Vietnam War Shapes Instructor’s Journey

By Drew Telegin in Life

With the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon approaching, many soldiers will look back on the Vietnam War as being one of the most difficult and emotionally draining wars the nation has ever seen.

Among those who served was Clark College German professor Gary Lorentzen, who now recalls his time spent in Vietnam and the impact it had on his unconventional life journeys.

Lorentzen’s story began when he was hired by the National Security Agency, at the age of 17, as a morse code specialist from 1969-71.

“It was either very stressful and very anxiety ridden or… dead boring,” Lorentzen said. “There was nothing in between.”

He said the thought that he could die at any second was riveting. Lorentzen discovered that experiencing war drew him and the soldiers closer. “You become very, very emotionally close and dependent on each other,” he said.

Gary Lorentzen This bond led Lorentzen to open up about his homosexuality. “I personally have no problem with it. No one harassed me or bullied me,” Lorentzen said. “They used to try to find me dates!”

Years after Lorentzen returned home, he decided to document his story. The first of his short stories was a non-fiction piece that he entered into a tournament. The four that followed were autobiographies of a young homosexual man in the war.

Writing was not the only skill that Lorentzen was passionate about. After Lorentzen finished his service, he turned his eyes to the skies. Astrology was an interest of Lorentzen’s that he not only enjoyed, but it served as a source of income when he worked as a practitioner.

He began teaching astrology but became restless, eventually deciding to attend college conjointly to pursue linguistics.

For most of his childhood, Lorentzen lived on a Native American reservation and had a speech impediment. This caused him to struggle with communication but after three years of speech therapy, he spoke normally.

Lorentzen’s experiences with speech as a child and his exposure to foreign languages in Vietnam led him to become a Russian language teacher. Unfortunately, no nearby programs focused on Russian so he turned course and pursued the German language.

Lorentzen received his Masters in teaching German. He started teaching at the college level and later also at the high school level.

Shortly after Lorentzen retired from working at Columbia River High School, Clark German professor Julian Nelson reached out to him to see if he was interested in becoming an adjunct professor. “Having gone through the adjunct pool, I was impressed with his credentials,” Nelson said.

Nelson was preparing to go into surgery when he considered Lorentzen to take up some of the class load. Eventually Lorentzen was teaching all of the German classes, most of which were overloaded.

Following Nelson’s return, Lorentzen manages a few German classes at Clark. He spends most of his time blogging, where he shares audio lectures, short stories and writings about current events.

Lorentzen looks fondly at the time he spent in Vietnam and remembers the captivating people and cultures that he embraced on the day of his arrival.

“I love the Vietnamese people, they were awesome,” Lorentzen said.

Lorentzen frequently remembers his comrades within the NSA and keeps in touch with them through an online community of NSA’s 330th Vietnam unit.

Lorentzen hopes to return to Vietnam with his unit one day and take a walk down memory lane, and remember how it used to be and see how it has changed.

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