A little past the middle of book, Last of the Annamese records the death of a French journalist, shot to death by the Saigon police. It was one sign of the panic that was overtaking Saigon as the end approached.
As I piece together the story of what happened, Paul Leandri, a journalist for Agence France Presse, was questioned by the Saigon police on 14 March 1975 about a story he had published on the fall of Ban Me Thuot to the North Vietnamese. As he was leaving police headquarters, he was shot in the head and killed instantly after “refusing orders to stop.” The police were trying to find out the sources he used for his story on the battle in the highlands.
That battle forms an important part of the story of Last of the Annamese. The South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh takes Chuck Griffin with him on a visit to the highlands. Their last stop is Ban Me Thuot where both know that the North Vietnamese are about to attack. They escape under fire by plane from the runway as the North Vietnamese onslaught begins.
That episode is based on my own experience travelling with a South Vietnamese general. We took off in his C-47 from Ban Me Thuot just as the airstrip came under fire. The town fell with a day or two, followed by the whole of the northern half of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese then turned their eyes south to Saigon which fell a month and a half later.
Leandri’s death was one of many signs that the order imposed by the South Vietnamese was collapsing. I remember at the time, having just returned from the trip to Ban Me Thuot, thinking that his killing was one more indication that South Vietnam’s days were numbered.