Paul Giannone grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. His father, who died when Paul was 11, worked in a steel mill, and his mother worked in a factory after her husband died. Paul grew up restless, “raising hell” and playing sports. He excelled in basketball, but dislocated his shoulder three times playing football, which limited his playing time. In high school, he followed news of the Vietnam War and “believed the propaganda,” leading to his enlistment in 1968. Basic Training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, was cold and wet, and although he qualified expert in weapons training, he did not want to kill anybody. Describing his advanced medical training as very poor and rushed, he felt that the trainees were essentially being taught to slap on a bandage and wait for the helicopters to evacuate the wounded. When he deployed, he was assigned to the 29th Civil Affairs Company in I Corps. Arriving in Da Nang, he discovered a wide variety of experiences in the unit, including several former Peace Corps volunteers who had been drafted. He was assigned as a Public Health Advisor to a Vietnamese doctor, Dr. Do Van Minh. His experiences working with the Vietnamese, experiencing their culture, and learning how to be an effective advisor profoundly changed his life. When South Vietnam fell, his first thoughts were of Dr. Minh and the people he had worked closely with. Following the Vietnam War, he spent time in Iran, Indonesia, Singapore, and various countries in Africa. In Singapore, he became the Director of Screening Operations in a refugee camp, developing a system to process refugees within 90 days of arrival. Years later, he wrote a memoir highlighting his experiences around the globe.
In this interview, he talks about some of the challenges he faced during his childhood, and his decision to join the Army. Serving in Vietnam was a pivotal moment in his life, and set him on the path he has followed ever since. He had many positive experiences and some negative ones. He recalls refusing to continue working at a facility for political prisoners run by the South Vietnamese. He describes some of the techniques he learned as an advisor, and the critical importance of understanding culture to arrive at effective solutions to problems. He discusses the refugee crisis that occurred following the end of the Vietnam War and his shock at learning what had happened to Dr. Minh, which served as a stepping stone to further humanitarian work worldwide. He highlights some of his more interesting adventures, and details the process of writing his memoir. He talks about Post Traumatic Stress, and some of the events that still bother him. Finally, he reflects on his service, and how Vietnam has shaped his life.