring us back. However, what if they were unable to do that? Well, we figured there would be many other people going back to Cornell and someone would eventually pick us up. If not, it would be an adventure. As it were, the person that took us did not bring us back, but he knew someone who did. Apparently, Cornell students had been going to this event for years, and many of them knew each other.

There was another "what if" experience that involved George. The previous spring, I had pledged a fraternity, while George had decided to remain independent. When Spring Weekend approached, George and I discussed meeting women and getting dates. More "what ifs" ensued.

"How do we get dates for Spring Weekend?"

"Who do we ask?"

"What if they say no?"

"What if we can't get a date?"

George decided that getting a date was not worth the effort; he was content to study. That was more important to him than a date. He did not see any net downside. On the other hand, having a date for Spring Weekend was more important to me. Perhaps that was why I saw a need to join a fraternity and he did not. As it turned out, I asked someone, she turned me down, and I could not think of anyone else to ask. Was there a possible downside? Yes, I would miss some fun at my new fraternity, but I could still go and help with the beer and the drinks. It just so happened that my "Big Brother" was the Social Director for the fraternity. I debated whether to tell him my plight. I did not want him to think of me as less of a man because I was unable to get a date. However, I decided to risk it. After all, he was supposed to be my big brother and worthy mentor. I asked him. As it turned out, it was my lucky day ... well somewhat anyway. He told me he knew someone who would like a date. It turns out that he fixed me up with his sister. I knew what this meant; I had to be on my best behavior. I do not remember her name. I do remember she was only a senior in high school and that she was polite and behaved quite properly. However, she was attractive and she was my date. I had no reason to be embarrassed, and I behaved myself. The upsides for that weekend outweighed the downsides, and I earned the respect of my new fraternity brothers.


Excerpted from The Pen Project by Peter Eisenhut. Copyright © 2016 Peter S. Eisenhut. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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