Book: “Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War,” by Thurston Clarke

Carla Seaquist
5 min readApr 4, 2019

The Vietnam war is, for many Americans, the war “they have spent decades trying to forget” — a war whose purpose and execution were misrepresented by presidents and generals; a war that angered the home front and brought cross-generational protest into the streets; a war that, in its theater of operations, ended as a lost cause.

By its title, “Honorable Exit” implies that, while the war itself was less than honorable, some measure of honor was recovered in the actions of well-meaning Americans who, in the frantic days before South Vietnam fell to the communist North in April 1975, risked their lives and defied their superiors to save 130,000 South Vietnamese — wartime colleagues and their families — from execution or concentration camps.

The author, Thurston Clarke, calls these rescuers “American Schindlers,” after Oskar Schindler, rescuer of Jews in World War II made famous by the Thomas Keneally novel and Steven Spielberg film, “Schindler’s List.” Clarke’s subtitle — “How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War” — understates the number, however: There are dozens of rescuers portrayed. But Clarke is something of a Schindler himself and clearly could not bring himself to leave off his own list any rescuer. Caveat lector: In addition to the author’s two-page list of principal characters, the reader will need a spreadsheet and patience.

As an example of the author’s method, his prologue features the iconic photo of America’s first lost war — of a helicopter atop a building (misidentified as the American embassy), with a man in a white shirt leaning down to assist to freedom a mass of people on the stairway. Clarke not only tells us how the photographer got the photo, but the identities of the man in the white shirt, the helicopter pilots, and, impressively, the first five rescuees on the stairway — and what happened to them.

While Clarke’s focus is on the rescuers, he does not stint the Vietnamese rescuees, and we get thumbnail sketches of translators, drivers, fixers, comrades-in-arms. Of necessity, given the wide scope of the tale, and the chaos of evacuation, the rescuers get only thumbnail sketches, too. Many seem to have been spiritual wanderers who, in the sorrow of the war’s end, found their life’s purpose in a final honorable action.

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Carla Seaquist

Our times examined via politics, culture, morality. Author, "Can America Save Itself from Decline?" (Vol. II). Playwright. Fmr. HuffPost. www.carlaseaquist.com.