In the last few days, two projects have consumed my time and attention. One was writing in this blog about abandonment and finding peace. The other was composing two pieces for submission to the New York Times and Vietnam magazine. Both endeavors forced me to remember and contemplate.
In the midst of my work, an email from a man who worked with me many years ago asked about the suicide of one of the men who was with me in Saigon. There were actually two men in Saigon at the end who later killed themselves.
One was a brilliant intelligence analyst. He had the rare gift of being able to look at the data and forecast what would happen next. He foretold the fall of Saigon almost a month before it occurred. It was he who asked me 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 Last of the Annamese.
The other was an equally talented linguist who worked in Vietnamese and French. All of us enjoyed his cynical humor and his imaginative and excellent writing. As the end of the war and defeat loomed, he became silent, even morose.
The deaths of both men, some time after the fall of Saigon, crushed me. They had contributed so much to our joint effort and asked nothing in return. Both were more quick-witted than me, and I suspect both qualified as geniuses. I’ve wondered vainly if their native intelligence was their undoing. Maybe if I’d understood at the depth they did, I might have been suicidal, too.
Oddly, I never was. The lowest point in my life came in the spring and summer of 1975 after I returned to the world (the U.S.) following the fall of Saigon. I was physically ill, suffering from the worst of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, left to manage on my own by my wife and my employer—as described in the blog posts over the past several days. I was grieving over the loss of Vietnam and so many good people I knew there. I was too sick in mind and body to see any hope in the future.
Maybe if I’d had the brilliant intellect and profound insight of the two men described above I’d have considered ending my life. All I know for sure is that my ultimate reaction was to gird my loins and fight back. I had writing and the support of other men who’d been in Vietnam, and I exploited those resources. I knew I’d done my best, given my all, during the collapse in Vietnam. I’d helped several Vietnamese families to escape. I’d saved the lives of the men who worked for me and their families in defiance of the ambassador. My honor was intact. Most of all, I knew I had it in me to recover.
The National Security Agency (NSA), my employer, years later, recognized my work during the fall of Saigon and awarded me the Civilian Meritorious Medal. I was right to hang in there. These days, as I said yesterday, people respect us Vietnam veterans. And we hear those cherished words, “Thank you. And welcome home.”