Prologue: The Burning Child

I often volunteered to work with orphans during my years in Vietnam. Because of the war and economic conditions, the many orphanages were filled beyond capacity, especially with mixed-race children. So my novel, Last of the Annamese, portrays all five principal characters caring for orphans. The book begins with a prologue called “The Burning Child, Da Nang, 1967.” It tells of a visit by the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, and his friend, the Marine captain, Ike, to an orphanage. There they find a small Amerasian boy dying from white phosphorus lodged in his skin. Chuck brings a doctor to remove the phosphorus from the boy’s body, but it is too late:

The jeep skidded to a stop by the gate. Mother Monique and the guide met them.

“I’ve brought a doctor.” Chuck hooked his thumb toward a third officer in the jeep.

Monique turned and trudged through the gate, hands in her billowing skirt.

Chuck pushed past lay caregiver. “What the hell’s the matter with her?”

“No, you wait,” the caregiver called after him.

He sprinted into the compound and burst into the infirmary, Ike and the doctor behind him, and ran to the child. A tattered sheet was over the child’s face. Chuck yanked it off. Traces of smoke scattered. The child lay twisted, not moving. Not breathing.

“I try to tell you,” the woman cried behind him. “Mother Monique, she is getting ready to bury him. You leave now. Okay?”

The doctor knelt by the child, felt his neck, and pulled the sheet over his face.

Chuck swallowed hard, pivoted, nearly lost his balance, and stumbled out of the infirmary. In the narrow passage, he leaned his forehead against the stone wall. Tears forced themselves from his shut eyelids, ran down his face, and dripped from his chin.

“Let’s go, Chuck.” Ike rested a hand on his shoulder.

Chuck mopped his face with both hands. Ike led him to the jeep. The doctor followed. They headed into the city streets, not speaking.

End of quote. White phosphorus was used as a weapon by the U.S., not the Vietnamese Communists.

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