Marine Corps Ball, 1974, Saigon

Last of the Annamese opens with the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, preparing to attend the Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the Gia Long Palace in Saigon. One of his housemates, Sparky, is, like Chuck, a retired Marine officer; the other, Ike, is an active duty Marine officer, assigned to the embassy. All three will be at the celebration.

The Marine Corps birthday is 10 November. Among Marines, a private joke is that 11 November, Veterans Day, is really a national holiday to allow them to recover from the birthday bash. In my time working with Marines, the celebration was always major. During my years in Saigon, the Marine Corps Birthday Ball was the social highlight of the year. It was a formal affair, and, as an office head, I was required to attend. That meant a tuxedo for me and a full-length evening gown for my wife.

The ball described in Annamese is the last one I attended in Saigon, on 10 November 1974. It was formal to the nines, even though there were few Marines in country. All traditions were observed, even the cake-cutting with a ceremonial sword. Yet amid the festivities was a detectable unease—so many of us knew from intelligence that the North Vietnamese forces were growing stronger through massive infiltration of men and matériel. Some, myself included, doubted that South Vietnam would survive another year. It didn’t. It fell six months later.

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