In the second half of Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin comes to understand that he must find out how his son, Ben, died. All Chuck knows is that Ben had burned to death as a result of enemy fire in fighting near Bien Hoa in 1967. Chuck had written to Ben’s commanding officer, a Major James Carver, asking for details but was never answered. In March 1975, he learns that Carver, now a colonel, is accompanying General Weyand on a fact-finding trip to Vietnam. Chuck arranges to meet the colonel and find out what happened to Ben.
Carver turns out to be one of the least likeable characters in the novel. He is based on a number of colonels I knew over the 13 years that I went back and forth between the states and Vietnam. At the time, service in Vietnam became something of a prerequisite to promotion in the U.S. Army, and officers worked hard to garner an assignment there. That meant that some of the least admirable officers managed to spend time in-country. Many of those men reached the rank of colonel and returned to Vietnam where I ran into them.
They were in the minority. Most of the senior officers I worked with were fine men and excellent commanders, like the characters of Colonel Troiano and Colonel Macintosh in Annamese. But a few Carvers made it through. They were memorable for their incompetence.