Vietnamese author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s new novel DUST CHILD is a heartbreaking masterpiece. Her readers will shed their tears and smile their way through this epic page-turner about the living casualties of America’s war in Vietnam.

Honestly, I did not expect Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai to do it to me once again. Less than three years ago I picked up her first novel The Mountains Sing and sat down to read a chapter or two on a Saturday morning in Hanoi. I got so caught up by the opening chapter taking me straight into the infamous Christmas bombings of Hanoi in 1972 that I could not put it down until I finished the last page in the early hours of Sunday morning.

After a few hours of sleep, I sat down again to share my amazement on my blog with these observations on The Mountains Sing. No wonder that this beautiful story has traveled the world since then in 16 different languages.

Yesterday, the exact same thing happened with Dust Child. Again, I could not put it down. Again, I am sitting here after too little sleep to share my experience with others.

Dust Child and The Mountains Sing are similar and different at the same time. Both novels are generation spanning tales of the destructions of war and its countless victims. Both offer their readers a unique insight in Vietnamese history and culture, including Quế Mai’s irresistible sharing of classic Vietnamese proverbs – like ‘Rough seas make good sailors’ and ‘Life is riding high on an elephant, then low on a dog’. 

The differences are harder to pinpoint, but nevertheless very real in their impact on this reader. The Mountains Sing made me smile more often than sending chills down my spine, when confronted by the tragedies of war.

It’s the other way around with Dust Child, named after the thousands of children born during the war by Vietnamese mothers and American fathers. In Vietnamese they are referred to as ‘Dust of Life’.

Here is how they are treated by neighbors in Quế Mai’s words: “Hey you black American with 12 assholes. You lost the war. Why don’t you go fucking home.” The words of a Vietnamese man, while kicking a small kid, born in the very last days of the war. 

The first 300 pages of Dust Child leave you with very little hope for the main characters: The countryside sisters Trang and Quỳnh, who are lured into the seedy girlie bars of wartime Saigon ending up in prostitution, being paid USD 3 for ‘long time services’.

The baby in a tree

We meet the homeless orphan Phong, found 3 days old hanging in a tree in a bag, and for the rest of his life rejected by the post-war community because of his ‘ugly’ black skin and afro-hair, inherited by his American soldier father. Then there is Dan, the all-American college kid, turned into a miserable monster as a helicopter-pilot in the killing zones of the Mekong Delta. Dan returns to Vietnam in search of the love of his youth, with his frustrated wife Linda screaming on the sidelines. 

Somehow, Quế Mai manages to inject beauty and compassion in her heartbreaking story. As a reader, you cannot avoid taking sides with the characters, as they refuse to accept defeat and continue their uphill battles to get a better life.  I shall not disclose here who succeeds, and who never had a chance. Read for yourself, please.

Quế Mai’s novel is fiction, of course, but is based on meticulous research, in which she spent years interviewing former bargirls and Amerasians, desperately trying to connect with their unknown fathers in the US.

Unfortunately, the tale is all too true.

Working as a young journalist in Vietnam in the early 1980’ies, I remember all too well, how real this tragedy unfolded after the war. One scene is forever in my memory for the past 40 years.

It was an early evening in Saigon just before the 8 pm curfew. Out of nowhere a young light-skinned girl grabs my arm, pleading: “Daddy, daddy give me dollar.” Then offering her body for USD 5. There were hundreds like her living on the streets.

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s Dust Child deserves a readership, at least as wide as her bestselling The Mountains Sing. 

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: Dust Child. 339 pages. Algonquin books of Chapel Hill.

With the author in Hanoi, 2022


The SoHa online media has kindly invited me to share my take on the Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam. Please click here for the Vietnamese version . The original English text is below.

How the Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam defined 40 years of a foreigner’s life

By Thomas Bo Pedersen

Vietnam and its people are many things to me. Most of them heart-warming and beautiful. So much that I dare to call Vietnam ‘Que Houng thu hai cua toi’. My second home.

I have some very close friends here, who continue to give me more, than I ever thought that I would have.

All the good things are a stark contrast to the very reason, why I came here as a young journalist almost four decades go: To report on the lethal legacy of war, Agent Orange.

During the so-called American War, the US Airforce sprayed 72 million liters of herbicides to defoliate the jungle and to destroy the food supply for the guerrillas operating from the countryside. Most of the herbicides were known as Agent Orange, contaminated by dioxin, by far the most potent synthetic poison, ever developed in a laboratory.

Even though I spent weeks of research before my arrival, nothing could really have prepared me for the actual experience, when walking the rounds at the Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh along with Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong and her patients, young women who had come in from the countryside. 


Two girls in every bed and occasionally two girls under the bed as well. Only the ones who were dying or in great pain could have their bed alone. Many of them with unborn babies – mother, and foetus both with malignant tumours and other unspeakably terrible diseases.  

Dr. Phuong stopped to hold the hand of a young girl, crying, and gasping from pain.

“I can do nothing for her or the many others, except trying to ease the pains during the time they have left,“ the doctor told me. 

I remember the orphanages as well, full of children with mental and physical disabilities. Until then, I did not know that human arms and legs could look like branches of an old tree.

During the following month, my photographer and I went all over Vietnam to record the long-term consequences of Agent Orange in Vietnam.  We went on to include the desperate calls for help from American war veterans and their families, suffering just as much from exposure to Agent Orange. 


When I returned to Europe and published my first reports on Agent Orange, they were written off by some as communist propaganda. The US Embassy in Denmark went out of their way to destroy my credibility with a discreet phone call to my editors sharing the concern that the reputation of my newspaper was damaged by my unfounded allegations.

This first experience with the Agent Orange cover-up fueled an anger inside of me which has continued to burn ever since.  Over the years, I have continued to use every opportunity, to highlight the ongoing suffering of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and elsewhere. I have written hundreds of articles, given many lectures, and been involved in fund raising in my own small way. 


At one point, I set out to gather evidence, how Agent Orange continues to affect the Vietnamese people. It became an odyssey of misery, which I have never been able to put behind me. I visited several villages in the North with many former soldiers who had returned from the contaminated battlefields in the South decades ago. 

In provinces like Hai Duong, Thai Binh and Nam Dinh, I met scores of 2nd and 3rd generation victims, and their desperate parents, who all asked the same question: Who will take care of our disabled children, when we are dead?  

The same happened among the poorest of the poor in the Central Highlands and in Da Nang, where people suffered from continued exposure of chemicals, which had seeped into the ground under the former US Airbase.  The dioxin contamination level there was more that 300 times the safety limit. 


At the Tu DU hospital in HCMC I got myself the sweetest young friend, Hoan, born without lower legs and with one arm only.  She had just written a letter to US President Barack Obama ask him to help the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. She never received any reply from the White House, but then again, in a way she did get a belated response from the president.

In 2016, during Obama’s official visit to Vietnam, he became the first US president ever to officially acknowledge the Agent Orange issue in his ‘Remarks to the Vietnamese people’. 

Prior to this the US has never officially admitted any responsibility for the Agent Orange tragedy, even though they have given medical support to affected US veterans and their families- 

In all fairness it must be said that the US government also – and for more than a decade – has supported the clean-up of the Da Nang airbase as ‘an environmental support’ project and sponsored several programmes to support programmes for disabled Vietnamese, without officially acknowledging any link to the Agent Orange exposure. For that reason, Obama’s speech was a very important change of US policy. 

Most recently, the US has also committed support to the clean-up of the former US airbase in Bien Hoa, which will be a huge challenge financially as well as timewise. Good news, indeed.


Unfortunately, funds are still far from sufficient to assist the thousands of victims in Vietnam and elsewhere.  Some hope is growing, now that a Vietnamese woman in France has sued the US companies, who produced Agent Orange. 

The hope is based on the fact that a janitor in the US recently won a court case against Agent Orange manufacturer Monsanto. The court awarded him a compensation of USD 289 million. He had contracted cancer due to his exposure of similar kind of herbicides, which he used for clearance of weeds on the school premises, where he worked for decades.  

My own pessimism is based on the previous court cases by Vietnamese victims, refused without exception by US judges.  We shall wait and see, what happens now. In the meantime, thousands of people have died in Vietnam from cancers that used to be rare in this country. 2nd and 3rd generation are abundant. Just visit Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City or the ‘peace villages’ in the North and see for yourself. 

From time to time, I reunite with Dr. Phuong, most recently 3 weeks ago. At 77, she is supposed to be retired. Nevertheless, she came late for her appointment with me because she had performed emergency surgery on three complicated cases the same morning.  They might not have been due to Agent Orange, but Dr. Phuong is adamant that we have not seen the last victim yet of this lethal legacy. 


Such a beautiful afternoon seeing my friend Hoan again. When I first met her 11 years ago at the Tu Du hospital, she was struggling as hard as any Agent Orange victim, born without lower legs and one hand only. Today, she came riding on her own motorbike to meet me at a Saigon cafe.

“When I told the doctors, I wanted my own motorbike, they said “No! How can you drive safely with one hand and no legs?!” But I had seen other disabled people ride a motorbike, so I insisted. Now, I have my artificial legs from Germany. It took me a year to learn to use them with a lot of pain, but they are fine now. I only have problems, when my legs are renewed. Then it takes me another three months to get used to them.”

A decade ago I gave Hoan the best English dictionary, I could find. These days, she speaks fluent English, and a great deal better than my insufficient Vietnamese, even though Hoan acknowledged some improvement on my part. When we first met, Hoan was living at the hospital with 11 other kids in the room.

In those days her big dream was to become a doctor, like her famous stepmother, Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong. “I had to give up my dream. I accepted that you cannot be a doctor with one hand only and no legs.”Instead, Hoan became a software specialist, and now she works at the Tu Du hospital writing code. She moved out from the ward several years ago.

“I have a good salary, and I rented a house with my friends. I also have my own business selling different things. My friends in Australia were so amazed to see how well I can do in business.”

A message for Obama – and Biden

Hoan became famous as a teenager, when she wrote a letter to US president Obama and asked him to help the Agent Orange children in Vietnam. Obama never replied, but Hoan was invited to testify with her stepmother before the US. Congress.

I asked her if she has a message for the new president, Joe Biden.

“Oh yes, and I am willing to travel to the White House and tell him. There are so many victims from poor families, who cannot take of themselves like I can.” My beautiful friend continues to pursue her dreams to help other victims. When I asked her, what her next dream is, she giggled and looked at me with those sparkling eyes: “I want to get married with a good husband, who will work with me to help those in need.”


I presented dr. Phuong with this beautiful portrait from our first encounter in 1984, shot by photographer Ole Johnny Sørensen.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong came late for our reunion today. She performed three operations this morning, and the last one was a bit difficult, she told me.  

“But doctor Phuong. At our last reunion 10 years ago you told me you would retire soon!” I said to her.

“I am 78 now, so I only accept complicated cases,” she explained today. 

Since 1969, Dr. Phuong has assisted thousands of Vietnamese women with abnormal pregnancies. Today, I gave her this beautiful portrait of herself by photographer Ole Johnny Soerensen, from my first interview with her in 1984. 

I have never been able to put behind me the unspeakable nightmare she was dealing with: Young pregnant women dying on her day after day in the Tu Du Hospital, because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Two young girls in each bed, and sometimes another two girls on a mattress below the beds. 

These days, the nightmare has become sort of manageable. “We have very advanced equipment now, so we can detect abnormal foetus at a very early stage with a much better chance of saving lives,” Dr. Phuong says.

Over the years, she has taken the agony of the Agent Orange victims to the US congress, often accompanied by her adopted daughter Hoan, who was born with no legs below the knees and one hand only. 

Much has happened since the first time we met. In those days the US government denied all allegations from Dr. Phuong and her colleagues as communist propaganda.  

In the past decade, the US have donated as much as USD 400 million to the clean-up of Agent Orange contaminated sites. And more funds are on the way. 

“We do need more funds,” says Dr. Phuong. “We need support for 2nd and 3rd generation victims. We want to create jobs for victims, who can work in spite of their disabilities. I want to help them to get married as well to have a normal life to the extent possible.”

Let us give it up for Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, a true heroine for us all. 


Today I hand over my blog to two distinguished poets, one inspired by the other in a truly moving symbiosis. Take a few moments and listen to Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and Dan Shea


by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

After the last American soldiers
had left Vietnam
and grass had grown
scars onto bomb craters,
I took some foreign friends to Quảng Trị,
once a fierce battlefield.

I was too young for war
to crawl under my skin
so when I sat with my friends
at a roadside café, sipping tea,
enjoying the now-green landscape,
I didn’t know how to react
when a starkly naked
woman rushed towards us, howling.

Her ribs protruded like the bones
of a fish which had been skinned.
Her breasts swaying like long mướp fruit,
and her womanly hair a black jungle.

I was too young to know
what to say when the woman
shouted for my foreign friends
to return her husband and children to her.

Stunned, we watched her fight against villagers
who snatched her arms and dragged her away from us.
‘She’s been crazy,’ the tea seller said.
‘Her house was bombed.
Her husband and children…
she’s been looking for them ever since.’

My friends bent their heads.
‘But the war was here forty-six years ago,’ I said.
‘Some wounds can never heal.’ The tea seller shrugged.

And here I was, thinking green grass
could heal bomb craters into scars.


by Dan Shea

Inspired by

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai‘s

poem Tears of Quang Tri. 

Green Marine deployed to

Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam 

August – October 1968

occupation machine gunner

The thunder of artillery

was a heartbeat of war

death danced to it’s tune

helicopters kept the rhythm

Mountain Jungles took 

our breath away, a sniper’s

bullet sang, you don’t belong

a marine fell, baptized in blood

Death tapped me on 

my shoulder, I refused 

the dance, a mortar shell

a vibrating cymbal in my head

It was over fifty two years

ago, some scars never heal

war was wrong, I an enemy

we should have been friends.



Catherine Karnow’s portrait of general Vo Nguyen Giap, a history teacher, who barely knew how to fire a gun. Trained  by US military advisers during WWII,  Giap went on to become the commanding general of one of the most formidable armies of the 20th century.

25 years ago, the late journalist and historian Stanley Karnow travelled back to Vietnam to finally meet the legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap. Karnow’s daughter Catherine, a young photographer, went along a few months later and came to share her father’s unique access to the enigmatic North Vietnamese General.

Stanley Karnow, a veteran reporter of the wars against the French and subsequently the US-supported Saigon regime, was one of the very first Americans who anticipated the implications of the US engagement in Vietnam. Shortly after the Kennedy administration came into power, Karnow asked the President’s primary adviser Robert Kennedy, if Vietnam should not be seen as the major foreign policy challenge for the US.

“We got 30 Vietnam’s a day,” Robert Kennedy retorted.

Karnow went on to cover the war until the end in 1975. As the first American journalist after the war, he was allowed to visit communist Vietnam in 1982 on a research trip for his widely admired ‘Vietnam – A History’.  To Karnow’s frustration, Giap along with other enigmatic top figures like Le Duc Tho was unavailable.  ‘Only’ Prime Minister Pham Van Dong – a legend in his own right – would speak to Karnow.

Eight years later, Giap finally agreed to talk to Karnow. The outcome was a fascinating interview with the old general in the New York Times.

On this rare occasion, Giap shared with Karnow his life from the early days, when he was expelled from school for subversive activities against the French Colonialist regime, the death of his first wife in a French prison, the sleepless nights before the final battle at Dien Bien Phu, The 1968 Tet Offensive, and the ‘final victory’ in 1975, when the North Vietnamese forces and their Southern allies moved into Saigon.

Here is how Karnow heard Giap, reflecting on a long life at war:

A typical retired general, Giap now devotes much of his time to revisiting battlefields and addressing veterans. ”If I had not become a soldier,” he reflects, ”I probably would have remained a teacher, maybe of philosophy or history. Someone recently asked me whether, when I first formed our army, I ever imagined I would fight the Americans. Quelle question! Did the Americans, back then, ever imagine that they would one day fight us?”

He gripped my hand as we parted, saying: ”Remember, I am a general who fought for peace. I wanted peace – but not peace at any price.” With that he walked off briskly, leaving me to contemplate the cemeteries, the war monuments and the unhealed memories in France, America and Vietnam, and the terrible price their peoples paid.”

Here is a link to the full interview:

In the interview, there is no indication of any kind of personal hostility from Giap towards the Americans. On other occasions Giap spoke highly on his very first encounters with US military personnel. During WW II, Giap and his comrades received weapons and training assistance from the US Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of CIA.  At the time, the US saw the Vietnamese guerillas as important allies against the Japanese occupation forces in Vietnam.

Giap himself fondly remembered, how a young American soldier, Henry Prunier, had trained him to throw hand grenades. In 1995, Giap spotted Prunier in a visiting US delegation to Hanoi. Giap picked an orange from the bowl in front of him and lobbied it hand grenade style to Prunier, the General’s way of showing his visitors that he had not forgotten the past.

During WW II, the relations between the Vietnamese resistance leaders and the so called ‘Deer Team’ (the code name for the military advisers) became cordial to the point that US team leader assisted Ho Chi Minh in drafting the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence.


Ho Chi Minh and Giap posing with the members of The Deer Team, the US military advisors, who assisted the Vietnamese resistance movement in their struggle against the Japanese occupation forces during VWII. Giap is seen in the white suit and tie, Henry Prunier is seen behind to the right of Giap.

Just a few months ago, I had the privilege to meet Catherine Karnow in Hanoi at her exhibition of photos, taken in Vietnam during the past 25 years. Her works are some of the very best I have seen on post-war Vietnam.  In my eyes, her portrait of Vo Nguyen Giap is the finest of them all.

Ms. Karnow and the Art Vietnam Gallery made a print available for me, which is now on the wall in our home here in Hanoi.  Below the portrait is a comfortable couch, perfect for reading once again her father’s 1983 tour de force ‘Vietnam – A History’.  His compelling narrative was instrumental in making me pack my bags for Vietnam as a young reporter in those days.

In 2013, General Giap, Henry Prunier and Stanley Karnow all passed away at the age of 102, 91, and 87, respectively.  Catherine Karnow continues to work around the globe, turning out some truly amazing work. Here is a link to her website:



HCM Today, I hand over my blog to Ho Chi Minh on the occasion of his 125th Birthday. Here is a poem from his famous Prison Diary written in 1942, in a Chinese jail. He was held there under unspeakable conditions as a suspected spy. Once released, his condition was so poor that his US VWII military trainers,  the famous Deer Team agents, reported to Washington, that they feared he soon would be dead. At the time, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh guerillas were considered an important US ally in the war against the Japanese.  Ho Chi Minh did recover in his jungle hide-out, but remained frail until his death in 1969.   


Before the gate, a guard with a rifle on his shoulder.

In the sky, the moon flees through clouds.

Swarming bed bugs, like black army tanks in the night.

Squadrons of mosquitoes, like waves of attacking planes.

I think of my homeland. I dream I can fly far away.

I dream I wander trapped in webs of sorrow.

A year has come to an end here.

What crime did I commit?

In tears I write another prison poem.


Ho Chi Minh and the later general Vo Nguyen Giap with the “Deer Team” – the US agents from the OSS (later CIA) who trained the Vietnamese guerillas during the VWII struggle against the Japanese occupation of Vietnam.


I hand over my blog today to the Thanh Nhien newspaper, lashing out against the State Owned Enterprises in today’s top story. The story is written by the Bloomberg Hanoi office. 
Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises were once its biggest employers, the largest revenue earners, the main growth drivers. Now, in criticism rarely seen since the nation was unified 40 years ago, their dominance in the economy is being debated.
Dissatisfaction with state companies has been simmering in recent years, particularly after the global financial crisis when they were blamed for amassing piles of bad debt that crimped lending. As the government tries to spur economic growth, lawmakers are pressing for a rethink of these firms and greater support for private-sector businesses, instead.
“We need to change our mindset on the concept of state enterprises,” said Tran Du Lich, a member of the National Assembly economic committee and a lawmaker. “The government needs to stop giving preference to state companies and create a more balanced policy for all sectors in the economy.”
The view that the state sector should be taken down in influence is gaining currency decades after the “Doi Moi” reforms of 1986 brought market-oriented change to Vietnam. While Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is aiming for record share sales this year, a leadership transition in 2016 limits the possibility of a complete overhaul of the inefficient and sometimes corrupt state companies that have held back an economy forecast to be among the fastest growing in the region.
State companies’ contribution to Vietnam’s gross domestic product fell to less than a third last year from about 56 percent before the reforms, while the private sector contributed 43 percent to GDP last year, data from the statistics department showed. SOEs also had only about 10 percent of the total workforce in 2014, while the private sector had 86 percent.
Leading role
The government has come under increasing pressure to overhaul the system after state-owned Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group, now renamed Shipbuilding Industry Corp., defaulted on a $600 million offshore loan in 2010, prompting concern the country’s banking system may collapse. Two former executives at Vietnam National Shipping Lines were sentenced to death in 2013 for embezzlement.
The parliament in 2013 considered a revision to the constitution to remove language stipulating that the state sector will have the “leading role” in the economy. Lawmakers eventually adopted a watered down version that affirmed their dominant position to protect workers’ welfare, they said then.
While the number of state companies has more than halved to about 5,600 now from 12,000 in 1990, they still take up almost half of public investment, tie up 60 percent of bank lending and make up more than half the nation’s bad debt.
“State enterprises are no longer competent enough to play the key role in the economy,” said Le Dang Doanh, an economist and former government adviser in Hanoi. “They use up a lot of resources, but their contribution is not in proportion. The government must encourage private enterprises more for the sake of the economy.”
Limited resources
Efforts to boost the private sector have yielded mixed results: while foreign investment into Vietnam has surged in recent years, it is directed primarily at export-focused makers of apparel, shoes and electronics. Success elsewhere has been limited, in contrast to the global ascent of Chinese companies including mobile phone maker Xiaomi Corp. and e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. that also circumvented a system favoring state enterprises.
In Vietnam, government support for private companies is “negligible and inconsistent,” and they face many challenges including limited financial resources as most banks favour state firms, said Hoang Van Dung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hanoi.
Very reluctant
Despite the growing resentment of SOEs, there may be little political will to alter the landscape significantly, with a leadership transition looming next year, said Christian Lewis, Asia analyst at Eurasia Group in New York.
“Politicians will be very reluctant to challenge the wealthy and powerful vested interests in the state-owned sector at a time when they need financial backers and backroom influence,” Lewis said. While more companies are being partially privatized, the volume of state ownership is not seeing a precipitous drop, “indicating that the government is not willing to give much ground on ownership and management questions,” he said.
Six of the top 10 companies by market capitalization on the benchmark VN Index are still partly state-owned, compared with four out of five in 2000 when the index was established with five stocks.
Their continued dominance “is evidence that the government doesn’t want to loosen its grip on SOEs,” said Nguyen Dinh Cung, head of the planning and investment ministry’s Central Institute for Economic Management in Hanoi. “The state sector is still considered as key for the economy. That view must be changed since this has affected policy making and left the private sector at a huge disadvantage.”


I dag for 40 år siden sluttede Vietnam-krigen endelig, efter det meste af landet var lagt i ruiner og 3-4 millioner menneskeliv gået tabt. I dagene forinden svirrede rygterne om, at kommunisterne havde planer om at foretage et sidste skånselsløst blodbad under indtagelsen af Saigon. De sidste amerikanere og de fleste vestlige journalister flygtede over hals og hoved. Som eneste danske journalist blev Jens Nauntofte tilbage for at dække magtovertagelsen.  Min blog er i dag overladt til Jens i form af disse uddrag fra hans dagbog ‘Gul Stjerne over Vietnam’.


30. april 1975

Ved daggry vågner vi ved lyden af de sidste helikoptere, der løfter bagtroppen ud. Kl. 08:56 letter den sidste Sea Knight fra betonkolossen. Et par minutter forinden har den sidste amerikanske bulletin forladt Saigon. Sendt til The White House Situation Room, hvorfra (præsident) Ford og (udenrigsminister) Kissinger følger begivenhederne: LADY ACE 09 afgår med CODE TWO, et synonym for ambassadør Graham Martin. Knugende sin håndtaske og Stars and Stripes letter Superhøgen.

Graham Martin

Ambassadør Graham Martin under et sidste kaotisk møde med Saigon’s pressekorps. Billedet er taget af det amerikanske nyhedsbureau AP’s fotograf Ky Nhan, som 30. april troppede op på sin arbejdsplads med sine hidtil hemmeligholdte nordvietnamesiske forbundsfæller.


Det går stærkt nu. Befrielsesfronten er på vej ind i centrum, radiostationen er besat. Ved postkontoret i Le Loi gaden, hvor også telexcentralen ligger, er der stuvende fuldt af mennesker, som vil sende sidste telegrammer ud af landet. Langs Saigon Floden er der stærk forvirring, der er skydning på den anden side af floden, både læsset med mennesker stævner ned mod havet, en slæbebåd kommer tæt forbi os. På dækket sidder et halvt hundrede mennesker med kufferter og bylter. De håber vel på at nå så langt ud, at de bliver samlet op af de amerikanske evakueringsskibe.


Foran Nationalbanken er der opløb. Skaren har samlet sig om to unge nordvietnamesiske soldater, der er blevet smidt af på hjørnet af den store bankbygning. De holder vagt. De bliver nidstirret. Grønne uniformer. Flade hjelme og sorte Ho Chi Minh-sandaler. De er ikke et år over tyve, de står og klamrer sig til de erobrede M-16 geværer, tydeligt generte over den intense opmærksomhed de vækker.

En tøvende konversation er så småt i gang. Den ene tager imod en cigaret og lyser op i et stort smil da den bliver tændt for ham. Så følger hans kammerat eksemplet.


Imens strømmer soldaterne ind i byen. Vi ser dem nu overalt, mens vi kører mod paladset. Et sted går en nordvietnamesisk soldat med en lang række tilfangetagne Saigon-soldater. Fortovene er fyldt med henslængt militærudrustning. Stålhjelme, våben, støvler – og bukser. Man ser unge mænd på gaden kun iført sorte shorts. Kapitulationen taler sit eget kontante sprog.


Ved paladset kører tre T-54 tanks med et smæld gennem det elegante gitterværk og tværs over plænerne. I et hjørne af parken får en gruppe Saigon-soldater skrupler og åbner ild. Kanontårnene drejer 180 grader og i et par minutter er alt blåt og hvidt. De jublende mennesker smelter chokeret væk. Så er der stille igen, og folk kommer frem for at fraternisere med de unge soldater der hopper af vognene hele vejen end gennem alléen. Et par hensynsfulde soldater fejer senere de blodige rester af paladsvagten til side.


Præsident Minh forsøger her at overdrage magten til den nordvietnamesiske kommissær Tung, der senere bliver verdensberømt under sit rigtige navn Bui Tin for sit bidende svar: “Det kan De ikke, De kan ikke overdrage noget De ikke har.” Bui Tin lever i dag i eksil i Paris efter et voldsomt opgør med ledelsen i det vietnamesiske kommunistparti.

inde i Hallen venter præsident Minh. Ved hans side står premierminister Vu Van Mau, der har nået at fungere i sit nye embede i 36 timer.

– Velkommen, udbryder Mau med sit mest strålende smil. Også Min smiler, men lidt krampagtigt. Kommissær Tung fejer forbi dem ud på balkonen for at hejse fanen over paladset, så folk i Saigon kan se, at magtskiftet er fuldbyrdet.

Minh forklarer Tung, at han er rede til at overdrage magten. Tung afviser det. Han mener ikke, at Minh har nogen magt at overdrage.


På AP’s kontor dukker fotografen Ky Nhan frem i døren. I tre år har han arbejdet for bureauet som dets fotograf, og bureauchefen George Esper finder, at han er en behagelig samarbejdspartner. Altid villig til at tage derhen, hvor der sker noget.  Pludselig får han øje på de fire nordvietnamesere, der står ved siden af Ky Nhan, to af dem er officerer. De første Esper har set. Måbende stirrer han fra den ene til den anden. Siger så ind i telefonen: Mit bureau er okkuperet af Viet Cong. Så lægger han rører på.

Med et stille smil siger Ky Nhan, at han i de tre år også har arbejdet for Befrielsesfronten.


Hen mod aften slutter Vietnam-krigen. De sidste modstandslommer er nedkæmpet. Også faldskærmssoldaterne, der havde forskanset sig i et skibsværft er blevet tavse. En stribe mortér-granater har ramt plet.

Det har været en lang dag. Lige fra Graham Martin lettede med LADY ACE 09 i morgentimerne og efterlod flere hundrede grædende vietnamesere, som ikke fik et lift med ud til ‘den frie verden’. Lige fra det buldrende indtog af panserkorpset, slaget om paladset, og til nu, da Tran Van Bom og hans veninde sidder trætte på Underhusets trappe og undrer sig over, at fra i dag vil hele deres liv skifte karakter. De er kommet på junglen ind fra stenbroen.

Saigon siger i dag farvel til sig selv. Saigon, den gamle luder: beregnende, forlystelsessyg, grisk og kærlig. Altsammen er det forbi.


Det Saigon Graham Greene så forelsket beskrev er også væk. Idag ligger Rue Catinat oversået med opadvendte stålhjelme og militærstøvler. Da klokken blev fem sad der ingen på Continentals terrasse og drak vermouth cassis eller pastis. Der var tomt. Men da mørket sænker sig, sidder de trætte partisaner der og sludrer.


Siden krigen er Jens vendte tilbage til Vietnam mange gange, hvor jeg har haft stor fornøjelse af hans selskab – senest i 2014, hvor jeg overtalte ham til at stille op foran sit gamle Hotel Continental. Det sort-hvide foto, han holder, er taget i 1975 og viser Jens stående på sin gamle altan på øverste værelse. Bagefter gik ved ned på en af Saigons legendariske, frankofile sidegade-restauranter. Det blev en lang aften med masser af røver-historier og kølig Beaujolais, serveret af rødmende servitricer, der for første gang oplevede Jens rulle charmen helt ud.