An American Journalist: "Vietnam is growing steadily every day."
Nguyen Lan Anh
Vietnam Net, Vietnam's largest online newspaper, published an interview with the authors of "Escape from Saigon - a Novel" by Michael Morris and Dick Pirozzolo on the 42nd anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Their debut novel, published by Skyhorse Publishing, New York is set during the last days of what in Vietnam is known as The American War.
The authors hope this reporter feels that we accurately portrayed Saigon as a sophisticated vibrant city and its people as genuine human beings with complex feelings and relationships—be they Vietnamese civilians, military people on both sides of the conflict or the journalists and other foreign nationals from America, France, Australia and other countries for whom Vietnam became home.
Having returned to Vietnam many times since the war ended, journalist and US Air Force veteran Dick Pirozzolo chose trade, culture and tourism to establish a link between Vietnam and the United States. In so doing he has written articles and editorials on the story of reconciliation between two former foes. Michael Morris was in Vietnam in 1967-1968 as a US Army infantry soldier. Together these two Americans coauthored “Escape from Saigon – a Novel,” published this year by Skyhorse Publishing, New York, USA.
Vietnam Net: Congratulations, you have launched the book "Escape from Saigon - a Novel” in 2017, what can you tell us about this book?
Mr. Dick Pirozzolo: Putting aside the past is a theme running throughout the book whose characters often come in conflict with their ideologies as they try to move forward. Even though "Escape from Saigon" is fiction it hews closely to historical events as it recounts the lives of both ordinary people as well as officials who are trapped in a city once called The Paris of the East.
Some of these fictional characters include Lisette Vo, NBS-TV's first Vietnamese-American reporter who chronicled the fateful events of April 1975, Sam Esposito of The Washington Legend who writes about America's involvement and doing so angers US President Richard Nixon, an American businessman desperate to help his employees flee; Jean Paul Pelleran, a French pub owner, who wishes to remain in South Vietnam and continue running his piano bar, and US Ambassador Graham Martin who becomes despondent and disillusioned over the April 1975 events.
Mr. Michael Morris: We concentrated on what happened during the last month when the Vietnam War ended on April 30. While the action occurs at that moment in time, reminiscences at Jean Paul’s bar and old newspaper stories are filled with historical events such as the partition of Vietnam that prompted Jean Paul to leave Hanoi for Saigon in the mid-1950s, or Sam Esposito who, before arriving in Vietnam in 1963, meets his old high school friend Billy Freda for beers at Mory’s in New Haven right after Billy returned from a year in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was a major event in the lives of an entire generation of Americans who witnessed the war firsthand and had to deal with its aftermath. In our case, when we returned to the US we became professionals – I became a journalist in New York, and Dick became a journalist and media consultant in Boston. Even though the War ended 42 year ago, it is a permanent part of who we are.
Vietnam Net: As far as I know, a lot of American veterans have been writing about the war and the events of April 1975. What makes your book different, special?
Mr. Dick Pirozzolo: We have gotten a lot of praise for creating a unique work of fiction for example Winston Groom, author of "Forrest Gump," said, "Escape from Saigon offers a vivid unvarnished vision of the war-torn lives of people trapped in the capital.”
Casey Sherman, author of The New York Times Bestseller "The Finest Hours" and "Boston Strong" called, "Escape from Saigon … a sweeping saga in the tradition of Michener and Clavell.”
Llewellyn King, producer and co-host of PBS-TV's "White House Chronicle,” added, "Escape from Saigon is exceptional in its authenticity, with descriptions of Saigon that are in the tradition of American author Graham Greene's The Quiet American. "
Vietnam Net: You both recently returned to Vietnam with a Boston Global Forum Delegation of journalists and scholars. How did returning to Vietnam make you feel?
Mr. Michael Morris: For me personally, it was a meaningful trip. I did not know what to expect and did not know what my feelings would be. I could not even imagine seeing all that was new since I served in the country in the 1960s. And, finally I felt very satisfied. Like many American soldiers returning to Vietnam, I came here with an eye toward the future and was very happy to see the Vietnamese wholeheartedly welcome us. They are kind, treated me very well, invited me home for dinner. I was very much pleased with the experience.
Mr. Dick Pirozzolo: I have returned to Vietnam many times striving to cement relations between Vietnam and the United States. As part of my work, I became the media representative for Mr. Le Van Bang, Vietnam's first ambassador to the UN and later to the United States. Additionally, I’ve written articles and editorials on United States-Vietnam relationships and how they benefit both peoples.
During one of my trips to Vietnam I visited the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Saigon. One of the guides spoke in a very distinct American accent, that of New Jersey. When I asked him about it, he explained, “During the war, we took everything the Americans brought here including English which I got from listening to the US Armed Forces Radio and TV.”
A fictionalized version of that tour guide appears in "Escape from Saigon,” arguing with one of the American characters over who in 1975 was the best pitcher in American baseball.
Vietnam Net: “Although we should not be not allowed to forget history we must live for the future.” What do you think of the message?
Mr. Dick Pirozzolo: The war ended 42 years ago, and I am confident that we are on track to further tighten relationships between the US and Vietnam. Those who are 30 years old or younger, know Vietnam only as a developing country, not a war and, overall, two-thirds of Americans were born after the war ended on April 30, 1975. This is similar to the Vietnam where 60 percent of the population was born after that historic milestone.
Since the 1990s, Americans have seen Vietnam as a market to promote brands and as a travel destination. According to government statistics, 400,000 people in the United States and 100,000 people in Canada are expected to travel to Vietnam this year.
Vietnam Net: Did you know that President Donald Trump has announced his visit
to Vietnam in November to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
Mr. Dick Pirozzolo: That is a positive step. I had the opportunity to work with many Vietnamese leaders during the 1990s. At that stage, Vietnam was working to reconcile and begin trade relations with the United States as a Most Favored Nation. I believe we will continue to develop in a positive direction. More and more Americans choose to buy Vietnamese products such as clothes, rice and coffee in large quantities. Moreover, the cultural and academic relations between the two countries are rich and multi-dimensional.
There is no debate, now is an important moment for Vietnam to become a closer partner with the US, playing a greater role in the maintenance of peace and stability in the region and the balance of power in the Pacific
Mr. Michael Morris: Economic relations are a very important bridge in international relations. I know American companies are increasingly looking to Vietnam to do business, and in so doing will help to boost your economy.
More people from our generation, veterans have brought their children and loved ones to witness Vietnam with their own eyes—a country that has a significant place in American history.
“Escape from Saigon – a Novel” is available on Amazon.com.
All images appearing in this article are protected by Copyright ©2017 Dick Pirozzolo. All rights reserved.