Remembering the last month in Saigon, April 1975, before South Vietnam fell to the communists, brings back fond recollections of my personnel section, responsible for the logistics of housing and moving my employees. When I decided that I had to evacuate my subordinates, even though the ambassador had forbidden it, I had to use ruses to explain sending my people out of the country. In the beginning, those responsible for planning travel and booking flights resisted my orders on the grounds that I was asking them to do things that violated regulations and were just plain illegal.
I remember a conversation I had with one of my personnel guys. I asked him what locations he could get airline reservations for immediately, then ordered him to book flights out. When he asked for justification, I told him “TDY”—“temporary duty,” meaning business travel. He pointed out that we had no business connections in the places I was telling him to send people and that he couldn’t legally use the TDY justification. I told him to do it anyway. He balked. I finally had to give him a direct order.
We went through the same drill on “home leave” and “vacation.” My crew winced at sending out people on home leave when they had no home leave coming. And booking people out for vacations without requiring them to be on annual leave was against the rules.
As the coming fall of Saigon became more obvious, my team ceased complaining and became quite artful at creating fictitious justifications for airline tickets. Toward the end, when all my personnel staff had been evacuated, I authorized virtually all those left in country to purchase airline tickets with government funds for any location they could get a flight to. Finally, after chaos set in, I took money from my own pocket, bought a ticket on Pan Am, and with no authorization or justification, put one of my comms guys on a flight and told him to go. That turned out to be the last Pan Am flight out of Saigon.
In the end, I got all my people and their families out safely. I rest easy today knowing none of them died during the fall of Saigon.