Vietnam: Keeping in Shape

In Last of the Annamese, I tell of the efforts of Chuck, the protagonist, to keep his body healthy. He regularly lifts weights at the gym and watches his diet. Those narratives are based on what I did when I was in a city like Saigon as opposed to being out in the field with the troops. When I was working with combat units, I had no way of exercising regularly. Nor did I need to. Life on the battlefield kept the body honed for action.

But life in a city discouraged exercise, partly because my time was taken up with mental rather than physical work. And during the last month and a half before Saigon fell, I was working around the clock with no time for anything but my job—producing intelligence on the North Vietnamese as they completed the conquest of South Vietnam and getting my people safely out of the country.

In looking back on the weeks leading up to the fall of Saigon, I believe that my efforts to keep my body lithe and strong contributed materially to my survival. Toward the end for the three of us still in Saigon (I’d managed to get forty-one of my subordinate and their families out by then), it was days of constant coffee drinking, almost nothing to eat, and no sleep. After I flew out on a helicopter under fire on the evening of 29 April 1975, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, ear damage from the shelling, and pneumonia due to inadequate diet, insufficient rest, and muscle fatigue. Had I not kept my body at its peak, I never would have been able to get through those days.

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