Rerun: Abandonment (2)

My briefing for CINCAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific) at Pearl Harbor didn’t go well. I passed out when I sat down after coughing through my presentation. I knew I was ill, but instead of going to a doctor, I booked a flight to Maryland. I can’t tell you how much I yearned just to go home.

When I got to Maryland, a doctor diagnosed me with ear damage from the shelling, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia due to inadequate diet, sleep deprivation, and muscle fatigue. I telephoned my wife. She and our children had flown out of Saigon twenty days before the city fell. At her insistence, they went on a grand tour through Asia and Europe, arriving back in the states after I did. She knew that Saigon had fallen, but she didn’t know if I had gotten out alive, nor did she make any attempt to find out. When I got through by phone to her at her father’s house in Massachusetts and begged her to come to Maryland—I told her I was very sick and needed her—she turned me down. She told me she wouldn’t return until we got our house back (we’d leased it to another family for the length of our tour in Vietnam). It was July before I was able to repossess the house. Only then did she and the children come home.

It was the beginning of the end of the marriage.

When I finally returned to NSA in late May 1975—I had escaped from Saigon on 29 April 1975—I found that the war in Vietnam was seen as shameful, not to be discussed. That was a continuation of what I had been facing for years. During the 1960s and 1970s, when I trundled regularly between Vietnam and the world (the U.S.), I and the returning troops were regularly greeted by mobs who called us butchers and baby killers and spat on us. Now, after I returned from the fall of Saigon, I felt that the whole of the U.S. was spitting on me.

Three things got me through. One was the bond I had with the men who had worked with me in Vietnam. We stuck together and helped one another. The second was my determination not to give in to adversity. The third was writing. I wrote about what happened. By writing down what I’d lived through, I forced myself to face my unbearable memories.

More tomorrow.

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