The End in Vietnam: Forgotten and Abandoned

Half way through Last of the Annamese, Ike, a Marine captain at the American embassy in Saigon, senses the change in the atmosphere. Here’s the passage that describes Ike’s foreboding:

On Friday, 14 March [1975], ARS [American Radio Service, Vietnam] reported that Congress had voted not to appropriate funds for Vietnam. The war was over. Somehow nobody in Saigon had been notified, and the North Vietnamese were ignoring the fact as they seized more territory. Ike’s country had forgotten he was here, faced daily with threats to his life.

Riding to and from the Embassy as the days warmed toward the lowland monsoon season, Ike watched the city change. The good-natured clatter of bikes and hurrying pedestrians was gone. In its place was a city much quieter and wound ever tighter. Faces on the streets showed worry. Refugees were everywhere.

The Embassy, always marked by the lilt of southern hospitality, developed an uneasy edge. Ike’s men [the Marine guards] felt the change. The boyish horse-play faded. The snuffs kept their weapons cleaned and oiled, never more than an arm’s reach away. They asked Ike what was happening. He shrugged. The Ambassador, a gentleman under all circumstances, continued to preside with grace and good breeding.

End of quote. On the rational level, I saw the end coming and warned Ambassador Martin. He ignored me. The American press, the Congress, the State Department, the CIA, even the president chose not to accept the mounting evidence that Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese.

On the psychic level, my men and I felt the cold of aloneness and abandonment. We were voices crying in the wilderness. No one heard us. No evacuation was planned.

We were immensely comforted when, on 22 April, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued an estimate that South Vietnam would fall to the North Vietnamese within the week. I learned that the military side of the U.S. government was under no delusions about what was happening in South Vietnam.

And at the final hour, it was the military—the Marines and the U.S. 7th Fleet—that rescued us. On the night of 29 April 1975, I escaped under fire on a helicopter that flew me in the dark and the pouring rain to the flag ship of the 7th Fleet, the Oklahoma City.

My respect for the military has never waned.

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