Source of the Characters in Last of the Annamese

I’m regularly asked by readers if the characters in Last of the Annamese are based on real people. The answer is an unqualified yes. But each is an amalgam.

The protagonist, Chuck, is in part based on me. I attribute to him the travails I went through as the South Vietnamese military forces and government collapsed under the assault from North Vietnam. Each of the catastrophes he faced really did happen during the fall of Saigon. As one review noted, Annamese is fiction in name only.

But I wasn’t the only source for Chuck’s character. I drew on the many American men I knew who lived through the collapse and escaped as the North Vietnamese were entering Saigon. I gave Chuck the features, strength, and raw courage I saw in my own men, the forty-three guys who worked for me. I made him a retired Marine officer because nearly all my men were, like me, former military. And so many men in the DAO Intelligence Branch (a real entity located next door to us) spent a life in the military before signing up as civilians to do intelligence collection and analysis in South Vietnam after 1973 when U.S. forces were withdrawn. I had plenty of courageous models to choose from.

Tuyet is based on women from the nobility and royal family I met during my years in Vietnam. I gave to her the traits I had seen in them—a preference for French over Vietnamese (they considered their native tongue crude and ignorant), a feeling of superiority, and disdain for the lower classes. But Tuyet has a depth of insight and nobility that I never saw in the aristocratic models.

Thanh is like half a dozen South Vietnamese military officers I knew—courageous, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice himself. He is the character that moves me the most. He, like so many of the men I knew, plans for the escape of his family while he stays behind to face the North Vietnamese conquerors.

A half dozen readers have asked me if Colonel Macintosh is based on Al Gray, the Marine colonel who saved my life during the fall of Saigon. Yes, in part. I portrayed Macintosh doing what Al Gray actually did, but I didn’t give Macintosh the nobility of Al Gray. Macintosh is an ordinary guy who isn’t promoted because he insists on warning his superiors that Saigon will fall. Gray did all that and more, but he was such a superb leader that the Marine Corps kept promoting him. By the way, I don’t call him Al anymore. That stopped the day he became Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now I call him “sir.” I’ve never met a Marine who doesn’t know who Al Gray is. He’s a legend in his own time. I’m privileged to know him.

I made the characters in Annamese as real as I could. I want people to know what happened to the brave men and women, Vietnamese and American, who lived through or died during the fall of Saigon.

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