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