Forty-three years ago today, in 1974, I celebrated Christmas with my family—my wife and four children—in Saigon. Because I was in Vietnam on an accompanied tour (my family was with me) and most of the other American men were there without family, our villa that day was filled with guests. All the forty-three men and the one woman (my secretary) in my office were invited to our open house. More than half showed up. Most of the others were out of country or in the field.
I was absent from the party for part of the day. I had to be in the office. We were following the North Vietnamese offensive in Phuoc Long Province, some sixty miles north of us. We had predicted the attacks and forecast that the provincial capital, Phuoc Binh, would fall shortly—the North Vietnamese captured it on 6 January 1975.
It wasn’t a festive Christmas. The signs of the impending conquest of South Vietnam were hard to ignore. I did the best I could to bring the cheer of the season to my men. I wasn’t very successful.
I remember looking around the room at my guys and promising myself that if things went south, they’d all get out alive. I kept my promise. All of them escaped at the end. I stayed until they were all safely out of the country, then flew out under fire as the city fell.