The Two Flags

I’ve mentioned in passing here that two flags stood beside my desk in my office in Saigon, the stars and stripes to my right and the flag of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) to my left as I sat at my desk. As chaos enveloped the city in April 1975, I evacuated my family and moved to my office because I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be able to get through the streets, now mobbed with refugees. I slept on a cot in front of my desk between the two flags with a .38 revolver under my pillow.

When Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and I escaped under fire by helicopter, I detached the two flags from their staffs and carried them and my .38 with me. When I landed on the helipad of the Oklahoma City, cruising in the South China Sea, sailors took my .38 from me, but I wouldn’t give up the two flags. I carried them with me as the ship circled and finally set sail for the Philippines. From Subic Bay, I booked a flight for Baltimore. I flew with the flags by my side. I kept the flags with me as I recovered from amoebic dysentery and pneumonia back in Maryland. When I reported for duty at the National Security Agency (NSA), my employer when I worked under cover in Vietnam, I presented the flags to the director.

Those flags are now on proud display in the Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland, adjacent to NSA. Every few years, I stop by and take another look at them. Their history and mine are permanently intertwined.

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