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Escape from Saigon: Looking for Vietnam

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February 10, 2017
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History paints an impressionist picture of the Vietnam War; up close, each decision feels increasingly muddled, chaotic, and messy. However, as time moves us beyond the conflict and pandemonium, Vietnam’s impact on strategic warfare, journalism, and civilian life become clearer. Michael Morris and Dick Pirozzolo reveal their personal memories as veterans and, through extensive research, illustrate the wider impact of Vietnam in a fictionalized rendering of the last thirty days of the war. Their 200-page masterpiece is entitled Escape from Saigon: A Novel[caption id="attachment_10174" align="alignleft" width="299"]

Dick Pirozzolo[/caption]"Mike was a combat veteran infantryman who saw some of the fiercest fighting in the war. I was a press officer in '70-'71 in Saigon... We always wanted to do something fiction; we wanted to do something different," Pirozzolo told me.Just over 40 years ago, in April of 1975, more than 23 thousand people fled Saigon before the North Vietnamese invaded, and the war effectively ended. Escape from Saigon begins in the dead center of chaos. The fear and anticipation hang thick in the air like the humidity in the eye of a hurricane, while the war thunders in the distance. Readers follow vastly different characters in a taut, tense tale of pursuit, as they work to make sense of their situation and make it out of the country alive.

"We didn't want to write a war book."

Morris and Pirozzolo's novel is a labor of love that is well-rounded and vividly authentic. They present a complete view of the conflict, entering the minds of participants of every side, in order to fully capture the daily struggle of making, and living with, the decisions that ended the war."We didn't want to write a war book. There have been quite a few war books written; that's a very narrow perspective," Morris told me. "We drew heavily on genuine documents from American politics, from newspapers... We followed the factual timeline, but we created human characters to make this more of a human drama. We didn't want it to be about just politics or the war.""Rather than making it a book about what the American Ambassador did, or making a book about what General Weyand did, or what President Ford did, we made it a book about the reaction that ordinary people had to the screw-ups and the disillusion spread by these leaders, " Pirozzolo agreed.The authors gather the perspectives shared by this set of characters into a delicately counterbalanced story that will both entertain and educate readers on the reality of war: with every thrilling victory comes loss. Men, women, soldiers, civilians, journalists, and politicians are all caught in the same chaos. The sum of their experiences brings an indistinct picture of Vietnam into brilliant focus. Escape from Saigon is intensely human, thoroughly compelling, and true to history.

A Turn Toward Remembrance

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Michael Morris[/caption]America's involvement in Vietnam is widely regarded as one of the most contentious and painful periods in U.S. history. Few people felt this more than veterans who came back from conflict zones and were caught in the middle of duty, the draft, and dissent at home. Mike told me that this environment discouraged people from talking or even thinking about the war for many years, and it was part of his motivation to co-author this novel."This is a familiar trope for Vietnam Veterans-- when we were there, we weren't happy about being there; when we came home, we weren't welcome at home," he said. "We didn't set out to offend anyone in this book. We didn't set out to make Vietnam veterans feel that they were still, you know, losers, because we had capitulated in the end and walked away from the war. I also didn't want the Vietnamese, especially Vietnamese today, to feel that they could crow about their victory or that we were taking one side or another in this."These painful memories have been touched on in other literature and film, but the authors of Escape from Saigon open a door for readers to their experiences in a straightforward, honest, even blunt way. Their delivery indicates a renewed relationship with time-worn memories. The tone is pragmatic, yet tinted with the emotion of the past."Dick insisted that I write a section on a flashback that one of the characters, one of the ex-military guys, has... To tell you the truth, that's as true as I could have written it because I had to deal with that when I came out of the war. I was heavily involved in the fighting in the year that I was there, and later on, it comes back to bite you. And I know there are a lot of other veterans out there who can appreciate that kind of a scene; they'll recognize it as familiar right away," Mike told me.Both authors are also encouraged by what they see as a renewed interest in the war. The same matter-of-fact yet appreciative tone in Escape from Saigon for all aspects of this war's history seems to reflect the public conscious. Already, documentaries and other works of literature are being written and distributed for the modern audience. Miss Saigon is making a Broadway comeback. The inevitable thirst for nostalgia and the curiosity of younger generations becomes an overdue method of catharsis for Vietnam-era Americans. Mike put it very distinctly:"Our generation now wants to remember what was too painful to remember over the last several decades."To learn more about Escape from Saigon and the history of the Vietnam War, visit the book's official website.EDITOR'S NOTE: This article previously stated that 1975 was 30 years ago. This is incorrect and has been updated.

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