April 1975 in Vietnam (9)

By 16 April 1975, I was spending most of my time struggling to get people out of Vietnam. I knew the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese was imminent. So I put aside my two principal missions—keeping the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, up to date on the North Vietnamese as they got closer to Saigon; and assisting the South Vietnamese government in its own efforts to intercept and exploit the communications of the North Vietnamese—and concentrated on saving as many people as I could.

I’ve told in passing the story of my work to move people out of South Vietnam earlier in this blog, but here I’ll recap the whole story, starting with a quote from my published article, “Bitter Memories: The fall of Saigon”:

Since the middle of March [1975], my principal concern had been seeing to it that none of my people was killed or wounded in the forthcoming attack. I had 43 American men working for me and I was responsible for the safety of their 22 dependents, wives and children, living in Saigon. My men in Da Nang, Can Tho, and Pleiku all managed to reach Saigon after hair-raising escapes and were working in our Tan Son Nhat office [on the northern edge of Saigon]. I wanted to get all my people out now.

But Ambassador Martin refused to consider evacuations. On the one hand, he wished to avoid doing anything that might stampede the South Vietnamese; on the other, he genuinely believed that the prospect of the Communist flag flying over Saigon was unthinkable.

I was stymied.

My state-side boss, General Lew Allen, the Director of NSA, ordered me to close down the operation and get everyone out before somebody got killed, but the Ambassador wouldn’t hear of it. I made him a proposition: if he would let my people go, I would stay in Saigon until the end with a skeleton staff to assure that the flow of SIGINT [that is, signals intelligence] reports for him from NSA would continue. He turned me down.

End of quote. More tomorrow.

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