Sunday three of my four children and my four grandchildren came to my place for a family feast of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and strawberry shortcake. Seeing them together made me remember having them with me in Vietnam.
My oldest, Susan, was with her mother and me on my first accompanied tour from 1963 to 1965, although she and her mother left Vietnam in 1964 because of the influx of U.S. troops and the heating up of the war.
All four children were with me and my wife during my last tour that began in 1974. U.S. military forces had been withdrawn in 1973 following the signing of the cease-fire, and the attitude outside the intelligence community was that the war was over. Tours in Vietnam were “gentlemen’s tours,” and it was safe enough for families to accompany assigned personnel.
I had reservations about bringing my wife and children to Vietnam in 1974. I was in intelligence, and I knew that the North Vietnamese were as determined as ever to conquer the south. But I also knew that the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF), the South Vietnamese military, were combat effective, in no small measure because so many of the members were passionately devoted to keeping the south free.
But the populace of the U.S. had turned against the war. Their elected representatives in Congress stopped U.S. air support to the RVNAF in 1973. In 1974, Congress reduced the funding going to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) to finance the war, even though China and Russia continued to fund the North Vietnamese effort. In 1975, they reduced it again. The Republic of Vietnam had no money with which to pay its troops and replace lost and destroyed weapons and equipment. Congress’s actions were the death knell for the Republic of Vietnam.
By the beginning of 1975, I foresaw that the Republic of Vietnam would fall to the North Vietnamese. I panicked at the prospect of my children facing an attack against Saigon.