A former American official recounts his efforts to save displaced Vietnamese refugees in this memoir.
On a Sunday morning in 1978, the Thai government was poised to drag a derelict fishing boat—the only home to 34 Vietnamese refugees who had fled the new Communist regime in their homeland—into international waters, where the boat would surely sink and drown all those onboard. Harpold (Jumping the Line, 2013), a U.S. official, was alerted to the action by a concerned doctor and rushed to the docks in an attempt to save the refugees. The people were victims of a humanitarian crisis with roots in the decadelong conflict between North and South Vietnam, in which the author, like hundreds of thousands of Americans, participated to varying degrees. Originally sent to Saigon in 1968 as a U.S. adviser to the paramilitary National Police Field Force, Harpold had a front-row view of the evolving impact of the war on the everyday lives of the country’s population—a group left vulnerable when American forces abandoned South Vietnam in 1975. In this book, the author recalls his experiences from the time he landed in Saigon to that day on the dock in Thailand 10 years later, telling not simply his own story, but also the tale of an entire generation of people caught up in a conflict much larger than themselves. Harpold writes in a sharp, often lyric prose that deftly captures the emotions and moods of his settings: “The air was warm….As darkness descended, the orange light from drifting parachute flares cast us in eerie shadows. We listened to the muffled crump of artillery in the distance, as South Vietnamese guns desultorily fired at the Viet Cong lurking in the mountains.” There are many Vietnam memoirs in the marketplace, but the author’s perspective—sandwiched midway between the civilian and military worlds, with a deep empathy toward the locals with whom he worked—is refreshingly less American-centric than the average book on the conflict. Of even more interest is that it presses past the war and explores the succeeding years, a rarely discussed period that was, in some ways, even more dire than the conflict itself.
A remarkable account of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.