Fiction in Name Only (3): Americans Under Stress

More on the view that Last of the Annamese is fiction in name only.

Toward the end of April 1975, when Saigon was under siege and my two communicators and I were trapped at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of the city, we worked twenty-four hours a day and had nothing but purloined bar snacks to eat. I learned that you can eat Vienna sausages cold straight from the can and that pickle relish, if mixed with enough mustard and eaten in quantity, can stave off severe hunger. Granted, I developed bowel problems, but at the time I attributed that more to the stress I was under than to my diet.

Despite the conditions, those in Saigon at the end performed at an astonishingly high level of competence. Here’s a passage from Annamese describing three of those Americans working under stress while they could still get through the streets of the city:

Chuck was going non-linear. He’d worked too long without sleep. . . . He awoke at four Monday morning, showered, shaved, dressed, and drove to DAO.

In the tank, Chuck found Sparky reeling. He hadn’t rested since Saturday night, but his toothpick still clung to his lower lip. His breath smelled like a cesspool.

“A lot’s happened since last we met,” Sparky mumbled. “Was that only a day ago?”

“You’re getting soupy,” Chuck said. “Go home.”

“Can’t.” His eyelids stretched and blinked. “Da Nang fell yesterday. I Corps is in rout. And the safe haven on the coast where all those people tried to flee from highlands? Tuy Hoa. It’s under enemy fire. A hundred thousand refugees are stranded along Route 7B between Pleiku and the coast. No food, no water, no medicine, nothing. Jesus, Chuck.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Did it have to end like this? After 58,000 American military dead, at least a million Communist soldiers, and who knows how many million civilians? Chuck, what the hell have we done?”

“Go home, Sparky,” Troiano’s voice said. Chuck turned. Troiano stood behind him, the class A uniform replaced by combat fatigues. A .45 was strapped on his hip. “Can’t have you going to pieces on me.”

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