April 1975: Escape During the Fall of Saigon

On the night of 29 April 1975, I escaped the fall of Saigon under fire. A helicopter carried me to the Oklahoma City, flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had ear damage from the shelling and was suffering from amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to muscle fatigue, inadequate diet, and sleep deprivation. I don’t remember much about the flight or my arrival at the ship. It was pitch black and pouring rain. I probably passed out after I got out of the helicopter. I described my sensations upon landing in a passage from Last of the Annamese—told from the point of view of the protagonist, Chuck Griffin:

“Lights—little flecks of them, playful, zesty—swam and fluttered and hovered and vanished. They were stars on a black sky swimming over a black ocean. . . They smiled as they flew about, streaked themselves into lines and circles, then merged and disappeared. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were singing sweet songs about breathing clean air. They told him to let go. He could grieve later, but now all he had to do was rest. No more searching. . . The last shred of awareness blanked out as if someone had switched off the sweet lights.”

The next thing I remember was as follows, also quoted from Annamese:

“Absolute quiet. Then a deep vibration, very far away. He smelled canvas. He opened his eyes. Black. He shifted his vision and saw red, dark red, almost black. He moved his head. A red light was mounted on the bulkhead. It was quivering. He realized he was shivering. His body tightened against the cold. He focused his eyes. Stacks of hanging berths, like so many rough-hewn hammocks, some with inert forms in them. He gave full attention to his ears. Breathing. People were sleeping near him. Beneath it the low-pitched vibration.”

More tomorrow.

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