The title of this blog post is taken from Last of the Annamese. It’s the question the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, asks himself as Saigon falls. It’s my question, too.
As readers of my blog know, I escaped under fire as Saigon fell. Then and earlier in my thirteen-year odyssey to, from, and through Vietnam, I witnessed and participated in events so grisly that my psyche suffered permanent damaged. These days we call that wound Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. I’m not alone. The majority of men in combat in Vietnam shows signs of the disease. The number of suicides among Vietnam vets exceeds the number killed in combat.
I call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury rather than disorder because it’s clear to me that the disease is not a case of the brain or mind having arbitrarily gone awry but the direct result of an external wound inflicted in the psyche. It never goes away. It never weakens. The man or woman thus afflicted has only one option: learn to cope.
So, yes, all memories of Vietnam have to hurt. Even my happy memories—of working with the troops and the fun we had together—hurt when I remember those who were killed by my side in gruesome ways I can’t talk about even today. My recollection of my friendship with a South Vietnamese officer and his family turns sad when I remember that he shot his three children, his wife, and himself rather than be captured by the North Vietnamese. The happy times I spent with the South Vietnamese enlisted men darken when I remind myself that 2700 of them were abandoned by the U.S. and were then killed or captured by the North Vietnamese.
My memories still hurt today. They always will.