During my presentations and in communication with readers, two questions recur: (1) Why did the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, act as he did during the fall of Saigon? and (2) Have I ever returned to Vietnam?
I’ll answer the first question today, the second tomorrow.
Graham Martin refused to call for an evacuation of American and Vietnamese compatriots as Saigon was falling. I pleaded with him repeatedly to arrange for the escape before the North Vietnamese attacked the city. I gave him prima facie evidence that the assault was about to begin.
He treated me with disdain and took no action. In the wee hours of the morning on 29 April 1975, eight hours after the onslaught began, Washington countermanded him and ordered the evacuation. The military side of the U.S. government, under no delusions about what was happening in Vietnam, was ready. I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. My South Vietnamese counterparts weren’t so lucky. The North Vietnamese killed or captured 2700 of them.
Why did Martin fail to call for an evacuation? He testified before Congress that he had been approached by the Hungarian member of the International Commission for Control and Supervision (ICCS), a group established in 1973 to monitor the cease-fire signed by the U.S. and the North Vietnamese and immediately violated by the latter. The Hungarian told the Ambassador that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon; they wanted to form a coalition government with “all patriotic forces” and rule jointly. The Ambassador accepted these assurances—from a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam. I’ve learned recently that the CIA analysts at the embassy were also persuaded that an attack was coming. The Ambassador and the CIA chief of station in Saigon, Tom Polgar, both rejected the warnings.
Why did Martin believe the Hungarians and not me? I have no factual answer to the question, but I know that the very idea that the communist flag could ever fly over South Vietnam was anathema to Graham Martin. He and his immediate subordinates found the very idea unthinkable. I know that Martin had lost a son in combat in Vietnam. I can only conclude that the idea that his son had died in vain was, to Martin, not to be countenanced.
Martin’s conviction nearly cost me my life and did cost the lives of countless others.