Among my unpleasant duties as South Vietnam was falling to the North Vietnamese was to inform South Vietnamese families of those who worked with us that that their father, son, or brother had been killed. I related one such scene in Last of the Annamese. Chuck, the novel’s protagonist, has found the home of Huong, a servant of his friend, Molly, in Phu Lam, which I described as “a shamble of shacks and lean-tos reeking of human waste.” Huong serves him tea and asks how Molly is doing:
“Miss Molly . . . Miss Molly is dead, Huong. The plane she took to the states crashed.” How could he say it like that, straight out, a routine statement of fact?
Huong’s polite face cracked. The smile remained as if forgotten. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with crazy calmness. “I thought you knew.”
She didn’t answer.
“I came here to tell you,” he said, “that I have enquired about your husband.” She raised her head and looked at him, the smile in place, the eyes terrified. “We have no word on him. He was not with the men from his unit who made it to Vung Tau from Tuy Hoa.”
For a moment, she didn’t move. She shivered, wrapped her arms around herself, and turned from side to side. Then she folded her hands in her lap and sat very still. “You very good to come and see me. I thank you very much, Mister Griffin, sir.”
He understood that his visit was over. He rose. “God be with you, Huong.”
“Yes, sir, Mister Griffin, sir.” She was on her feet, looking down at an angle so that he couldn’t see her face.
He went outside. From inside, her voice rose, nasal, keening. The old woman hurried in. Others gathered around the door.
End of quote. More tomorrow.