Over the years, the French became fewer as Americans streamed in. American English replaced French as the second language of Vietnam, and Saigon gradually changed from a quiet town to a roaring city filled with American soldiers and natives anxious to make money by serving them.
Through it all, there was much in the city that I loved. In the center was a square dominated by the national assembly building. In the middle of the square was a statue that changed several times during my years in the city. The last time I saw it, the statue was of a single soldier standing tall. On one side of the square was the Caravelle Hotel, the Continental was on the other. Close by were the city hall, and the Rex, another of the half dozen luxury hotels in the middle of the city. The Majestic stood on the banks of the Saigon River a few blocks east of the town center.
By the 1970s, Saigon had started to decline. Less money was spent on the upkeep of the city. Street pavement became broken and rough. Buildings were allowed to disintegrate. Refugees thronged the streets. Poverty grew more obvious. Villas were not maintained and became dilapidated. By the time the city fell to the communists in April 1975, it was a mere ghost of its former self.
During my last tour in Vietnam, my offices were in the building that had housed the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). That organization was dissolved in 1973 when U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and the building was taken over by the Defense Attaché Office. It was located on the northern edge of Saigon in an area called Tan Son Nhat. I’ve told the story earlier in this blog of my escape after the North Vietnamese were in the streets of Saigon. Suffice it to say here that it was a narrow escape under fire.
I don’t know what’s happened to Saigon in the last 45 years. Obviously, I haven’t been back. But it will remain in my memory as a beautiful leisurely town filled with friendly people who welcomed me.
People ask me if I have any desire to return to Vietnam and see Saigon as it is today. The answer is no. To this day I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) as a consequence of my experiences in Vietnam. I have no wish to revisit the scene of my distress.