The forty-second anniversary of the evacuation from Saigon is coming up. My eldest daughter posted a reminder on Facebook that 9 April was the anniversary of the day that she, her mother, her sisters, and her brother, escaped from Saigon. I find it hard to believe that people old enough to be grandparents weren’t even born then.
In Last of the Annamese, on the night of 29 April, the fictional protagonist, Chuck Griffin, flies out of Saigon on a CH-53 and goes to the Midway, a ship of the 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea. The historical background is that I went out that night on a little Huey and flew to the Oklahoma City, the fleet’s flagship. I was in such bad shape from lack of food and sleep (and, as it turned out, amoebic dysentery and pneumonia) that I don’t remember much of the flight except that it was dark and it was raining. But I was conscious when we approached the Oklahoma City. The pilot circled and circled before finally descending very slowly to land on the floodlit helipad in the driving rain. He told me later that he, a civilian pilot, had never before landed on a ship.
What amazes me is that my memories of those days are so sharp. I even remember my hallucinations, due to illness from lack of food and rest. The full impact of what had happened didn’t hit me until several days later. I was in recovery, still on the Oklahoma City that was circling before setting sail for the Philippines. I learned that the 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who had worked with us were left behind to the mercies of the North Vietnamese. They were all either killed or captured.
One of my clearest memories is of a time four or five days before the end. One of my subordinates, a superb analyst, asked with tears in his eyes, “Did it have to end like this?” I attributed his words to Sparky in my retelling of the incident in Annamese.
That guy was more than a man who worked for me. He was a friend. My children, with me in Saigon, all knew him and loved him.
He later killed himself. One more sorrow that stays ever fresh.