Vietnam In My Soul

Last of the Annamese is a cry of pain. As one reviewer noted, the novel is haunted by the feelings expressed by Sparky, late in the story: “Did it have to end like this? After 58,000 American military dead, at least a million Communist soldiers, and who knows how many million civilians? Chuck, what the hell have we done?”

One of the reasons I wrote the book was to vent my memories. I suffer as much today as I did in 1975 from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I learned early that to go on living I had to confront my buried memories, bring them into conscious focus, and learn to manage my own emotional response. I’d done what so many victims of PTSI do—I’d pushed my unbearable memories into my unconscious. They haunted me, caused flashbacks, irrational rages, nightmares, and panic attacks. Because I held top secret codeword-plus clearances, I couldn’t seek psychological help. Had I gone into therapy, I’d have lost my clearances and my job. I had to sweat it out on my own.

I learned early on that writing down what happened forced me to face the past. So I wrote novels and short stories about the events I lived through, culminating in Last of the Annamese, the story of the fall of Saigon.

PTSI is soul damage. Vietnam is in my soul. I spent thirteen years there on and off. I speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. My children spent years in Vietnam. I loved the country and its people. And I went through experiences in combat and during the fall of Saigon that I still can’t talk about.

I’m regularly asked by readers if I’ve been back to visit Vietnam since the end of the war. The answer is no. I have no desire whatever to return to the scene of the memories I can’t escape.

I think on the whole that I am a better man for what I did in Vietnam. I risked my life for the good of others. I’d do it again if called upon. But the wounds are deep and resilient. They’ll always be with me.

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