Ordinary Life in the Face of Disaster (3)

Part of the oddity toward the end in Saigon in April 1975 was that new people, U.S. government employees, kept arriving to begin their tours even though most of us knew the country was about to fall to the North Vietnamese. Those of us who had been in-country for some time were weary, gloomy, and cynical, but the new arrivals were invariably naïve and cheerful as if everything were normal. I describe one such newbie (that’s what we called them) in Last of the Annamese. Here’s a fragment of conversation between the novel’s protagonist, Chuck Griffin, and a newly arrived Marine captain, Tommy Riggs. Ben, referred to by Chuck, was Chuck’s son, killed in action in Vietnam:

Tommy drank, his leg jiggling. “So, you’ve been here, what, a year?”

“Since seventy-three.”

“You know, life here isn’t as bad as what it’s cracked up to be.” Tommy swept the villa with his eyes. “Nice place. Guess I could do without those lizards on the walls.”

“They’re geckos.”

Tommy snapped his fingers. “Right. I knew that. Anyway, there’s a lot going on. The airport was a zoo. And the street traffic—something else.”

“You never served a tour here?”

“Never did. It was mostly over before I got commissioned.”

“It’s not ‘mostly over’ now.”

“Oh, I know, but you know what I mean, Chuck.”

Chuck ground his teeth. Where did this kid, younger than Ben, get off calling him, a major when he retired, by his first name?

A distant rumble stopped the conversation. Tommy sat up. “Shelling? Us or them?”


“They have heavy arty?”

“Plenty,” Chuck said. “Soviet 152 and 122-howitzers and U.S.-manufactured 155’s and 105’s captured from the ARVN.”

Tommy cocked his head “AR-what?”.

“Army of the Republic of Vietnam,” Chuck said. “The good guys.”

“Wow. Howitzers. I thought the VC were mostly guerrillas.”

“U.S.-types say VC or Viet Cong to mean the southern guerrillas and NVA or North Vietnamese Army to mean the regular forces. False distinction. It’s all the same crowd, and they’ve got everything from booby traps to SAMs.”

“Damned shame.” Tommy shook his head in disgust. “Should never have gotten to this point. We should have kicked ass and taken names.”

Sadness descended on Chuck. And the twits shall inherit the earth.

End of quote. Saigon fell four days later.

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