By the end of last year, I had given my presentation on the fall of Saigon more than fifty times, and I stopped counting. I’ve continued to offer it this year. The invitations keep coming. Add to that my story about the 1967 battle of Dak To and my readings from my novels and short stories about Vietnam. One of my biggest dilemmas these days is deciding how I’ll find enough time to write between presentations.
One audience I’d like to reach is young people, especially those born after the fall of Saigon in 1975. They know almost nothing about the Vietnam war, why it was fought, and who fought in it. More than once, a young man or woman has asked me who was involved in the war and which side we were on. Their profound ignorance of what happened disturbs me deeply.
Most of the time, the people hearing my presentations are of the older generation. That’s partly because I’m most often invited to speak by senior centers, retirement communities, and community centers. Infrequently I speak in schools. But that’s where I ought to be—teaching the young about their past.
On the other hand, when I talk to older folks, a good many of them are veterans and their wives. They know and understand my references to weapons, military aircraft, jeeps, and armored personnel carriers. They nod and smile when I talk about flavorless C-rations and sleeping on the ground.
My favorite audience members are Vietnam veterans. They come equipped to understand and follow my stories of the Ia Drang Valley, the mountains of the Vietnam Central Highlands, and the Mekong River. These men are my brothers. With them I feel the bond that men share with those who have fought by their side. Combatants don’t call that connection love. That’s too sentimental for them. But it is love, the strongest love I’ve ever experienced. The Bible explains it: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”