April 1975: South Vietnamese Air Force Officers Demand Evacuation at Gunpoint

At the end of Last of the Annamese, three South Vietnamese Air Force officers force their way into the DAO Building at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon, and demand evacuation at gunpoint. They take Chuck Griffin hostage and threaten to shoot him if their demands are not met. Chuck at the behest of the officers negotiates with Marine Colonel Macintosh, the Ground Security Officer—the guy in charge—for the evacuation. The three officers relent, give up their weapons, and surrender to the Americans.

The event described did indeed take place. The three of us still in our office suite—Bob Hartley, Gary Hickman, and I—were waiting to be evacuated when I got a phone call telling me that the three officers were roaming the halls, guns drawn. We were to proceed at once to the evacuation staging area, another office secured by U.S. Marines. We sent our last message, quoted earlier in this blog, reporting that we were closing down, and hurried to the staging area. Later, I was told to wait alone in yet another office until it was my turn to be evacuated. I had to remain there, locked in, because the three renegade officers were still at large. They did take a hostage but eventually gave up their weapons and surrendered. What became of them after that I don’t know.

The Marine colonel who dealt with them and got me and my two communicators out alive was Al Gray, later Commandant of the Marine Corps. I owe him my life. I’ve never met a Marine who didn’t know about General Gray, even today a hero to Marines.

A Message for the President

I subscribe to A Word a Day posted daily by Anu Garg. At the end of each post, Garg includes a quote. Today’s is one I’d like to send to Donald Trump:

“We have abundant reason to rejoice, that, in this land, the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age, and in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest offices that are known in the United States”. -George Washington, 1st US president, general (1732-1799)

Saigon, 1975: Pre-Monsoon Swelter

Toward the end of Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin drives early in the morning through the streets of Saigon to his office at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of the city. The text describes Chuck’s view of Saigon at the end of the dry season, in April 1975, before the onset of the monsoons and weeks before the city fell to the Vietnamese Communists:

“The city was already writhing in the heat. Dust trailed after everything that moved. The canals and gutters that riddled the city had turned black, oozing with clots of human waste. The morning mist, suffused by exhaust and smoke from charcoal fires, hung in the blighted trees and discolored eaves. Orange and white [propaganda] banners sagged, some falling into the street. Refugees choked byways and alleys and spilled over the boulevards and parks. Chuck smelled the raw force of incipient panic.”

This passage, like so many others in the novel, reflects my memories of a city crumbling in the prelude to defeat. Despite declarations to the contrary by the South Vietnamese government and the U.S., a foreboding of destruction hung in the air indistinguishable from the dirty smoke that dissipated only when the monsoon downpours washed it away and replaced it with steam rising from the Saigon River. Ironically, the cleansing monsoon rains started the night of 29 April as the city fell to the North Vietnamese and I escaped under fire to the safety of the 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea.

Bias against Chinese in Vietnam

Earlier in this blog, I wrote about Huong, Molly’s Chinese maid. In December, 1974, Chuck, the protagonist, persuades Molly to allow him and Tuyet to use her apartment for several days. As Chuck is preparing for Tuyet’s arrival, Huong suddenly appears and offers to fix their evening meal. When Tuyet arrives, she has her own personal maid, Mai, with her. The two Vietnamese women demand that Huong leave and that Mai take over the cooking duties. When Chuck later asks Tuyet to explain, she responds:

“. . . Huong is Chinese.”

“How do you know?” Chuck said.

“She looks Chinese.” Tuyet wrinkled her nose. “The way she dresses. Her accent. Her name . . .”

The episode is based on my experience with the Vietnamese. They were prejudiced against the Chinese and accused them of faults regularly cited in any prejudice, that they smell bad, they’re dirty, ignorant, dishonest.

The irony was that these same Vietnamese looked own on Americans because of their bias against African-Americans. The difference was the source of the bias. The Vietnamese and Chinese have been at odds for more than a millennium. They have been at war repeatedly, and each looks down on the other as primitive and uncultured. The dislike is particularly striking on the Vietnamese side since their culture, language, music, and art is so deeply influenced by the Chinese. Even the name of their country, Vietnam, is Chinese. It is derived from the Chinese words yuëh nan, meaning “the troublemakers in the south.”

In short, the prejudice is illogical and not based on fact.  In that respect, it is like all other prejudice.

PTSI Revisited

I’ve spoken earlier in this blog about my bouts with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. I refer to it as “injury” rather than “disorder” because it is an externally inflicted wound. Some writers call it soul damage; others refer to it as a moral wound. I know from my own experience that it is the result of an experience (or series of experiences) so brutal that the psyche is permanently damaged and never heals.

So one learns to cope. Facing the memories is requisite. Writing about them is one of the best methods of confronting them. Hence so much of my writing, including Last of the Annamese. But sometimes a scent, a sound, a brief glimpse will ignite them all over again.

That happened to me when the reporter from the Howard County Times interviewed me a couple of weeks ago. She asked questions and prodded my memories. They came back at full strength.

You can read the results in her article: http://eedition.howardcountytimes.com/Olive/ODN/HowardCountyTimes/default.aspx

I never know when the haunting will return full bore. My job is to bear them and keep on working.

Today’s Washington Post

My letter to the editor is published in today’s Washington Post:

Regarding Mark Feldstein’s Feb. 19  Sunday Opinions essay, “Leaks: As American as apple pie and presidents”:

During my more than 30 years working in intelligence for the U.S. government, it was rare, if ever, that a member of the intelligence community leaked classified information to the media. The source of leaks nearly always turned out to be an intelligence customer, that is, a recipient of the finished intelligence. The culprits, more often than not, were members of Congress or their staffs or, occasionally, members of the executive branch.

Yet the media, The Post included, consistently refer to the leaks as being from intelligence agencies. Intelligence professionals have nothing to gain and much to lose with public exposure of the information they have worked so hard to unearth. Until and unless we have confirmation of the leak sources, the media would do well to stop blaming intelligence professionals, some of whom, like me, risked their lives to learn the truth about our enemies.

Tom Glenn, Ellicott City

 

Marine Corps Ball, 1974, Saigon

Last of the Annamese opens with the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, preparing to attend the Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the Gia Long Palace in Saigon. One of his housemates, Sparky, is, like Chuck, a retired Marine officer; the other, Ike, is an active duty Marine officer, assigned to the embassy. All three will be at the celebration.

The Marine Corps birthday is 10 November. Among Marines, a private joke is that 11 November, Veterans Day, is really a national holiday to allow them to recover from the birthday bash. In my time working with Marines, the celebration was always major. During my years in Saigon, the Marine Corps Birthday Ball was the social highlight of the year. It was a formal affair, and, as an office head, I was required to attend. That meant a tuxedo for me and a full-length evening gown for my wife.

The ball described in Annamese is the last one I attended in Saigon, on 10 November 1974. It was formal to the nines, even though there were few Marines in country. All traditions were observed, even the cake-cutting with a ceremonial sword. Yet amid the festivities was a detectable unease—so many of us knew from intelligence that the North Vietnamese forces were growing stronger through massive infiltration of men and matériel. Some, myself included, doubted that South Vietnam would survive another year. It didn’t. It fell six months later.