Becoming an Historical Figure in One’s Own Time

I was faintly shocked to realize that some grandparents living today weren’t even born when Saigon fell. And more and more, the story of the Vietnam war is considered history rather than part of current events. That makes me an historical figure rather than a member of today’s society, even though I’m very much alive and kicking.

I keep running into readers who tell me they had yet to come into the world or were in grammar school or high school in April 1975 when I escaped under fire during the fall of Saigon. Last of the Annamese is, in some quarters, referred to as an historical novel.

Most interesting to me is the difference in attitude between those who were mature during the Vietnam war and those born after it was over. Those who remember the war as part of their lives often recall their opposition to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and while they learn from my experiences, they still tend to view me something of a war monger.

Millennials, especially people in their twenties, lack any sense of hostility. Instead, they are very curious about how the U.S. got involved in the war and why. They know little or nothing about what happened during the war and nothing at all about the fall of Saigon. They are my most disquisitive readers.

And yet, the young, unlike us aging veterans, have never experienced combat or lived in a war zone. They are largely unmoved by my grisly tales of fights to the death. They have no frame of reference, nothing comparable in their lives. Older folks, especially veterans, don’t need to be told. They already know what I’m talking about.

To that ever-growing population of younger readers, I am a personage from long before their time who lacks the good taste to be dead. That makes me something of a oddity.

Maybe so. But I like that better than being dead.

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