Yesterday was the publication date for Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit (Doubleday, 2019). Some weeks ago, when I first learned that Thurston had a new book coming out, I contacted my editor and volunteered to review it. Since Thurston and I are friends, I was disqualified, but it was acceptable for me to interview him about the new book. The publisher sent me a copy of the book, and I settled in to read it.
I was shocked to discover my name in the text. The book is about the last days of Vietnam. The subtitle says it all: “How a few Americans risked all to save our Vietnamese allies at the end of the war.” Included are narratives about me—how I gave my American ID to my Vietnamese chauffer so he could drive his family onto the airbase in my sedan and escape the country; how I hid a Vietnamese family with no papers (passports, visas) in the sedan (in the trunk and on the floor of the backseat under a blanket) and drove them to a plane to flee to safety; and how a Vietnamese officer I knew failed to escape because the evacuation was declared too late.
The many stories of heroic Americans who risked their lives to save the Vietnamese moved me to the core. I came across the names of dozens of people I knew. The events Thurston describes were so familiar to me. It was like living through the fall of Saigon all over again. Many times I had to stop reading because my emotions overwhelmed me.
I’m profoundly grateful to Thurston for writing the book. During decades of being defamed for my participation in the “shameful” war, I never spoke of Vietnam. Now Americans are starting to honor those of us who fought for our country in Vietnam. I read every book on Vietnam that I can. Most, like Max Hastings’ Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (HarperCollins, 2018), excoriate the Americans who fought and lost the war. But Thurston takes a different tack. He celebrates the bravery of those of us who, at the end, did everything we could to rescue our Vietnamese brothers.
Honorable Exit is the literary equivalent of those words I so yearned to hear and for decades never did: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”
You can read my interview with Thurston at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/an-interview-with-thurston-clarke