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.
No one escaped whole from the fall of Saigon. We were all damaged. I know. I was a survivor.
I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city after being holed up for weeks during the siege. I suffered ear damage, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia—due to sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue, and poor diet—and I still cope today from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. And I was one of the lucky ones.
The experiences I attribute to the protagonist of Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin, are all things I went through myself. My assessment is that I am a better man for having lived through it, but the psychic wounds still haven’t healed. They never will.
The name of the novel, Last of the Annamese, comes from an ancient name for Vietnam, An Nam. The Chinese referred to the troublesome non-Chinese in South China as the Yuëh Nan, best translated as the trouble-makers in the south. The term became, in Vietnamese, Viet Nam. When the trouble-makers moved further south into what is now Vietnam, they called their country by a series of different names. One was An Nam, peace in the south, which the Chinese interpreted as the pacified in the south. But the inhabitants were anything but pacified. They fought the Chinese for the better part of two millennia and finally established their independence. Nevertheless, An Nam remained a favorite name. The French used it to designate Central Vietnam as distinguished from the north (Tonkin) and the south (Cochinchina).
“Thanh boarded his aging C-47 for the flight from Binh Tuy
Province back to Saigon. As the aircraft whined upward, its
two engines shuddering, he looked down on the wandering
La Nga River, the war-scarred town of Hoai Duc, and the
mountains northeast, soaking in the January sunshine.
Only a matter of time before Hoai Duc and its sister towns
of Tanh Linh and Vo Xu fell to the North Vietnamese. Three
North Vietnamese regiments and a newly formed division
were on the move. He’d talked to the anxious soldiers, urged
them to pray and seek serenity, and, although he didn’t use
these words, to prepare for defeat and death. The young
faces looking up as he spoke, the frightened eyes pleading
for hope, had left him depleted. He must not allow himself
to sink into despondence as he had the day Phuoc Binh
was lost. Too much work left to do. Too many hearts to
unburden. Too many souls to comfort.”
I write because I have to.
I knew from the age of six on that I was a writer. I could refuse the calling, but that would mean I’d never find fulfillment or even relief from the constant nag to put what was in my head into words. So I’ve been writing all my life.
As a young man, I went to Vietnam. I was there on and off for 13 years providing signals intelligence support to combat units throughout South Vietnam. I was caught in combat multiple times and watched the soldiers and Marines I was there to help die by my side. After the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973, I became the head of the National Security Agency’s covert effort in Vietnam. I lived through the fall of Saigon, escaping under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury as a result of the unspeakable things I lived through in Vietnam. Because I held top secret codeword-plus clearances, I couldn’t seek psychiatric help—I would have lost my clearances and therefore my job. So I wrote and wrote about the monstrous events I had lived through. I volunteered to help others worse off than I was. I worked with AIDS patients, the homeless, dying people under hospice care, and sick and dying soldiers in a VA hospital. I found that when my attention was focused on those I wanted to help, my unbearable memories receded. And I learned that compassion heals.
Three of my novels—Friendly Casualties, The Trion Syndrome, and Last of the Annamese—derive from my wartime experience. The fourth, No-Accounts, grew out of my caring for AIDS patients. Lots more to come. I’ve just submitted a fifth novel for publication, and I’m sketching out a sixth. The imperfect peace I’ve found now allows me to write about subjects other than war.
Until last year, the events I witnessed during the fall of Saigon were classified. Now I can speak about what happened—a unique story heretofore untold. No other book, not even the Rory Kennedy documentary, The Last Days in Vietnam, includes the previously classified information. The characters in Last of the Annamese are fiction, but all the events in the story are real.
A novel that transcends the limitations 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 evokes a haunting portrait of the
lives of those 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. 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. During
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
glimpse at a handful of people caught in an epic conflagration
that was one of modern history’s darkest chapters.
TOM GLENN’s prize-winning seventeen short stories
and four novels draw upon the thirteen years he shuttled
between the United States and Vietnam on covert intelligence
assignments before escaping under fire when Saigon fell.
Comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, he writes
and speaks frequently on war and Vietnam. He lives in Ellicott
This is the post excerpt.
I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have six novels and seventeen stories in print.
My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the thirteen years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales. Originally published as an ebook, Adelaide will be publishing a hard copy version in June 2022.
No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.
Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.
Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.
Secretocracy, published in March 2020, tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the Trump administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation. Coming to Terms, out in August 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.