Ordinary Life in the Face of Disaster (2)

In January 1975, Senator Sam Nunn visited Saigon on a fact-finding mission to support President Ford’s request to Congress for three hundred million dollars for the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). At the time, I was head of the covert National Security Agency operation in Vietnam, and I briefed the senator.

My estimate was gloomy. Phuoc Long Province, some sixty miles north of Saigon had already fallen to the communists, and their forces were advancing toward the capital. The intelligence we were providing made it clear that the North Vietnamese were also preparing for an offensive in the highlands and I Corps, the five northern provinces of South Vietnam. None of that stopped the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, from hosting a lush garden party for the senator, as if everything were normal. I reported on that event in Last of the Annamese. I attributed my experiences to the protagonist of the novel, Chuck Griffin, an intelligence analyst:

By Saturday, more of Senator Nunn’s people were on the scene. One of them explained to Chuck that the Ford Administration was preparing to request funds to keep the Republic of Vietnam afloat, and the Senator needed data. . . .

Chuck was low enough in rank that he escaped most of the official parties the Embassy and DAO staged to honor the visitors, but since he had personally briefed Senator Nunn after his arrival on Monday, the thirteenth, he was required to attend the Embassy cocktail party for the Senator that night. Ike was invited, too, as was Molly—to assure that enough women were on hand to impress the Senator with the orderliness of official life in Saigon.

At 1800 hours, an Embassy sedan ferried Chuck and Ike, in Bangkok-tailored suits and ties, to the Ambassador’s residence at the corner of Phung Khac Hoan and Phan Thanh Gian streets, two blocks from the Embassy. Both streets teemed with white mice [i.e., Saigon policemen] and U.S. Marine guards, oddly surreal in the white dazzle of security lights.

The two U.S. Marines on each side of the gate saluted as Chuck and Ike passed through. Straight ahead of them was the house Chuck remembered as the Personal Protective Unit building, manned by fourteen Vietnamese Special Police. Three of these thugs, armed to the teeth, now glowered as the two Americans headed left through another gate into the formal garden fronting the residence. There a middle-aged American hostess in an iridescent Thai silk cocktail dress smiled them up the porch steps and into the formal French colonial vestibule, redolent with the scent of gladiolas and jasmine. A male version of the hostess, swathed in morning coat and silver tie, waved them to the right through a tiled hallway, down a flight of steps, and into a patio awash with bougainvillaea, and orchids. Cocktail tables with tea lights dotted the grounds.

End of quote. The president’s request for money for South Vietnam was refused by Congress. The country fell less than four months later.

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