Yesterday, I blogged about the depression and frustration I felt as the fall of Saigon approached, and I wasn’t able to persuade those in power to prepare. What I didn’t mention is the pride I feel over the way I faced the disaster.
I felt no pride at the time. Until I was evacuated, I was working 24 hours a day to get my people out. When the last two, the communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end—Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman—escaped by helicopter during the afternoon of 29 April, I gave into my exhaustion. I went out by chopper under fire that night.
In the months that followed, I was too sick to think about what had happened. I had amoebic dysentery and pneumonia and was disabled by Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. Besides, I had family problems that ended up breaking up my marriage.
It wasn’t until I got back on my feet, physically and emotionally, that I thought back over everything that had happened. As I did, I found an imperfect peace in reflecting on my own performance under fire. I didn’t panic or become hysterical. I didn’t collapse in exhaustion. I didn’t give into the belief that I wasn’t going to make it out alive. I was relentlessly focussed on getting my people out of the country before they or members of their families were killed.
So in retrospect I feel the same pride that I see in combatants. I risked everything for a cause and survived. I don’t claim to have been brave or courageous. I only claim to have done my job. And I’m proud.