The Gia Long Palace, now a museum in Ho Chi Minh city (the new name of Saigon), was the site of the 1974 U.S. Marine Corps birthday ball, held on Marine Corps birthday, 11 November. I attended the ball with my wife. Last of the Annamese, an autobiographical novel, includes the ball—as it does many of my own experiences—in relating the story of the protagonist, Chuck Griffin. As a senior intelligence official and a retired Marine, Chuck is required to attend in formal attire.
The palace was originally built by the French in the late nineteenth century and was used during Vietnam’s bloody history as a residence or headquarters for a variety of French, Japanese, South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese leaders. Its architectural style is sometimes called “baroque,” but in Annamese, I labelled it as neoclassic. It is named for Nguyễn Ánh, who unified Vietnam in 1802 and founded the Nguyễn Dynasty. The name he used as emperor was Gia Long.
In the novel, I described the interior of the palace as I remember it—beige marble with columns and carvings and a grand staircase leading to the ballroom on the lower level. It is here, in an alcove off the main hall, that Chuck meets the woman whom he will love, Tuyet. Not explored until later in the story, Tuyet is a Nguyễn princess, a member of the royal family and a descendant of the man for whom the palace is named, Gia Long.