As I read about the surrender of the Afghani troops, the rush to Kabul, and the evacuation, I can’t help but compare it to the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the subject of Pay Back, the third book in The Cooper Quartet. The parallels between the two events are too keen. The U.S. pulling out of a lost war, one fought for 18 years the other 20, money spent on arming our allies, training their pilots, and building an air force, only to see both crumble in days. In Pay Back, the Cooper family is entangled in the Fall of Saigon, each driven by the need to make recompense for their pasts. Their story begins in 1967 in Dead Legend, as the Vietnam War tears the U.S. apart; the second book, Head First, unfolds in 1972 during the Christmas bombings as the U.S. prepares to pull out our troops. The eBook of Head First will be available for $.99 on Amazon, September 9 – 12.
After the pullout in 1972, the U.S. Embassy remained open and protected by Marines. The U.S. continued to support the South Vietnamese Army and Air Force, with both advisors and weapons. In addition to the Embassy Staff and Marine units, the usual alphabet soup remained in-country (the CIA, et cetera, et cetera), plus U.S. contractors, their families, and reporters. As did the Vietnamese scouts who spent the war embedded in various units of the U.S. military, the Vietnamese who worked for the U.S. forces, and the Amerasian children of U.S. soldiers. All but the children were promised a quick exit should the North Vietnamese take the South.
When the South Vietnamese Army folded at Pleiku in late April 1975, the rush to get out was on, refugees poured into Saigon, clotting the airport at Tan San Nhut and the city. They weren’t alone. The armed troops from the South Vietnamese army rushed in with them. Masses waited outside the U.S. Embassy, at the airbase in Tan San Nhut, or floated the Saigon River on a rumor that merchant ships were waiting in the coastal city of Vung Tau. The Cooper family is caught in this mêlée, whether in the U.S. watching it on television, in Saigon, or with the Seventh Fleet. I hope I did the tumult justice.
On April 29, with 15 North Vietnamese divisions ringing Saigon, the U.S. Ambassador ordered the evacuation. The U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet pumped chopper after chopper into Saigon from the South China Sea. By the last flight out April 30, over 6,000 people had been evacuated, overpopulating the waiting aircraft carriers and destroyers. A few flights got off from Tan San Nhut before it was shelled. And though, Vung Tau was attacked, and fuel depots burned, some people made it down river and out by ship or fishing boat. By any standards, the exit was messy, and many were left behind.
In my research for Pay Back, international reporters in Saigon wrote of an abiding insouciance among the population which had survived the French, the Japanese, the French, and the U.S. – an enduring patience that someday the country would be theirs. It’s been nearly fifty years since the Fall. The Domino Theory’s dire predictions proved false. Perhaps because of Vietnam’s long history of colonialism, invasion, reunification, a country emerged, not easily, not without bloodshed, but not our way, or the French’s, or anyone else’s. And perhaps Afghanistan will as well, given the similar history of the two countries. One thing is certain, there will be repercussions and blame enough to go around.
Don’t Tell, the final book of The Cooper Quartet, deals with the aftermath and repercussions of the Fall of Saigon for the Cooper family. It will be published on November 11th; the date seems apropos.
*I stole the title for this blog from a line in the movie High Road to China.