Last week, at their invitation, I gave the fall of Saigon presentation to my chapter of the American Legion. I had given a truncated version of the talk a couple of years ago to the same group, but this time it was the full presentation with slides.
The experience was both special and strange.
Special because I was talking to veterans who know military life. Some of them had, like me, seen combat. Some had been in Vietnam. These men know the life I led. They’ve lived it themselves.
Strange because I am so different from the men in the audience. These are ordinary, down-to-earth and earthy guys. They have about them the humility, the nobility, and the quiet pride that goes with being an ordinary American guy—husband, father, wage earner, craftsman, pillar of the community. I have some of those qualities, too, but I’m also a published author, an artist, a member of the intelligentsia with a PhD.
What mattered that evening was none of our differences but the common ordeals we’ve endured. As so often happens when I give the presentation, I choked up when I talked about the South Vietnamese officer who shot his wife, his children, and himself rather than live under communism when Vietnam fell. Tears blocked my eyes when I spoke of the 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who worked with my organization and were killed or captured when Saigon fell. My voice failed when I described how, after the fall of Saigon, despite amoebic dysentery and pneumonia, I didn’t seek medical help because I so yearned to go home.
As I told these stories, I was greeted with total silence and rivetted attention. Every eye was on me. These men were with me. They understood.
I’ve given the fall of Saigon presentation more than forty times. This time, more than any other, I knew my audience was at one with me because they all had lived through experiences like mine. These men are my brothers. We share a bond like no other.