The Ever-Fresh Sorrows

Yesterday I spoke of the death of a friend and of the loss of the South Vietnamese soldiers that worked with us. I described my amazement that the memories of the fall of Saigon are still so fresh. One of the reasons I wrote Last of the Annamese was to anesthetize my memories that refuse to leave me in peace. It worked up to a point. But the memories remain undiminished.

One memory I mentioned only in passing earlier in this blog is of a South Vietnamese signals intelligence officer I worked with. I can’t use his name because it’s never been declassified. He delayed escape for himself and his family waiting for the evacuation order that the U.S. ambassador never issued. The following is from the nonfiction article I wrote that was published in the Atticus Review early last year:

I risked another trip to check on a South Vietnamese officer I worked with. I wanted to be sure he and his troops knew where to go when the evacuation order was given, something I couldn’t discuss on an unsecured phone line. Always a model of Asian politeness, he invited me in and served me tea. He told me that his wife, who worked for USAID, had been offered the opportunity to leave the country with her family. That included him. But he wouldn’t go because he was unwilling to abandon his troops—no evacuation order had been issued—and she wouldn’t leave without him. Alarmed, I asked him what he would do if he was still in Saigon when Communists tanks rolled through the streets. He told me he couldn’t live under the Communists. “I will shoot my three children, then I will shoot my wife, then I will shoot myself.”

He didn’t escape at the end, and I have no doubt that he carried out his plan; many other South Vietnamese officers did precisely what he described.

End of quote. This was a man I greatly admired. I’d worked with him for years and knew him to be a fine leader for his troops and a superb technician. I’d met his wife and children when I was a guest as his house for dinner. They laughed at my northern dialect Vietnamese—they were all southerners and made no attempt to speak the northern dialect favored by high-level officials—but were immensely flattered that an American spoke their language.

I used the way they died for several characters at the end of Annamese in hopes of venting my sorrow. It didn’t help. I still mourn them.

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