Making Fiction Out of Fact (4)

The Trion Syndrome was much more personal than my other books. It’s the story of a Vietnam veteran, like me, with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and how he copes. The inspiration for the book was my imagining what it would be like if I decided I couldn’t stand the irrational rages, nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks and chose to end my life. When the characters of Dave and his wife, Mary, revealed themselves to me, I pondered what they would do faced with the dilemma I was dealing with. The critical moment that led to the book was my imagining Dave trying to drown himself to stop the unbearable memories.

What sparked Last of the Annamese, my most recently published novel, on the other hand, was my memory of the moment of jubilation I had when I knew that all my subordinates and their families were safely out of Saigon as it was falling. After that moment came to me from my memory, I let my mind wander and the three main characters of the book came to life: Chuck Griffin, the retired Marine officer who returns to Vietnam to help win the war because he can’t stand the idea that his son who died in the war had died in vain; Tuyet, a member of the Vietnamese royalty forced to marry a commoner for the good of her family; and South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh, the common man Tuyet had married, who cannot tolerate the idea of living under the communists. What would each of these people do faced with the conquest of South Vietnam by the northern communists? They told me what they would do, and I wrote it all down.

The events of Annamese were already firmly in my mind—I had lived them myself. After 1973 when U.S. troops were withdrawn, I was assigned as the chief of the covert NSA operation in South Vietnam.

As it became clear to me that the country was going to fall to the North Vietnamese, I struggled to get my 43 subordinates and their wives and children safely out of the country. The U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, forbade me to evacuate my people—he didn’t believe that the North Vietnamese would attack Saigon. I knew better from intercepted North Vietnamese communications. So I used every ruse I could think of to get my people safely out of the country. I had to stay. The ambassador wouldn’t permit me to leave. I succeeded in getting all my people out. Then, the night of 29 April 1975, after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city, I escaped by helicopter under fire.

So the events of the story for Annamese were already there. My job in writing the novel was to put my three principal characters through that string of events and to watch what each of them did.

Hence Tom Glenn’s stories: fiction in name only.

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