An Intimate Memoir of the Vietnam War.

A real life sequel to Graham Greene’s 1955 classic, The Quiet American. Carl Robinson steps out of the shadows in this affectionate memoir. A powerful read.
FOX BUTTERFIELD, PULITZER PRIZE AND AWARD-WINNING JOURNALIST.

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About the book

It is 28 April 1975 -- and Saigon is falling, and I’m home for lunch. For the past 11 years, I’ve lived and worked in South Vietnam, first as a civilian adviser with the US Government and then journalist with The Associated Press (AP). Over the past six weeks, the entire north of the country has fallen to the North Vietnamese Army and fighting now rages on the city’s outskirts. Desperate hopes for a last-minute cease-fire and political solution surround the afternoon’s inauguration of neutralist and ex-General Duong van ‘Big’ Minh which I’m covering. My father-in-law’s Citroen CV2 is outside. I haven’t seen him since my wife and two young children were ordered out 10 days before. We share an abiding disdain for the US-backed Saigon Regime with no plans to leave, lulled by Communist promises of ‘national reconciliation’ and ‘no recriminations.’ But, no, he’s changed his mind and wants to escape.  And where’s the rest of the family, I ask? “Still in Go Cong,” he glumly replies, 60 kms and three hours away. But it is tragically too late as events accelerate out of control over the next 24 hours and the book’s dramatic opening chapter ends with my running for one of the last choppers out of Saigon with only a brother and niece, my wife’s family and beloved adopted homeland abandoned.

Timeline

February 1964

February 1964

During a month-long break from Chinese New Year from university studies in Hong Kong, I arrive in Saigon on board the SS Cambodge. Languid tropical memories of my Congo childhood.  Instant enchantment. French widely spoken, bistros & cafes. Hosted by students, correspondents & diplomats. Optimism from the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diem three months earlier is fading fast with its leader Big Minh ousted days before in another US-backed coup and military & civilian aid against VC insurgents escalates. I am 20 years old, a JFK Idealist and CO (Conscientious Objector) and off-the-street offered work as pacification adviser in the Mekong Delta returning in July ‘64. Winning the Hearts & Minds.

Early 1965

Early 1965

Our small military & civilian advisory team in Go Cong Province have lived through the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnam and US Congressional declaration of war; President Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) winning the ’64 presidential election on a peace platform; but clouds of war loom. To a man, we oppose US ground troops. ‘Why should GIs come in when even the South Vietnamese don’t want to fight. ‘Let’s just wrap up the war and leave right now.’ No one listens to us. Escalation to full-scale war.

July 1966

July 1966

I return with USAID from a year back in California finishing university and South Vietnam has completely changed with the US now running the war with 286,000 troops and pushing towards 500,000. Back in Go Cong, our team has escalated into a parallel government. Corruption abounds. My growing disillusionment as civilian agencies are absorbed into the US military command. But in July 1967, I meet Kim-Dung and fall head-over-heels in love. I shift jobs to Cantho, the Mekong Delta’s regional headquarters, with her working as my secretary.

Tet Offensive ’68

Tet Offensive ’68

South Vietnam explodes in flames as provincial and district capitals are turned into battlefields, but not Go Cong where we’ve returned for the Lunar New Year. Isolated & trapped for a week, a plane finally arrives, and we fly over devastated cities back to a Cantho still ablaze and under indiscriminating counterattack with scores of civilian casualties, our allies. The last straw. I publicly resign in protest over US policy and face expulsion from South Vietnam. But I won’t abandon my love and grab a job writing captions as a photo editor for AP in Saigon.

March 1971

March 1971

I’m at Khe Sanh covering Lam Son 719, South Vietnam’s disastrous operation against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, now a widely experienced writer & photographer also covering Laos & Cambodia. Married with daughter & son coming soon. Friendships made & lost: killed, wounded, disappeared. Drugs too, marijuana & opium. Under NVA artillery, I experience the extent of heroin addiction among GIs & ARVNs, a trap ahead for me. More US troops withdraw and South Vietnam barely survives the 1972 Easter Offensive.

January 1973

January 1973

Paris Cease-Fire Agreement to end the Vietnam War as last US troops depart and POWs released. But true peace never comes. Shattered hopes. Media interest in Vietnam crashes. AP sharply cuts staff, but my work & travels soar. But deep depression at no end to war and I grasp the oblivion of heroin to salve my dread and pain. Fighting addiction. But ever wishful and naïve, my life and work stagger along until South Vietnam’s sudden & explosive end in April 1975.

Carl Robinson Portrait

About the author

Carl Robinson was born in the US in 1943, grew up as a missionary child in the Belgian Congo, graduated from high school in Los Angeles and was deeply inspired by the idealism and world view of the President John F Kennedy intending to join the Peace Corps after university. He registered for the draft as a Conscientious Objector (CO) in 1961, beliefs sorely tested as he witnessed South Vietnam descend into a savage war after 1964, first as an aid worker with the US government before resigning in protest and then as a witness and journalist with The Associated Press (AP) until war’s end in April 1975.  After two years at the news agency’s NY headquarters, Carl was assigned to Sydney in 1977 but fired barely a year later and made Australia his new home. He then worked for Newsweek and ran the popular Old Saigon restaurant before a more leisurely life of media & film consulting, writing and travel, especially to modern-day Vietnam leading tours, lecturing on cruises, organising reunion and personal exploration. Carl is author of a guide to Australia and Mongolia: Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky, both from Odyssey Publications. Carl & Kim-Dung live in New South Wales.

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