Saigon: A Gentleman’s Tour (2)

When I was assigned as the head of the NSA covert operation in South Vietnam in 1974, I knew very well that the war wasn’t over. The notion that the assignment was, as my predecessor called it, a “gentlemen’s tour,” struck me as wrong-headed. I was surprised that he gave so little attention to classified information that made clear North Vietnamese intentions to conquer the south.

But I didn’t realize how serious the situation was. The U.S. had withdrawn all military support and most of its financial support from South Vietnam, while North Vietnamese forces remained in place with the plentiful support of both China and the USSR. Moreover, the war had never ceased. The North Vietnamese continued their probes, both large and small.

I chide myself now for not seeing that South Vietnam was no place for a family in 1974. It quickly became apparent to me, and I began to look for ways to move my family and the families of my subordinates out of the country.

The North Vietnamese conquest of Phuoc Long Province and the seizure of its capital, Phuoc Binh, in January 1975 confirmed my suspicions that the war was entering its final phase. Through signals intelligence, I saw that the enemy was preparing a major offensive designed to take the northern half of the country. That offensive came in March. Not only did the North conquer the highlands and the northern provinces, but it also killed or captured the vast majority of the South Vietnamese military forces ranged against it in those areas.

It was time to get all the families and my subordinates out of Vietnam. But the ambassador forbade me to evacuate my people.

More tomorrow.

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