Donald L. Zuckerman in USAF Counterintelligence

By Hartley Holte

Don retired as an Air Force LTCOL, having served for over 20 years in sensitive positions in counterintelligence in the US, Germany, Greece, Japan, and Southeast Asia. In each location he was cited for exceptional performance and had been highly recommended for promotion to “full bird” prior to retirement as OSI Counter Intelligence (CI) Middle East Commander. His widow, Catherine, confirmed that, “Medals, citations, praise—none of this meant anything to Don. What was important to him was doing what he did best, protecting the security of the United States”.

Catherine further stated that she, “was a journalist in Southeast Asia, Tokyo, and Bangkok, as well as DC, and was often able be of assistance to him in his work. We were followed by Russian agents, our phones continually tapped. Everything we did was known to secret agents of one sort or another. In Bangkok, I used to wave good morning to our trackers as I drove to work. I recently saw “Soldier, Tinker, Sailor, Spy”. A great deal of that film was so familiar to me, although at the time, I accepted it as just part of our normal life. During the Vietnam War, he played what I referred to as “Vietnam Roulette”. He did not do “tours” as most others did, but came and went to and from Vietnam and other small SE Asia hotspots on a continual basis, wearing civilian clothing and carrying a sidearm. You understand what that meant for him if he was captured. But, he was not captured, he survived and lived with many awful memories that he never told anyone.”

Catherine further stated that, “Don turned down a couple of purple hearts during his time with CI, saying that he still had all his limbs; let the purple hearts go to those who deserved them. He (did) receive medals, citations and commendations, including one signed certificate of honor from the Vietnamese Government, (which) I am told is fairly rare. He had placed all these objects at the bottom of his bureau drawer. No one even knew they existed until I found them after his death in 2008.”

Citations he received included:

In each of these awards, the words, “Meritorious, Distinguished “, appear repeatedly.

The 1971 JSCM citation reveals a bit about the nature of his work. “Major Zuckerman played a significant role in the investigation and apprehension of a US Military member who was passing highly classified documents to an agent of a foreign country. The investigation and apprehension resulted in the retrieval of numerous documents which would have caused grave damage to United States interests if passed to the foreign power.”

His earlier 1968 award from BG Tran identifies a different aspect of his work. “As instructor, Major Zuckerman was outstanding in implementing a training program for 29 security officers of the Vietnam Air Force on counterintelligence and technical maintenance of equipment; even though conducted under difficult and dangerous conditions due to the current state of emergency in Vietnam”.

Among the several performance reviews for Don, the right hand box was always checked; “ABSOLUTELY SUPERIOR”!! Typical of the comments on the review forms included superior performance, incisive judgment, imaginative thinking and thoroughness in the application of investigative techniques. He was cited for having excelled in the expansion of AFOSI’s operating liaison with the RCMP Security Service, collaboration with the FBI in highly classified operations of value to the USAF, superior management and guidance of the 14 staff officers under his supervision., and for imparting his dedication with enthusiasm.. Another most telling comment was, “As one of the most experienced counterintelligence officers, this officer is a treasured asset to the organization”!

Don also found time to be a loving father of six children. Don was quiet as a young man and 16th Company mate, who found a most unique and productive role in the Air Force. We are pleased to have learned of his career from Catherine, after most of us had lost track of him for so long.