My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

To be published in March 2017 is Last of the Annamese. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.


Getting People Out at the End (8)

When I escaped during the fall of Saigon on 29 April 1975, I was in bad physical shape from sleep deprivation and lack of food. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my hearing was severely damaged from the shelling, and I was suffering from amoebic dysentery and pneumonia. More than once, I lost consciousness while flying out to the 7th Fleet on a helicopter and after I was aboard the Oklahoma City. Toward the end of Last of the Annamese, I described the hallucinations I experienced during those lapses:

Lights—little flecks of them, playful, zesty—swam and fluttered and hovered and vanished. They were stars on a black sky swimming over a black ocean. . . They smiled as they flew about, streaked themselves into lines and circles, then merged and disappeared. {Chuck] couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were singing sweet songs about breathing clean air. They told him to let go. He could grieve later, but now all he had to do was rest. No more searching. . . The last shred of awareness blanked out as if someone had switched off the sweet lights.

Getting People Out at the End (6)

At my fall of Saigon presentation last Sunday, an audience member asked how it could come to pass that the U.S. government was taken by surprise by the North Vietnamese victory in South Vietnam in April 1975. My answer was that the military side of the government was under no delusions about what was going on in Vietnam, but that the civilian side was swayed by consistent reporting from the U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking the city. I remember listening in disbelief to news reports of statements by high level government officials toward the end. Here is a recounting of one such event from my novel, Last of the Annamese. The two characters, Chuck and Sparky, are listening to the American Radio Service (ARS) news:

“It is plain that the great offensive,” an authoritative voice was saying, “is a phrase that probably should be in quotation marks. What we have had here is a partial collapse of South Vietnamese forces, so that there has been very little major fighting since the battle of Ban Me Thuot, and that was an exception in itself.”

Chuck and Sparky gawked at each other.

“That,” the ARS reporter said, “was Secretary of Defense Schlesinger speaking today on Face the Nation.”

Sparky swung his head from side to side as if to fight off a case of the wobblies. “What’s that guy smoking?” He sighed. “You can bet we’ll be drafting a message for General Smith to send to Washington ticking off the facts.”

Chuck didn’t answer. They’d be correcting Washington rather than the other way around. Sinister topsy-turvy had become a way of life.

End of quote. More tomorrow.

Getting People Out at the End (5)

In April 1975, as the North Vietnamese prepared for their final assault on Saigon, one day, all of a sudden, U.S. Marines in mufti (civilian clothes) appeared in the city out of nowhere. Here’s my description from Last of the Annamese:

Late morning on Friday, Chuck went to the snack bar [in the DAO building on the northern edge of Saigon], miraculously still operating, for a sandwich. As he headed back to the office, he tripped on empty boxes and scrap paper littering the corridors. The floors hadn’t been waxed. A fluorescent tube in an overhead fixture was burnt out. Pentagon East [what we called the DAO building] was turning into a shamble. Walking toward him were two well-built young men with crew cuts. One wore a faded chambray shirt and jeans, the other tennis shorts and a ragged tee shirt.

“Man,” one said, “it was fan-fuckin’-tastic.”

The other snorted. “I’d have pushed his gunjy skull through the goddamn bulkhead.”

When they came abreast of Chuck, their grins disappeared. They straightened their bodies and fell into cadence, as if marching.

Marines. Chuck knew all the Marines in-country, but he didn’t recognize these two. What the hell was going on?

End of quote. More tomorrow.

Getting People Out at the End (4)

More about the last days in April 1975 before Saigon fell: In my novel, Last of the Annamese, I attribute my experiences to the protagonist, Chuck Griffin. In my most recent post, I described the sudden quiet on the battlefield. Here’s more from the novel:

The sitzkrieg continued into Tuesday. Chuck had become inured to the routine of disaster, the endless repetition of gruesome details as the republic disintegrated, but the uncanny quiet unnerved him. He knew now what was going on. Unhampered by threats, external and internal, the North Vietnamese could take the time to do a thorough preparation for the coup de grâce. Almost as an afterthought, a dispatch from the field reported that the North Vietnamese had completed the occupation of Xuan Loc [the last obstacle between them and Saigon]. . . .

AP reported on a speech President Ford had given at Tulane University on Wednesday. He had spoken of the war in the past tense, as if Saigon had already fallen. Vietnam was the “war that is finished.” Chuck scratched his head. If it’s finished, what the fuck am I doing here with nothing but a Beretta to defend myself against eighteen North Vietnamese divisions?

Another wire service dispatch announced that Pan Am clipper Unity, a Boeing 747 filled to capacity, had taken off from Tan Son Nhat on Thursday. It was the last commercial flight scheduled from Saigon.

End of quote. In my struggle to get all 43 of my subordinates and their families out of Saigon before it fell, I took money from my own pocket to buy a ticket on that Pan Am flight. With no orders or authorization, I put one of my guys on the plane and told him to go.

More tomorrow.

Getting People Out at the End (3)

During the last ten days of April 1975, as the North Vietnamese closed in around Saigon, the battlefield suddenly became quiet. Here’s my telling of those events in Last of the Annamese:

[Intelligence analyst Chuck Griffin] prepared himself for the grind through the mountains of incoming traffic, but for the first time he could remember the total take was less than an inch high. Nearly all the classified message traffic was code-word signals intelligence reports that had originated in the States. The rest was the usual screed from the Liberation News Agency and news reports from the wire services. What was going on? The Republic of Vietnam, its northern provinces ripped from it, lay quivering. The North Vietnamese watched and waited like a cat toying with a wounded bird. With little to post or report, Chuck, on Troiano’s orders, drafted a cable to Washington, info General Smith, updating the estimate he’d given General Weyand. In it he listed the sixteen North Vietnamese divisions known to be positioned and the two believed to be close by for a three-prong attack against Saigon.

He flipped on Sparky’s portable to get the latest ARS [American Radio Service] reporting on the war. He heard news about Hollywood films and debates in Congress followed by songs from Dionne Warwick and Al Martino. Nothing about Vietnam. Toward noon word arrived that the Embassy had commanded ARS to cease all reporting about the war. Troiano speculated that the Ambassador was afraid of panic.

The eerie calm prevailed. Analyses from stateside agencies surmised that the North Vietnamese were regrouping, but the embassy responded that the North Vietnamese were waiting for President Thieu to step down so that they could begin negotiations with the United States and the South Vietnamese. Monday afternoon, the embassy announced that President Thieu had left office and was fleeing the country. Troiano told Chuck that Thieu was flying with his family to exile in Taiwan.

End of quote. More next time.

Getting People Out at The End (2)

As reported earlier in this blog, in April 1975, I warned the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, repeatedly that the North Vietnamese were preparing to attack Saigon. He didn’t believe me and didn’t act. The following, from my novel Last of the Annamese, describes the scene in which the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, reports to his boss, Colonel Troiano, on his unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Ambassador and the CIA Chief of Station of the imminent danger:

[Chuck] ran through his meeting with the Ambassador and his exchange with the Chief of Station. “They don’t believe what we’re reporting to them, sir. They won’t call for an evacuation.”

“Sit down, Chuck.”

Chuck did as he was told.

Troiano’s tired face leaned toward the desk top. His eyes closed, opened, fixed on Chuck. “The Ambassador cannot contemplate that the Communist flag will ever fly over South Vietnam. The prospect is unthinkable. It cannot happen. The Hungarian member of the ICCS [the International Commission for Control and Supervision] has done what he can to reinforce the Ambassador’s conviction. He told the Ambassador that the North Vietnamese have no intention of attacking Saigon. They want to form a coalition government with all the patriotic forces in the south and rule jointly.”

“But, sir,” Chuck said, “the intelligence of a forthcoming attack is overwhelming—”

“Not to the Ambassador and his immediate subordinates. They’re waiting for the North Vietnamese to sue for peace so that negotiations can begin.”

“Why in the name of God would they do that when the conquest of the south is within their grasp?”

Troiano shook his head. “I agree. They won’t negotiate. They’ll attack. Meanwhile, the Ambassador has persuaded Secretary of State Kissinger and the president that there’s no need to evacuate anybody.”

End of quote. The Ambassador never did call for an evacuation. He was countermanded by Washington before dawn on the morning 29 April. By then, the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon. That evening I escaped by helicopter under fire.

Getting People Out at The End

As the fall of Saigon loomed, I was frantic to evacuate not only the 43 guys working for me and their families but also the Vietnamese who had thrown their lot in with us against the communists. In the end, my American subordinates and their wives and children escaped, but I failed the Vietnamese—they were all still there when the North Vietnamese took the city.

One passage in my novel Last of the Annamese describes the chaos created by the ambassador at the end:

“The Embassy’s dragging its feet,” Troiano said. “The Ambassador thinks there’s going to be some kind of cease-fire to negotiate the formation of a coalition government. But we haven’t been idle. Ever hear of the DAO Special Planning Group? Don’t let the name fool you. The SPG’s the forward evacuation coordinator. It’s been quietly working with the Marines flying in from ships off the coast to get everything ready. But the Ambassador is doing everything he can to throw obstacles in their path. He won’t allow the Marines to wear uniforms, fly in on Marine helicopters, or stay overnight. Because we’re expecting mobs outside the gate, the deputy DAO, General Baughn, sent a message to higher ups requesting additional security guards when the evacuation begins. The Ambassador was furious—ordered Baughn out of the country. So now all the preps are sub rosa. Trouble is, the city is already rolling toward panic. That’s going to make it rough.”

“So the servants at the houses, the chauffeurs—”

Troiano wilted. “If the Embassy had faced the facts and started evacuating people other than high-risk Viets, we could have gotten many of them out. As it is . . .” He shook his head.

“What will we do, sir?”

“When I find out, I’ll tell you.”