During the last week of April, 1975, as the North Vietnamese conquest of Saigon approached, I was stranded at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon, in the DAO building. As mentioned in earlier blog installments, I had succeeded in evacuating 41 of the men who worked for me and their families. Since the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, had forbidden evacuations, I got my people out by any ruse I could think of. Only three of us remained: the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman, and me.
For days, Bob, Gary, and I were short on food—we survived on bar snacks we’d been able to scrounge at a hotel before we could no longer get out into the streets of Saigon—and we were working 24 hours a day, alternating with each other for two-hours rest breaks on the single cot we had in the comms center where we were holed up.
I wanted to know beforehand when the North Vietnamese breached the perimeter fence around our compound, so several times a day and sometimes at night, I went outside and wandered through the parking lots, tennis courts, and trash collections areas to see what was going on. Among my regular stops was the Marine guard post at our western gate. I traded scuttlebutt with the embassy guard Marines posted there. Among them were Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge. They looked so young to me (I was 38; they were 21 and 19 respectively) that I wondered at their presence in a war zone and why they weren’t back in the world in high school where they belonged.
When the North Vietnamese began shelling the compound in the pre-dawn hours of 29 April, the gate was hit. McMahon and Judge were killed. They were the last U.S. servicemen to die on the ground in Vietnam.
I grieve for them to this day. And I recorded their deaths in the final pages of Last of the Annamese.