When Saigon fell, I escaped under fire by helicopter to a ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea. It was the night of 29 April 1975, pitch black and pouring rain. I recounted my memories of my first night on the ship in Last of the Annamese. I attribute the experiences to Chuck Griffin, the novel’s protagonist, but they are what I went through.
At the time, I was starting to hallucinate. I was in bad shape as a result of exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia, brought on by sleep deprivation, inadequate diet, and muscle fatigue from being holed up for days in my office as the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon. Here’s how I recounted my irrational state in the novel:
Chuck wandered until he was on a deck. Bits and snips of light flickered uncertainly over the ocean’s surface, like specks of moonlight, but no moon was in the sky. The deck was wet from recent rain. The ships of the fleet he could see clearly. But there, away from the ships—no, sometimes in between them—were fragments of light, some like candles, others like dying flashlights. Little boats. Thousands of them. He watched them, hypnotized. Who were they? Why were they there? He closed his eyes. He could still see them. They were swirling now. He felt himself sinking . . .
. . .
Lights—little flecks of them, playful, zesty—swam and fluttered and hovered and vanished. They were stars on a black sky swimming over a black ocean. . . They smiled as they flew about, streaked themselves into lines and circles, then merged and disappeared. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were singing sweet songs about breathing clean air. They told him to let go. He could grieve later, but now all he had to do was rest. No more searching. . . The last shred of awareness blanked out as if someone had switched off the sweet lights.
End of quote. By the time the fleet sailed to the Philippines some time around 10 May, I knew I needed to get to a doctor. But I wanted to go home. I can’t tell you how much I yearned just to go home. I finally got a diagnosis and treatment after I arrived in Maryland toward the end of May. But the home I so craved no longer existed.