I’ve talked at some length in various places in this blog about my feelings before, during, and after the fall of Saigon. What I haven’t wanted to talk about until now is my sense of abandonment.
As the North Vietnamese encroached on Saigon and I struggled to hold together what was left of my mission and my organization, I was doing it alone. I managed to get forty-one of my subordinates and their families out of the country, even though the ambassador had forbidden an evacuation. The embassy and CIA not only didn’t help me; they threw roadblocks in my path. I lied and cheated and stole to save the lives of my guys and their wives and children. I succeeded. The only help I received was from the two communicators, Bob and Gary, who volunteered to stay with me through the fall of Saigon. The three of us propped each other up through the days when we had nothing to eat and no time to sleep.
After I got Bob and Gary out, I escaped on a helicopter under fire. I flew to a ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet which eventually set sail for the Philippines. Though I didn’t know it until I got back to Maryland in mid-May, I was suffering from exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia brought on by muscle fatigue, inadequate diet, and sleep deprivation.
From Subic Bay I caught a flight to Honolulu. The senior National Security Agency (NSA) official in the Pacific region met my plane. I was a wreck—I’d lost weight and was still wearing the clothes I’d escaped in. I was unshaven, in desperate need of a haircut, and physically ill. Instead of asking how I was or suggesting I look for a doctor, he said, “You can’t be seen around here looking like that.” He turned me over to one of his subordinates who saw to it I looked respectable for my briefing at CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific).
I can’t tell you the name of the man who met my plane. It’s still classified.
Things went from bad to worse. I passed out when I sat down after coughing through my briefing at CINCPAC. I knew I was ill, but instead of going to a doctor, I booked a flight to Maryland. I can’t tell you how much I yearned just to go home.
When I got to Maryland I telephoned my wife. She and our children had flown out of Saigon twenty days before the city fell. At her insistence, they went on a grand tour through Asia and Europe, arriving back in the states about the same time I did. She knew that Saigon had fallen, but she didn’t know if I had gotten out alive, nor did she make any attempt to find out. When I got through by phone to her at her father’s house in Massachusetts and begged her to come to Maryland—I told her I was very sick and needed her—she turned me down. She returned in July after I’d gotten back our house which we’d leased to another family for the length of our tour in Vietnam.
It was the beginning of the end of the marriage.