As I have reported before in this blog, the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, and I saw things very differently as the fall of Saigon approached in April 1975. I knew from intercepted North Vietnamese communications that the enemy was preparing to attack Saigon. The ambassador insisted that the North Vietnamese wanted to negotiate to form a coalition government rather to complete the conquest of South Vietnam. He’d been persuaded to that view, as he later reported to Congress, by a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam, the Hungarian member of the ICCS. As a result, he forbade me to evacuate my subordinates and their families.
I’ve reported earlier that I lied, cheated, and stole to get my people out of the country, using every ruse I could think of. By the time the city fell on 29 April 1975, all the families were gone and only two of my forty-three subordinates remained, the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end. Both of them were evacuated by helicopter on the afternoon of 29 April. I went out that night, escaping under fire.
I’ve struggled to come to an understanding of why the delusion of a “gentlemen’s tour” persisted despite clear intelligence that belied it. It’s clear that the civilian side of the U.S. government—the ambassador, the president, the State Department, and the CIA—continued to believe, in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, that the North Vietnamese would refrain from attacking Saigon in favor of forming a coalition government. But the military side of the government—the Department of Defense and Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC)—foresaw the attack on Saigon and prepared for an evacuation.
I’ve concluded that the U.S. government, and particularly the State Department, clung to the fantasy that it had created with the signing of the cease-fire in 1973, that the U.S. had won the war by forcing the North Vietnamese into peace negotiations. The war was over. Hence the “gentleman’s tour.” That deluded way of thinking resulted in many thousands of deaths and very nearly cost me my life.