I had 43 men working for me in Saigon. In the past week or so, two of those men have expressed regret that they didn’t stay with me to the end. One other has said that he knew he and two others were not the guys I needed to have with me in-country during the attack and so agreed to go. And almost at the end, one guy I ordered out refused to go—he didn’t want to leave me there without him. It took a direct order from me, delivered with colorful language I don’t normally use, to get that man on a plane out of Vietnam. None of them knew that the Ambassador, Graham Martin, had refused my request to evacuate my staff and that I resorted to subterfuge to get my people out.
Over the years, various men have asked me why I didn’t tell them what was going on. My feeling at the time was that they had enough on their minds as it was, with the city under siege and their lives endangered. They didn’t need the extra worry of learning that the man with final authority over all U.S. personnel in the city had condemned them to stay through the final attack. I concealed from them that I was using every ruse I could think of to get my staff and their families out of Saigon before it fell. It worked. Nobody got killed. And only three of us, me and the two communicators who volunteered to stay with me, Bob and Gary, were still in Saigon when the North Vietnamese invaded the city. I got Bob and Gary out in the afternoon of 29 April, on a chopper that ferried them to the 7th Fleet in the South China Sea, and I went out under fire that night.
I didn’t tell that story in Last of the Annamese. That was my story, not the story of Chuck, the book’s protagonist. And maybe I owe my guys an apology. They were strong men who could handle whatever came their way. I admired them for their courage and calmness under stress.
So I ask for their pardon for withholding information from them. I did it with the best intentions in the world. I think they forgive me. At a gathering some months after the fall of Saigon, they gave me a plaque labelled, “Last Man Out Award.” The words inscribed on it thank me for my leadership and getting them all out safely.