For more than thirty years, I couldn’t get my stories and novels about Vietnam published. Vietnam was a shameful war, and no one wanted to hear about it. Then American attitudes changed. Today five of my novels and seventeen of my short stories are in print, with a new book, a short story collection called Coming to Terms, due out in July. The pinnacle was Last of the Annamese, published in March 2017 by the Naval Institute Press. That book tells the story of the fall of Saigon. Although it’s fiction, it’s historically accurate and complete. What helped greatly was that in 2016 the classification of my work in Vietnam was brought to an end.
Annamese helped in another way. It allowed me to confront my memories of abandonment and survival. I found an imperfect peace.
That peace is rooted in self-reliance. I learned that even if the whole world turned against me, abandoned me, and left me to survive on my own, I could depend on myself. I discovered in myself a resilience I didn’t know I had.
So, yes, I and others like me were abandoned. But we were a determined bunch, not cowed by hostile saliva. We worked hard and clung to each other. We watched as other warriors from other wars came home to thanks and honor withheld from us. We gritted our teeth and hung on.
When Americans changed the way they saw the war in Vietnam, they looked at us with new eyes. The young folks wanted to know what really happened. In the last half-dozen years, I’ve been to gatherings where people actually honored me and others who survived Vietnam. We are again upright citizens. We stand with other veterans who served their country.
Now at last, Americans are thanking us. Despite our resilience, our determination, our toughness, we Vietnam vets are more moved than we will admit. “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.” Those words make me cry.
In the process, I learned again what I had known since childhood: I can’t depend on others to survive. It’s up to me.