Ordinary Life in the Face of Disaster

Several reviewers of Last of the Annamese noted that as the fall of Saigon loomed, Vietnamese and Americans alike carried on their lives as if nothing were awry. That’s what we did. What else could we do? The U.S. Ambassador, in the firm belief that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon, had forbidden evacuations. So we muddled along waiting to see what would happen next.

Many passages in Last of the Annamese describe how we struggled to go on living normal lives. Here’s one depicting downtime at a bar at the end of March 1975, less than thirty days before Saigon fell:

“By 1700, Chuck was in the bar at the DAO officers’ mess to keep his appointment with Carver. The Filipino bartender, jovial and easy-going, mixed drinks with unhurried banter, and the waitresses, all in dark áo dài with camellia blossoms in their hair, clustered chattering at the end of the bar, waiting to serve cocktails. Half a dozen patrons lolled on barstools; more loitered around the room at small tables spaced far enough from one another that low-pitched business conversations couldn’t be overheard. Show tunes from unseen speakers, so soft as to be almost inaudible, blurred the hum of conversation and the occasional laugh.”

That bar was destroyed during the shelling a few weeks later.

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