Reading at Maryland Public Television (2)

As I promised yesterday, below is the text from Last of the Vietnamese that I read for Maryland Public Television on Tuesday. The scene takes place when Chuck and Colonel Thanh visit the highlands, a few weeks before the fall of Saigon:

With the onset of darkness, Thanh dismissed the junior Vietnamese officers but signaled Chuck, the only American, to follow him. “We go to the infirmary tent.”

Inside was an overflow of human wreckage—battered, dismembered men, alive only because death, taken by surprise, hadn’t gotten to them yet. Chuck stopped breathing to ward off the stench and locked his throat to keep from vomiting. But he couldn’t block out the screaming.

The source was a man at the far end. His skin was charred and bloody, his body a mangled parody of human form. His eyes, with no eyelids to protect them, started from his skull. His mouth was forced open to its limit. His teeth were broken and blackened.

Thanh knelt beside him. He gathered the burned body in his arms and spoke in a sing-song, almost a lullaby. The screaming stopped. The body ceased moving. Thanh straightened. He pulled a stained sheet over the man’s face. Without getting to his feet, he turned to the next mat and spoke to the soldier lying on it.

Chuck watched from the narrow aisle between mats. Thanh moved through the tent and talked to each man. Before Thanh had finished, Chuck, feeling as though he was witnessing death rituals too intimate for a stranger’s eyes, walked from the tent.

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