Chuck Griffin, the protagonist of Last of the Annamese, a retired Marine officer who fought in Vietnam, returns there after the 1973 cease-fire. He knows the North Vietnamese have no intention of giving up their attempt to conquer South Vietnam, and he wants to help win the war against them. He’s driven. His son Ben died as a soldier in Vietnam, and Chuck can’t tolerate the thought that Ben might have died in vain.
Late in the novel, Chuck learns that Ben didn’t die in combat. He was killed by another American soldier. Chuck’s purpose in Vietnam is suddenly meaningless. And it’s now obvious that North Vietnam is winning. The fall of Saigon is weeks way.
Elsewhere in this blog I talked about my short story “Trip Wires” (published in the Antietam Review, Spring, 1999, and in my book Friendly Casualties, 2012) which was one of the inspirations for Last of the Annamese. It tells the story of Ben’s death at the hands of another soldier. I noted earlier that Chuck never learns the full story of how Ben died. Neither he nor the reader of the novel knows what actually happened.
One reader asked me why I didn’t fill in the background. The answer is that for the purposes of Last of the Annamese it doesn’t matter. I quote below the paragraph from Annamese that describes Chuck’s reaction to the news that Ben was not killed in combat:
He saw now that he’d taken Ben’s decision not to join the [Marine] Corps as his son’s rejection. All Ben had done was to choose for himself. They would have found a way to reconcile. Chuck’s pride would have surrendered to his love. He never had a chance. Ben’s choice had cost him his life. Chuck had struggled to win this war so that Ben did not die for nothing. What a crock. North Vietnamese didn’t kill Ben. An American soldier did. Maybe intentionally. Even if the enemy had killed Ben, winning the war would not have brought Ben back to life. The living might see the deaths of soldiers differently depending on who killed them. But the dead? They were just dead.