Five days ago and again yesterday, I gave the presentation called “Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon.” I’ve now done it more than 40 times, and I keep getting asked to do it again. Granted, it’s a very exciting story, but I’m still a little surprised that folks still want to hear it.
As I mentioned earlier, until a few years ago, nobody wanted to hear about Vietnam. It was a shameful episode in our history—a closed subject. But then Americans changed their attitude. Now Vietnam is of keen interest. My writings on Vietnam sell. And people want to know what happened.
The story I tell in the presentation is the same one told in Last of the Annamese. The difference is that in the novel, the protagonist is not me but a retired Marine officer, Chuck Griffin. But the historical facts in the novel are as accurate as I’m able to make them. And what Chuck goes through is what I went through.
I don’t like to read through the text of the novel. It still makes me choke up. The memories of those days haven’t faded. They never will.
What continues to surprise me is that when I’m giving the presentation, I still get tears in my eyes every time when I talk about the events that still break my heart. As I describe the South Vietnamese officer who shot to death his children, his wife, and himself when the North Vietnamese took Saigon; as I talk about Bob and Gary, the two men who agreed to stay with me to the end and risk their lives; as I tell of the crowds outside the compound throwing babies over the fence—those moments move me to the core of my existence, even today, even after I’ve told the story so many times.
I believe that soul-scarring events stay with us, fresh in our memories, despite the passing years. Even as I get older and my memory becomes unreliable, those recollections are as vivid as the instant they happened. They are as much a part of me as my hands or my heart. They are with me always.