Michael Morris and Dick Pirozzolo, Escape from Saigon (New York: Skyhouse Publishing, 2017), 250 pages and a few photos.
I have fond memories of April 1975. My senior year in high school was winding down. The azaleas were beautiful early in the month, and I was in love with a woman with whom I felt I would spend the rest of my life (it didn't happen, but that's another story). We attended Azalea Festival's functions. For her birthday, which was on the 13th, I gave her an opal necklace. We made plans for the prom. Working at Wilson's Supermarket, I had some cash in my wallet, as well as a recently issued draft card. Thankfully, they hadn't been drafting in a couple of years, but the card was a reminder of the war. While life held so much promise, there was a question that April of what was happening in Southeast Asia as the governments in South Vietnam and Cambodia were collapsing. In this era before news became ubiquitous, I read the daily newspaper, watched the evening news and dug into the weeklies in the library: Newsweek, Time, and U.S. and World News Reports. My idyllic life as a high school senior had the potential to be upended. Among male friends, we discussed what we'd do if America decided to go back in to assist the South Vietnamese. We watched as one city after another fell and as people streamed out of Vietnam. I remember the horror when a plane full of orphans crashed. As a nation we'd been out of Vietnam just two years. A part of me felt we had an obligation and should do something to assure the safety of our friends in Vietnam. Yet, the idea of going to war wasn't something I relished and Canada was always a possibility.
Escape from Saigon provides snapshots of the chaos occurring in the final month of the war. Each day of the month, there is a new story told through a group of individuals: war correspondents, a former soldier going back to save the family of his Vietnamese wife, diplomats struggling to do what needed to be done, an ambassador who had checked out from reality, a Vietnamese pilot who deflects and another who pilots a helicopter filled with family to safety, and United States Marines assigned to the embassy. Some of the stories were based on events that I recalled happening. This book captures the horror and some of the heroic events that occurred that month.
I enjoyed this book. It was an easy and quick read. My only complaint was that on at least one occasion, I felt the text jump out of the present (April 1975) and into the future to inform us what transpired. Although as a reader one knows what happens (South Vietnam falls), keeping the suspense in the present is important as no one was really sure when it would occur and what would happen as the country spun out of control.
This novel was written by two different authors. The two had worked together on non-fiction projects beforehand, but this is their first attempt at writing fiction together. Despite having two authors, the story reads seamlessly. Both authors were Vietnam vets. Morris was in the infantry while Pirozzolo served in the Air Force assisting in the daily briefings for the press corps (which became known as the "5 O'Clock Follies").I picked up a copy of the book at a local reading Michael held in a club. But I met him a week earlier, at a men's luncheon. We were sitting at a large round table (that probably held 10 seats) and I was talking to the guy next to me about an email we'd both received inviting us to this book reading. From what I read in the email, I was interested in the book, but being unfamiliar with the author, I wanted to make sure it was going to be an enjoyable read. I asked the guy if he'd read and if the book was any good. Another guy sitting at the table piped in and said, "Why don't you just ask the author?" He then introduced Michael, who was sitting across the table from me. I am sure I was red-faced as I introduced myself. I'm glad to report that I did find the book a good read.