Fiction in Name Only (7): Making Room for Zoomies

Toward the end of April 1975, I was trapped with my two communicators in the DAO building at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon. As the North Vietnamese surrounded us and destroyed South Vietnamese army units, reports from the field ceased—no friendlies were left to report. By then, the North Vietnamese were shelling us. We knew the ground attack on the city was only hours away.

I was doing regular physical recons of the compound. I wanted to know in advance before the North Vietnamese came through the fence. As I wandered through the parking lot, I happened onto a surreal scene I’ve described before in this blog. Here’s the description taken from Last of the Annamese:

Chuck exited the building to the north. The crater where the north pedestrian gate had stood [it had been hit by artillery fire] was blocked with barbed wire. The mob of stragglers outside the fence had dispersed, probably because of the rockets, but now they were gathering again. Chuck turned toward the parking lot and stopped dead. Alamo guys [that is, members of the Special Planning Group, responsible for the evacuation on the ground], including several Chuck knew, were cramming cars onto the eastern side of the building by driving them into one another so that they formed a compacted mass. As Chuck watched, the drivers turned their attention to the half dozen cars still in the parking lot, all of them large sedans except for Chuck’s jeep. These they used as ramming devices, crushing the heap of cars more tightly together. Now they turned the mangled sedans on the tennis courts. Again and again, they backed their vehicles almost to the compound fence and burned rubber to smash into the poles holding the fence around the courts until they tore out of the pavement. Next they used the cars as battering rams, flattening the nets and court fencing against the building. They left their cars idling while they gathered mangled wire, misshapen chunks of metal, and lumps of torn pavement and added them to the packed debris next to the wall. Lastly, they ground the remaining vehicles into the jumble of mashed automobiles. The area between the perimeter fence and the wall of the building was now clear. Of course. The small Air America UH-1 helicopters had been able to get into and out of the parking lot one at a time, without hitting cars or the tennis courts, but the much larger Marine CH-53’s, the birds to be used for the evac, needed more unobstructed space.

End of quote. The author and historian Thurston Clarke, when he interviewed me for his new book about the fall of Vietnam, due out in early 2019, had not known about the scene described above. He tells me he’ll include it in his description of the conquest of Saigon.

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