Fiction in Name Only (5): The Marines Arrive

More on the factuality of the novel Last of the Annamese:

Not long before Saigon fell, I spotted Marines in mufti (civilian clothes) in the halls of the DAO building at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon. I tell the story in the following passage from Annamese. Once again, I attribute to Chuck Griffin, my protagonist, my own experiences:

Walking toward him were two well-built young men with crew cuts. One wore a faded chambray shirt and jeans, the other tennis shorts and a ragged tee shirt.

“Man,” one said, “it was fan-fuckin’-tastic.”

The other snorted. “I’d have pushed his gunjy skull through the goddamn bulkhead.”

When they came abreast of Chuck, their grins disappeared. They straightened their bodies and fell into cadence, as if marching.

Marines. Chuck knew all the Marines in-country, but he didn’t recognize these two. What the hell was going on?

At the Intelligence Branch, he entered the code, but the door didn’t budge. The deadbolts. He rang the bell. Troiano admitted him.

“I just saw Marines in mufti in the hall,” Chuck said. “What’s the skinny?”

“Ever hear of Operation Frequent Wind?”

“Sounds like a bad joke.”

Troiano didn’t smile. “It’s the cover name of the emergency evacuation. The President hasn’t ordered it, but CINCPAC, the 7th Fleet, and the Marines are getting everything lined up. It’ll come soon. Either over the objections of the Ambassador or maybe without his knowledge. I just got the word from the SPG [that is, the Special Planning Group, set up in Saigon to prepare for the evacuation]. The Oklahoma City and 7th Fleet are in the South China Sea, far enough out that they can’t be seen from land. Every day Air America choppers bring the Marines ashore for planning and preparation. Every night they go back to the fleet. We have fixed-wing aircraft leaving every half hour, filled with people we want to get out.”

Chuck squinted. “Why are the snuffs in mufti?”

“The Ambassador insisted on it. Their presence in country is a violation of the cease-fire agreement with the North Vietnamese. Pretend you didn’t see them.”

“Like we pretend we don’t see the North Vietnamese ready to invade Saigon?”

“Exactly,” Troiano said. “The war’s over. The President said so.”

End of quote. Troiano’s mention of the president refers to President Ford’s 24 April speech at Tulane in which he said that Vietnam was “a war that is finished.” Sitting in Saigon awaiting the North Vietnamese attack, my cynicism overcame my dread. If the war was finished, what was I, a civilian signals intelligence officer and potential prisoner of singular value to the Communists—in short, a spy—doing in a combat zone with nothing better than a .38 revolver to defend myself against eighteen North Vietnamese divisions?

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