Survival (2)

My pigheadedness served me well during my years in Vietnam, particularly during the fall of Saigon. By sheer willpower (no one was there to help, and the man in charge, the ambassador, did all he could to stop me), I got my forty-three subordinates and their families safely out of Saigon before the city fell and escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets.

My career as a spy after 1975 is still classified. Suffice it to say that I’d learned to live by the mantra, “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.” I went back to graduate school and earned a PhD with honors. Turned out I wasn’t so dumb after all. I retired as early as I could so I could write fulltime. I’d been writing since I was six and wanted to become a truly professional writer. By unmitigated determination, I learned how to write well enough to get published. I now have seventeen short stories and four novels in print. I’m shopping around a fifth novel and am working on two more.

The success wasn’t without costs. I required medical treatment for exhaustion three times in my life—just before I graduated from college, after the fall of Saigon, and while I was in graduate school and working full time. I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015 (I’d been a heavy smoker). I underwent radiation and chemotherapy and had the upper lobe of my right lung removed surgically. But I was too headstrong to succumb, and I survived.

So in some respects I have to thank my parents for their neglect. If I’d been reared properly, I might never have developed my intractable mulishness and wouldn’t be alive today. And I used my slogan—“Do what you have to do, whatever it takes”—as the watchword of characters in Last of the Annamese who survive the fall of Saigon. It fits.

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