Early in Last of the Annamese, the reader comes across the character of Lan, whose name means “orchid.” She is the niece of South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Pham Ngoc Thanh. Lan first appears at the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball, held at Saigon’s Gia Long Palace on 10 November 1974. She is there because Thanh’s wife, Tuyet (her name means “snow”), insisted that Lan attend the party with the objective of meeting a young man who might, in the long term, become Lan’s husband. Tuyet came along, ostensibly as a chaperone for Lan.
Over time it becomes apparent to the reader that Tuyet’s real objective in attending the ball was to meet Chuck Griffin, a retired American Marine working as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. embassy’s Defense Attaché Office. Tuyet seduces Chuck in hopes that he will help her and her six-year old son, Thu, escape when Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese.
Lan learns of Tuyet’s treachery and becomes her enemy. In a sardonic twist, Lan escapes the fall of Saigon in Tuyet’s place. I sometimes amuse myself by imagining Lan’s life in the U.S. following the North Vietnamese victory.
As with most of the happenings and character portrayed in Last of the Annamese, these events and people are based on fact. I attended the Marine Ball that year at the Gia Long Palace. I knew American men drawn into intimate relationships with Vietnamese women whose objective was to escape the country before it fell.
On the Marine Corps birthday—10 November—this year, I won’t be attending a ball. I’ll be at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory giving my presentation on the fall of Saigon. The next day, Veterans Day, I’ll be reading from my published work on the Vietnam war on the National Mall.
History, as we live it, has a tendency to turn ironic.