The End in Vietnam: Physical Collapse

The last few days before we were evacuated during the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Bob, Gary, and I were under severe physical strain. We had gotten forty-one of our fellow workers and all the families out safely despite the Ambassador’s failure to call for an evacuation. The three of us told each other that we were there to turn the lights out when we finally had permission to leave.

By 27 April, we were out of food except for bar snacks we’d been able to scrounge from a hotel before we were unable to get through the streets of the city which were blocked by throngs of refugees. But we had lots of coffee, thanks to Bob and Gary’s foresight. We drank gallons of coffee, ate next to nothing, and had no sleep.

The strain of the past several months and the deprivations toward the end took their toll on my body. I came down with diarrhea. I had other symptoms, too, but due to the stress of the situation and the shelling we were subjected to, I ignored my physical problems and kept on working. I had to keep going. Bob and Gary’s survival depended on it.

I was finally able to get Bob and Gary out on a helicopter on the afternoon of 29 April. I escaped under fire that night after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. Once aboard the Oklahoma City, the flag ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, I still had to stay on my feet. After the fleet sailed to the Philippines, I booked a flight immediately to Honolulu because I had to brief CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific) on what had happened in Saigon. When I sat down after the briefing, I passed out. After I got back to the mainland, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery, ear damage (caused by the shelling), and pneumonia due to sleep deprivation, inadequate diet, and muscle fatigue.

After a few months of recovery, I was as good as new. To this day, I’m amazed at what the body is capable of when lives are at stake.

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