Melvin Cole (b. 1944) was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in both Washington State and California. He joined the United States Air Force when he was 19 and spent seven years in the service working as a linguist and communications technician. After he was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1969, Cole enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and became an anti-war protester. He went on to attend law school at the University of Idaho and eventually went to work as an Attorney Editor for Lawyers Cooperative Publishing (now Thomson Reuters) in Rochester, where he joined the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 20.
In his interview, Cole explains how he joined the Air Force before the Vietnam War was officially recognized as a U.S. military action and that he initially served as an advisor in the country. He discusses the extensive language training that he received from the National Security Agency and how his fellow servicemen would sometimes take offense to the casual interaction he and other linguists had with the Vietnamese people they encountered. Cole tells about his job monitoring North Vietnamese Air Force pilot communications, and how during his second tour of duty, he commuted to his post all the way from Okinawa, Japan. Cole discusses servicemen’s feelings about the war and reports that his special role and security clearance gave him a rare perspective on the conflict that led him to become an anti-war protester after he was discharged from service.