12/23/2016

Tom Glenn's Last of the Annmese


I first met Tom Glenn while reading poetry at the War Writer's Memorial Project near the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. He's intense. Some of his experiences, listed below, drawn from his life as an intelligence officer in combat, help to explain why.
I post my review of his book Last of the Annamese (U.S. Naval Institute, publisher) first, then some posts from his blog that help provide background.
 "Did it have to end like this? After 58,000 American military dead, at least a million communist soldiers, and who knows how many million civilians? What the hell have we done?”  
This question, posed by Sparky, the tooth pick chewing analyst who works with Chuck Griffin, the books main character, informs every page of Tom Glenn’s Last of the Annamese.
In the spring of 1975, the time period for this work, I was a 19-year old student at the American College in Paris, France. Although largely forgotten by a war-weary American public, other 19-year-old Americans worked as Marines protecting the last Americans remaining in Vietnam trying to assist the fast crumbling South Vietnamese. Their courage and dedication, and those remaining National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and other American intelligence and military professionals, is well recorded here. More importantly, it is saved from disappearing from the American collective memory.


While on my semester abroad, every day on the way to class I passed by a communist bookstore with a map of French Indo-China, with Laos, Cambodia and North and South Vietnam. As each province would fall to the communists in Vietnam, the communists in the bookstore would color it red.
I also learned of the ignoble end of American involvement in the Vietnam War through the International Herald Tribune, the BBC and on French radio and TV thousands of miles away. Tom Glenn, in contrast, was in the chaos, civil riots, ineptitude, neglect, horror, treason, death, cultural clash, and destruction of the real, and surreal, event.
Listening to Signal Intelligence (SIGNET) day and night, he was intimate with the bloody and confusing details. He writes about the human debris of the damaged quilt that was the chaotic end of American involvement in the Vietnam War. He records the details of that end as only one embedded in it can.
The teen-ager of the French family in Paris with whom I lived rarely spoke to me. But one afternoon in April 1975 he burst into my room and said, “C’est incroyable! C’est extraordinaire! C’est formidable!  Vite! Regard! Les Americans! Vite!”
In the living room of his 17th Arrondissement apartment he pointed to the small black and white television. There in grainy images, I saw U.S. Marines throwing helicopter after helicopter off the side of an American aircraft carrier.
He continued: “C’est extraordinaire!!!” Then, because he was very French, he began to lecture me that France would never, ever throw millions of dollars’ worth of helicopters into the ocean. And also like a good Frenchman, he wanted me to explain why my country was doing this.
I told him in broken French I had no idea.
But Tom Glenn does…because he was in the thickest part of the unraveling of 13 years of American involvement in Indo-China. His novel ties together the disconnect between his excellent intelligence gathering and analysis, the deliberate denial of facts and ineptitude of the American Ambassador, Graham Martin and the CIA that such a tragedy could never happen, and the political elite in Washington, D.C. who had neglect of American political leadership that had grown weary of the adventure.
I had two uncles who served multiple tours in that conflict, one as an officer in U.S. Air Force intelligence and another as a Chief Master Sergeant in the U. S. Army. Like most who served there, neither of my uncle’s wrote down a word about what they did or why. (Once when I asked my Uncle Ray at my father’s funeral what he did in Vietnam, he responded, “How about those Phillies!”)
They were true Quiet Professionals to the end. As they are now buried at Arlington National Cemetery and can no longer speak about their experiences in Vietnam, So, I am especially grateful that Tom Glenn wrote down his memories of the last days of the Vietnam War. Future generations may know what happened.
As with the best historical war fiction, so many lessons in the book apply even more so today, as shown in this passage:
“Chuck placed him then. [He was] The Hungarian member of the International Commission of Control and Supervision. Chuck had seen him at the party for Senator Nunn. He stretched his memory. The ICC, a group established by the United Nations to monitor the so-called peace after the signing of the treaty in 1973. Chuck grimaced. The Ambassador was consulting with a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam. It sucked.”
An additional plus with this book is that Tom Glenn provides deep background about it on his blog https://tomglenn.blog/. For example, he chronicles the actual death of the two last U.S. Marines in fiction in Last of the Annamese in this blog post.
“During the last week of April, 1975, as the North Vietnamese conquest of Saigon approached, I was stranded at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon, in the DAO building. As mentioned in earlier blog installments, I had succeeded in evacuating 41 of the men who worked for me and their families.
Since the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, had forbidden evacuations, I got my people out by any ruse I could think of. Only three of us remained: the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman, and me.
Among my regular stops was the Marine guard post at our western gate. I traded scuttlebutt with the embassy guard Marines posted there. Among them were Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge. They looked so young to me (I was 38; they were 21 and 19 respectively) that I wondered at their presence in a war zone and why they weren’t back in the world in high school where they belonged.
When the North Vietnamese began shelling the compound in the pre-dawn hours of 29 April, [1975] the gate was hit. McMahon and Judge were killed. They were the last U.S. servicemen to die on the ground in Vietnam. I grieve for them to this day. And I recorded their deaths in the final pages of Last of the Annamese.”
Who were the last two Americans to die in Vietnam? Due to the honorable grief of Tom Glenn, now you know.
I highly recommend that you read Tom Glenn’s blog to check the fictional book against the factual entries there about the same events. How often do you get to do that? Here is a wonderful telling in the blog of events at the end of the book.
”…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 U.S. 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.”
Central to this work is the professional military and personal relationship among Chuck Griffin and the Vietnamese family of Thanh, an honest and honorable South Vietnamese Marine Colonel, his royal wife Tuyet, and their son Thu. Each represents Vietnams past, present and future. Moral and noble reactions to betrayals can only happen to such a remarkable degree in times of the stress and survival demanded by war. Glenn manages the passion, poison and predicaments of those relationships so adroitly I will leave it to you to read them in the original.
Among the wonders of this book are the insights recorded that only come from being in the middle of such a cataclysmic disaster when Chuck Griffin asks: “Somehow the endless reports of gore and annihilation no longer moved Chuck. Was there such a thing as disaster fatigue?”
I am on the board of directors of the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA) and have studied disasters, and those who have been through them, for 35 years. Yes, there is such a thing as disaster fatigue. And if anyone had experienced enough to have reached that point, it is Chuck Griffin in this book.
As for the Vietnamese and others left behind when we abandoned them, one passage of the book captures their desperation well. A mother and daughter who have a laundry shop plead t with Chuck Griffin to get them out of the country.
“My momma and me. We very afraid. We Chinese, sir. We work for American. The VC torture us. Kill us. You help us?”
Sadly, tens and thousands of such people were slaughtered when the communists took over all of Vietnam and Cambodia.
Even if Ambassador Graham refused to acknowledge or develop contingency plans for getting out Americans, their dependents, and their Vietnamese allies, the extremely inflated prices in the street presented the reality daily.
For example, when Chuck Griffin tries to buy flowers, the street vendor charges him three times the price of just a few days ago. When Chuck Griffin questions this he is told, “All costs go up now, you know? It is war.” A street vendor knew what the American Ambassador did not.
“Remember us.”
That is the final line in Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen, the WWII story of Jack Womer, Ranger and Paratrooper. The film The Dirty Dozen was based on them, although Hollywood, as always, got it wrong. As Jack always said when he was alive, “We weren’t criminals. We just didn’t like rules or protocols because they got our guys killed and got in the way of defeating the enemy.”
Tom Glenn magnificently describes how those rules and protocols failed so horribly at the end of the Vietnam War. From the American Ambassador Graham Martin’s refusal to believe the factual data and excellent analysis that Chuck Griffin presented him in briefings of the communist force strength and movements, to not planning for the evacuation of the Vietnamese who were doomed to death if not evacuated, to failing to plan to evacuate the remaining Americans to avoid their deaths, the CIA and State Department protocols that kept Americans and our allies in place and exposed to potential death daily…were criminal.
He has also remembered, resurrected really, the granite men and women who were the most exposed, who suffered and died, as Saigon crumbled. Although there are not mountains big enough to be honor their courage, as least their story is now down.
The American Ambassador, the State Department, and the CIA chose small-minded group think and to believe their bizarre reality, well chronicled in the book, that there would be some magical “deal” with the communists that would avoid the obvious...that the communists did not need to negotiate. Victory was already theirs.
Glenn does a masterful job of relating just how high up and how massive the incompetence was in the American leadership just before Saigon fell.
“Forgive the interruption, sir,” Chuck Griffin panted. “I just briefed the Ambassador on the military situation and urged him to call for an evacuation. He cut me short.”
“The [CIA] chief laughed. He opened a manila folder on his desk and handed Chuck Griffin a message printout. It was from the Ambassador to the president and secretary of state, dated that morning. It declared that the North Vietnamese were using communicator’s deception to mislead the Allied intercept effort. They were trying to frighten the Republic of Vietnam into negotiations by transmitting false data.
Chuck Griffin’s mouth dropped open. He read the message again to be sure he got it right. ”What evidence do you have, he said to the chief, “what evidence does the Ambassador have, of communications deception?”
The Chief laughed. “Tell you what. I’ll bet you a bottle of champagne, vintage an chateau of your choice, that a year from now you and I will both still be still be in Saigon, at our desks, following our usual routine.”
A few days after the CIA chief made his delusional remarks, Saigon and all of South Vietnam fell to the communists. Too much of this history remains untold. Glenn has done God's work relaying the story in fictional form based on historical facts.
If you doubt the accuracy of his story, here is a how these same events were described in a 1999 NSA history called The Secret Sentry:
"In Saigon, Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe the SIGINT (signals intelligence) reporting that detailed the massive North Vietnamese military buildup taking place all around (Saigon) ... and repeatedly refused to allow NSA's station chief, Tom Glenn, to evacuate his forty-three man staff and their twenty-two dependents from Saigon."
Tom Glenn has preserved the individual and collective memory of the men and women who were hung out to die by a delusional American ambassador who would not make the common sense call to evacuate.
That ambassador was backed and supported by the CIA and the United Nations. Hmmm…has this pattern repeated again since 1975?
Glenn reminds us of those who sacrificed their health, futures, and often their lives to protect and preserve ours.
We owe it to them, and this is on every page of Last of the Annamese, to gain strength and inspiration from their lives and sacrifices.
Their actions provide clarity in a world that lacks clarity.
Honor their sacrifice by remembering them.
One of the few places you can learn about them to remember them is Last of the Annamese.

Remember them by reading about them there.

Below are blog posts from Tom Glenn's blog that explains the facts behind the fiction. Many others may be found here: https://tomglenn.blog/ 

Last Two Servicemen Killed in Vietnam

During the last week of April, 1975, as the North Vietnamese conquest of Saigon approached, I was stranded at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon, in the DAO building. As mentioned in earlier blog installments, I had succeeded in evacuating 41 of the men who worked for me and their families. Since the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, had forbidden evacuations, I got my people out by any ruse I could think of. Only three of us remained: the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman, and me.
For days, Bob, Gary, and I were short on food—we survived on bar snacks we’d been able to scrounge at a hotel before we could no longer get out into the streets of Saigon—and we were working 24 hours a day, alternating with each other for two-hours rest breaks on the single cot we had in the comms center where we were holed up.
I wanted to know beforehand when the North Vietnamese breached the perimeter fence around our compound, so several times a day and sometimes at night, I went outside and wandered through the parking lots, tennis courts, and trash collections areas to see what was going on. Among my regular stops was the Marine guard post at our western gate. I traded scuttlebutt with the embassy guard Marines posted there. Among them were Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge. They looked so young to me (I was 38; they were 21 and 19 respectively) that I wondered at their presence in a war zone and why they weren’t back in the world in high school where they belonged.
When the North Vietnamese began shelling the compound in the pre-dawn hours of 29 April, the gate was hit. McMahon and Judge were killed. They were the last U.S. servicemen to die on the ground in Vietnam.
I grieve for them to this day. And I recorded their deaths in the final pages of Last of the Annamese.




The Character of Ike in Last of the Annamese

I find Ike likable. He’s the housemate of the novel’s protagonist and a Marine officer working with the Marine guards at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the only Marines left in-country in 1975, after the withdrawal of U.S. troops two years earlier. Ike’s character is drawn from the many Marines I worked with during my years in Vietnam. He’s down to earth—and earthy, too—and unpretentious. He is an honorable man. His honor is unspoken and inherent. It’s the quality that defines him, built in and always operational. I suspect he’s not even aware of it.
In that respect, he’s like all the Marines I knew and worked with. Typical was Al Gray, a captain when I first met him in Vietnam in the early 1960s, a colonel when he saved my life during the fall of Saigon in 1975, and finally, as a general, the commandant of the Marine Corps. I’ve never met a Marine who didn’t know of and honor Al Gray.
Ike’s motto is “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.” Those words become a guide for the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, himself a retired Marine officer. At the end of the story, the motto leads Chuck to do the right thing even though it hurts more than he thinks he can stand.
The reader may notice that I always capitalize “Marine.” I do it to show my deep respect for the Marine Corps.

Post Trauma Stress Injury

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.

The Wounds of War

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.

Historical Background of Last of Annamese

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.



PTSI


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.










Is Chuck Me?






The catastrophes that the protagonist of Last of the Annamese suffers through are, with rare exceptions, the same ones I lived through. So is that protagonist me in disguise?
The principal character in Last of the Annamese is Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine officer who returns to Vietnam after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973. He is determined to do everything he can to help win the war against the North Vietnamese because he can’t tolerate the idea that his son, Ben, who was killed in action in Vietnam, died in vain.
That’s very different from me. I returned to Vietnam in 1974 as head of the covert NSA operation in-country because I was a signals intelligence expert on Vietnam and spoke the three languages common in Vietnam—Vietnamese, French, and Chinese. I had mastered the signals intelligence disciplines used to intercept and exploit North Vietnamese communications, and I knew those communications better than I knew my own body. I had eleven years of experience trundling between the U.S. and Vietnam—I’d been there at least four months every year from 1962 on. In short, I was the right person for the job.

And the character of Chuck is not me. He is a Marine (I regret that I never was) and lost a child in the war (I didn’t). He is older than I was and in many respects stronger than I was. I don’t detect in him any of the terror I felt toward the end. In some ways, he’s the man I wish I had been

Finally, I didn’t write Annamese to tell my story. I’d already done that in a nonfiction article. I wanted to tell the story of what happened with complete historical accuracy—including details previously classified—and to show how ordinary people, both Vietnamese and American, lived through it. The character of Chuck come into my consciousness fully formed. I ended up liking him. I admired his courage and toughness, and I knew he’d make it through to the end and survive. I ended up telling his story, not mine.



Military Pride


My posts for the last two days stressed the pain so many veterans suffer as they recall what happened in combat. What most noncombatants don’t understand is that in combat, in those moments when men fight one another to the death, those deaths are grisly. I’ve confronted my memories, but I still have experiences I can’t talk about. Men died by my side in hideous ways. Why them? Why not me?
The other side of the coin is intense pride. We risked out lives, willing to die for the good of our country. We didn’t question our orders or shirk from mortal danger. That’s why the jeering crowds who spat on us and called us butchers and baby-killers hurt so much. I was shamed. I didn’t speak of Vietnam for many years after the fall of Saigon. And my writing about what happened in Vietnam was uniformly rejected by editors.
But my pride and my love of the men who fought at my side survived intact. Soldiers and Marines don’t use the word “love”—it’s too sentimental. But that’s what it is. The strongest bond I know of is between men who fight side by side. We share a pride and honor totally unknown to the vast majority of Americans who have never seen combat.


What Is Courage?


When I tell the story of the fall of Saigon, listeners come up to me afterwards and accuse me of having courage. I plead not guilty. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, courage is facing danger without fear. Believe me, I was scared the whole time.
Men and women I’ve talked to who are, by my standards, heroes for their acts of bravery, often say something similar: all they did was what was required by the circumstances at the time. And I remember reading somewhere long ago a description of a man standing in front of a mirror and watching himself tremble with fear after carrying out an act of bravery and thinking wryly to himself: “This is the portrait of a hero.”
What the protagonist of Last of the Annamese, Chuck Griffin, does at the end of the book could be described as courageous. But he clearly doesn’t see it that way. He’d use words from his friend, Ike: “You do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”
Looking back on the last days in Saigon, what I remember most vividly is my determination to get all my men and their families out of Saigon safely before the attack on the city started. It took every scrap of strength I had; I didn’t have time to dwell on my fear that I might not make it out. Toward the end, I wrote a letter to a neighbor of ours back in the states and told her to deliver that letter to my wife if I didn’t make it. At the time, I really didn’t see how I was going to get out of Saigon alive. That letter was another thing I had to do, whatever it took. When I made it back to the world alive, the marriage collapsed. I burned the letter unread.
So what is courage? I honestly don’t know. What Chuck and I had doesn’t fit the description. Maybe what drives people to risk their lives is more like determination or focus on a goal of overwhelming importance. Maybe some things are more important staying alive.

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