Continuing the story of what happened at Tan Son Nhat (on the northern edge of Saigon) on 28-29 April, 1975, as the North Vietnamese were attacking us: In my last post, I told of my call to the U.S. embassy in downtown Saigon and their response that they couldn’t help us because we were too far away:
By that time, the Marines from the 7th Fleet had landed. I tracked down Al Gray and asked if he could evacuate us with his guys. He reassured me he would.
We got word that armed South Vietnamese air force officers had forced their way into the building and were on the loose, demanding evacuation at gun point. Offices were to be emptied and locked. We were to proceed at once to the evacuation staging area, an office the Marines had secured. We sent our last message announcing we were closing down. It was a personal message from me to my boss, General Lew Allen, Director of NSA:
- HAVE JUST RECEIVED WORD TO EVACUATE. AM NOW DESTROYING REMAINING CLASSIFIED MATERIAL. WILL CEASE TRANSMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS MESSAGE.
- WE’RE TIRED BUT OTHERWISE ALL RIGHT. LOOKS LIKE THE BATTLE FOR SAIGON IS ON FOR REAL.
- FROM GLENN: I COMMEND TO YOU MY PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THE BEST NSA CAN GIVE THEM FOR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH BUT ESPECIALLY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED.
Even though the message was from me to General Allen, I still began the third paragraph with the words “FROM GLENN.” I wanted to be sure he knew it was me speaking.
We destroyed out comms gear and crypto and locked the door as we left for the staging area.
The remaining events of 29 April are confused in my memory—I was in such bad shape [from days without food or sleep] I was starting to hallucinate. I know that, as the shelling continued, I begged Al Gray to get my two communicators out as soon as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the idea that, after all they’d done, they might be hurt, captured, or killed. Sometime in the afternoon, when finally they went out on a whirlybird, my work in Vietnam was done.
I’m looking for reviewers for Last of the Annamese, which will be published on 15 March 2017. I can send prospective reviewers an ARC (advance review copy) if you give me an address and a place where your review would appear. Posting a review on the Amazon.com page devoted to Annamese would work. Leave a note for me here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several days ago, I quoted from my report on the fall of Saigon, the nonfiction basis for Last of the Annamese. I had succeeded in getting my 43 men and their wives and children out of Saigon by virtue of lying, cheating, and stealing despite the Ambassador’s refusal to call for an evacuation or to allow me to evacuate my people. Only three of us remained at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon: my two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end (Bob and Gary) and me. We were shelled all night and two of the Marines at our gate were killed. Around four in the morning, we got in a dispatch telling us that the evacuation had been ordered—apparently Washington had countermanded the Ambassador. I pick up the story from there:
We gave up trying to rest. The air in the comms center, the only room we were still using, was faintly misty and smelled of smoke, as if a gasoline fire was raging nearby. After daylight, I got a call from the Vietnamese officer I’d visited a few days before. He wanted to know where his boss, the general, was. He’d tried to telephone the general but got no answer. I dialed the general’s number with the same result. I found out much later that the general had somehow made it from his office to the embassy and got over the wall. He was evacuated safely while his men stayed at their posts awaiting orders from him. They were still there when the North Vietnamese arrived.
Next I telephoned the embassy. “The evacuation is on. Get us out of here!”
The lady I talked to was polite, even gracious. She explained to me, as one does to child, that the embassy could do nothing for us—we were too far away, and, although I probably didn’t know it, the people in the streets were rioting. Of course I knew it; I could see them. I uttered an unprintable curse. She responded, “You’re welcome.”
Continuing quotes from the Naval Institute Press dust jacket for Last of the Annamese, coming out next March:
“As author, peacemaker, and a philanthropist helping to mend the wounds of war for U.S veterans returning from Vietnam, I found Last of the Annamese by Tom Glenn a brilliant piece of work on healing. His story, with twists and turns, is a must read!”
- Le Ly Hayslip, author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and The Child of War, Woman of Peace
“Last of the Annamese is all the more vivid, thrilling, and moving because Tom Glenn experienced many of the heartbreaking events he evokes so poignantly. He has also provided us with a thought-provoking reminder of the consequences of becoming deeply enmeshed in another nation’s conflicts.”
— Thurston Clarke, author of The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America
“Tom Glenn has poured a broken heart and a grieving soul into the pages of Last of the Annamese, a novel of love and war and tragedy set amid the fall of South Vietnam and the capture of Saigon in those dark days of April 1975. His fiction is carefully woven between the threads of historical fact that ring true to one who was there in the beginning and in the end, just as Tom Glenn was. I found it impossible to put this book down before reading the last page.”
— Joseph L. Galloway, coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young and We Are Soldiers Still
“Passion, intrigue, and espionage intertwine during the fall of Saigon in Last of the Annamese. Tom Glenn’s novel is a proverbial bookend companion to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and a poignant study of the U.S. relationship with Vietnam.
— Stephen Phillips, author of The Recipient’s Son: A Novel of Honor
Continuing quotes from the dust cover for Last of the Annamese: These are endorsements printed in the back flap:
“Few novels of any genre grab you like Glenn’s searing depiction of Saigon’s fall. Compellingly evocative of the desperate last days of a doomed country, Last of the Annamese haunts you long after the final page.”
— George J. Veith, author of Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973‒75
“Last of the Annamese is an epic saga about the death of a people and a way of life that has been perishing in slow agony for a century. The canvas is huge, the brushwork dense and bold. Against a background of thousands at war, dying amid the ruins of ancient temples and centuries-old cities, it forces its characters into a place of raw survival and desperate emotions.”
—Grady Smith, author of Blood Chit
Naval Institute Press just sent me the text to be used on the book jacket for Last of the Annamese when it’s published next March. Here’s what will go on the front flap:
LAST OF THE ANNAMESE
By Tom Glenn
A novel that transcends the boundaries of “war fiction,” Tom Glenn’s Last of the Annamese is a book that examines the choices forced upon those who fight wars, those who flee them, and those who survive them.
The rare novel that eloquently describes the burden of loss, Last of the Annamese brings to life the haunting story of those who found themselves trapped in Saigon in April 1975 as the city, and surrounding country, fell to North Vietnamese forces. Drawing on his own experiences in the war, Tom Glenn tells the tale of Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine doing intelligence work for the United States in Vietnam; his friend Thanh, an incorruptible South Vietnamese Marine colonel; and Tuyet, the regal woman whom both men love. Chuck, mourning the loss of his own son in the war, finds himself becoming entangled with his old South Vietnamese ally’s wife. The affair will have ramifications not only for the clandestine lovers, but for Tuyet’s family as well.
As the grim fate of South Vietnam becomes more apparent and the flight from Saigon begins, Tuyet must make a somber choice to determine the fate of her son Thu, herself, and those she loves. This personal drama plays out as the forces of history conspire to rip apart not only Chuck and Tuyet, but also Tuyet and Thanh’s family. Last of the Annamese succeeds at presenting intimate looks at the individuals swept up in a maelstrom of conflict and chaos.
Set against the backdrop of the fall of Saigon as the North Vietnamese overwhelm the South, Tom Glenn paints a vivid portrait of the high drama surrounding the end of a war, end of a city, and end of a people. Reaching its harrowing conclusion during the real Operation Frequent Wind, a refugee rescue effort approved by President Gerald Ford, Last of the Annamese offers a depiction of a handful of people caught in an epic conflagration that was one of modern history’s darkest chapters.
My story, “Snow and Ashes,” has just been published by the Loch Raven Review. You can read it at https://thelochravenreview.net/tom-glenn/
Many of my pre-readers—other writers who exchange stories with me for review before publication—responded negatively to this story because of the unlikable protagonist. If you’re so inclined, let me know your thoughts. You can comment here, on the Loch Raven web site, or send me an email.
Continuing my recounting of what happened to me in Saigon on 28 and 29 April 1975: Yesterday I described bombing by South Vietnamese pilots who had defected to the North Vietnamese. That was at sunset. Here’s more text from my article:
That was the beginning. We were bombarded throughout the night and much of the following day, first rockets, later, beginning around 0430 hours local on 29 April, artillery. One C-130 on the runway next to us was hit before it could airlift out refugees; two others took off empty. Fixed-wing airlifts were at an end. Rounds landed inside the DAO compound; the General’s Quarters next door were destroyed. Worst of all, two of the Marines I had been talking to were killed. Their names were McMahon and Judge. They were the last American fighting men killed on the ground in Vietnam.
One image I’ll never forget: sometime during the night I was on my cot taking my two-hour rest break when the next bombardments started. I sat straight up and watched the room lurch. Bob Hartley was typing a message at a machine that rose a foot in the air, then slammed back into place. He never stopped typing.
Just after that, we got word that Frequent Wind Phase IV had been declared. That was the code name for the evacuation. It had finally been ordered
The complete details of what happened to me during the fall of Saigon—the historical basis for Last of the Annamese—were declassified last year. The story was published twice earlier this year, once in CIA’s Studies in Intelligence and then reprinted in The Atticus Review. You can read the complete document at http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/
By 27 April 1975, I had succeeded in getting everyone from my office and their families, 43 men and their wives and children, out of the country despite the U.S. Ambassador’s refusal to call for an evacuation. He was persuaded that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon. Only three of us remained holed up in the DAO building in Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon: me and the two communicators, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman. Here, quoted from the published account, is what happened next:
Not long before sunset on 28 April, I made a head run. The mammoth Pentagon East [the DAO building] was in shambles. Light bulbs were burned out, trash and broken furniture littered the halls, and the latrines were filthy and smelled disgusting. I came across men on stepladders running cables through the ceiling. They told me they were wiring the building for complete destruction. “Last man out lights the fuse and runs like hell,” they joked.
I went into the men’s room. I was standing at the urinal when the wall in front of me lunged toward me as if to swat me down, then slapped back into place. The sound of repeated explosions deafened me and nearly knocked me off my feet. Instead of sensibly taking cover, I left the men’s room and went to the closest exit at the end of a hall, unbolted it, and stepped into the shallow area between the western wall of the building and the security fence, a space of maybe ten to fifteen feet, now piled high with sandbags.
The first thing I noticed was that the throngs of refugees had dispersed—no one was clamoring outside the barrier—presumably frightened away by the explosions. My ears picked up the whine of turbojets. I shaded my eyes from the setting sun and spotted five A-37 Dragonfly fighters circling above the Tan Son Nhat runways. They dove, dropped bombs, and pulled up. The resulting concussions sent me tumbling, but I was on my feet and running before the planes went into their next approach. Back in the office, I found out shortly that renegade pilots who had defected to the Communists were bombing Tan Son Nhat.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress. I’ve been pushing as hard as I can to change the nomenclature from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). My point is that the disease is not an internal system gone awry but an externally inflicted wound. The “disorder” label reinforces the notion that strong and brave men don’t suffer from it; only the weak and cowardly do. I find a strong strain among the military who dismiss PTSI as cowardice. It’s obvious to me that it is as much a wound (Ron Capps calls it a wound to the soul) as any physical laceration. The difference is, it never heals.