Saigon, 1975: Pre-Monsoon Swelter

Toward the end of Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin drives early in the morning through the streets of Saigon to his office at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of the city. The text describes Chuck’s view of Saigon at the end of the dry season, in April 1975, before the onset of the monsoons and weeks before the city fell to the Vietnamese Communists:

“The city was already writhing in the heat. Dust trailed after everything that moved. The canals and gutters that riddled the city had turned black, oozing with clots of human waste. The morning mist, suffused by exhaust and smoke from charcoal fires, hung in the blighted trees and discolored eaves. Orange and white [propaganda] banners sagged, some falling into the street. Refugees choked byways and alleys and spilled over the boulevards and parks. Chuck smelled the raw force of incipient panic.”

This passage, like so many others in the novel, reflects my memories of a city crumbling in the prelude to defeat. Despite declarations to the contrary by the South Vietnamese government and the U.S., a foreboding of destruction hung in the air indistinguishable from the dirty smoke that dissipated only when the monsoon downpours washed it away and replaced it with steam rising from the Saigon River. Ironically, the cleansing monsoon rains started the night of 29 April as the city fell to the North Vietnamese and I escaped under fire to the safety of the 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea.

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