My novel, Last of the Annamese, ends with a glossary comprised of words, some Vietnamese, some French, some English, used in Vietnam during the war but probably not familiar to most Americans. Those terms evoke vivid memories for me. Here are some of the recollections those words call up:
Alamo was the code name for the Special Planning Group, an ad hoc unit set up in April 1975 by the U.S. Defense Attaché, General Homer Smith, to secure and defend the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) building and compound at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of Saigon as the fall of the city loomed. Most important, Alamo coordinated with the 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea, to assure the successful evacuation of personnel as the North Vietnamese captured Saigon. It was Alamo guys and the Marines from the 7th Fleet that made my escape under fire possible.
Amah was the term used to designate female Vietnamese and Chinese caretakers assigned to look after children. The word comes from the Portuguese noun ama meaning wet nurse. On both tours with my family in Vietnam, (1963-1965 and 1974-1975), my wife and I hired amahs to care for our children. It was the amah of my daughter, Susan, along with our other two servants, who protected her from shelling during the 1963 coup d’etat against Ngo Dinh Diem.
ASAP if not sooner, as used by the U.S. military, meant “instantly,” with no waiting. “ASAP” by itself stands for “as soon as possible.” The full term was sometimes defined as “get it done yesterday.”
Bulkhead was the Marine and Navy word for “wall,” and deck meant “floor.” I remember my confusion when I first worked with Marines and struggled to understand their lingo. Among other things, I was not familiar with the Marine practice of showing respect for a superior by using only the third person in reference to the person spoken to. So when a Marine enlisted man asked me, “Would the gentleman care for some coffee?” my response was, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?”