The Fall of Cities: Phuoc Binh, Ban Me Thuot, Xuan Loc

The story of the fall of Vietnam to the communists was punctuated by the capture of strategic cities. The news reaching me in Saigon of each loss notched up the volume of Vietnam’s death knell.

Last of the Annamese narrates the reaction of Americans and Vietnamese to each disaster.

The third part of Annamese is called “Heaven Weeps: December 1974.” It begins with the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, preparing for the morning briefing at the Defense Attaché Office Intelligence Branch. He notes that “in Phuoc Long Province, Bunard had fallen, and Don Luan was under heavy bombardment. Two North Vietnamese divisions and a tank battalion plus local forces were preparing an assault on the provincial capital, Phuoc Binh. The North Vietnamese had interdicted the roads. If they took Phuoc Binh airfield, resupply would be impossible. If the province and its capital fell, it would be the first time in the Vietnam War the Communists took and held an entire province.”

Later that day, when Chuck visits South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh, Thanh says to him, “Tell Colonel Mac to watch Phuoc Binh. When Phuoc Binh falls, Vietnam falls.”

The North Vietnamese took Phuoc Binh on 6 January 1975. It rained that day, in the middle of the dry season. Chuck goes to Thanh’s house to give him the news, but Thanh already knows:

“He found Thanh alone, sitting on a Chinese garden seat at the rear of the compound in a grove of bamboo. He was in utilities but hatless, wet to the skin, his sparse hair streaming down the sides of his head. Chuck sat next to him. Together they watched the rain.

“At last Thanh turned to him and spoke. ‘Phuoc Binh fall.’

“‘Yes, sir.’

“‘You tell Mac for me, yes?’

“‘Yes, sir.’

“Thanh’s face turned upward again. His eyelids quivered as raindrops splashed down his forehead. ‘The heaven.’ He pointed upward. ‘The heaven weeps. An Nam no more. An Nam was. You listen to her weep now.’

“Chuck listened to the rain. He heard the weeping.”

An Nam was the old name for Vietnam. Thanh prefers that name because it means “peace in the south.”

More tomorrow.

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