Chuck Griffin, the protagonist of Last of the Annamese, shares a house in Saigon with his workmate, Sparky, and a Marine captain from the embassy guard named Ike. In April 1975, as the fall of Saigon looks likely, Ike returns to the world (the U.S.) to accompany the body of a nurse who is killed in the crash of the Operation Babylift’s first flight. To replace him, Marine Captain Tommy Riggs arrives and moves into Ike’s former bedroom. He and the cook who works for the men in the house, Chi Nam, strike up a friendship.
Tommy, a Naval Academy graduate, is a new captain and much younger than Ike who worked his way through the ranks first as an enlisted man, later as a mustang officer. Chuck, himself a retired Marine major, takes an immediate dislike to the immature young captain and muses to himself that “the twits shall inherit the earth.”
After the fall of Saigon and the evacuation to the 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea, Tommy shows up at Chuck’s table in the ship’s wardroom. Unlike the crisp young captain who was Chuck’s housemate, Tommy is dirty, exhausted, and edgy. He tells Chuck that he had arranged to get Chi Nam and her family into the embassy compound to be evacuated, then had to leave her there when the last helicopter took off from the embassy roof. The young officer is shattered.
Tommy was to me like so many young officers I knew during the final collapse and the evacuation. They started out upbeat and enthusiastic but were profoundly impacted by the tragic events at the end. They, like the rest of us, were permanently changed by what they had lived through.