April 1975 in Vietnam (16)

More about the last days in Saigon in April 1975:

Despite the ambassador’s prohibition on evacuation, I managed to get 41 of my subordinates and their families out by dint of lying, cheating, and faking. I had what was left of my personnel shop determine where they could get airline tickets to immediately, then book flights out for my people and their families. I justified government funds for the travel as annual leave, home leave, or business travel—what we called “TDY,” meaning “temporary duty. At first my personnel guys balked. They pointed out to me that sending someone out for annual leave, then not charging them for annual leave violated regulations. They said that dispatching someone to New Delhi, for example, on business travel was illegal—we had no business connections in India. I ordered them to do it anyway. As they came to understand that Saigon was unquestionably about to fall, they became as adept at faking the justifications as I was. Finally, they booked themselves out. After the last of them had left, I bought an airline ticket with money from my own pocket, and with no orders or justification, put one of my guys on the plane and told him to go. That turned out to be the last Pan Am flight out of Saigon.

By 27 April we were down to just the three of us, me and my two communicators, Bob and Gary. We locked all the offices in our suite, and I moved my cot and .38 revolver into the comms center. We hadn’t slept through the night for longer than we could remember. Our diet consisted of bar snacks we’d scrounged from a hotel before the mobs surrounding our compound made it impossible to get out. I found out that Vienna sausages were edible cold straight from the can and that mustard on pickle relish, if eaten in quantity, could stave off severe hunger. Granted, I developed bowel problems, but my guess at the time was that it was due less to the food than to stress. I was later diagnosed with amoebic dysentery.

Coffee we had aplenty—Bob and Gary had seen to that—and I’d made sure I wouldn’t run out if cigarettes. From then on it was coffee by the gallon, chain smoking, almost nothing to eat, and no sleep. We established a regimen: one guy took a two-hour rest break while the other two worked.

Then a series of messages I’ll never forget flowed in. They asked me to get children out of the country. The requests were from American men who had fathered kids with Vietnamese women and wanted to save them. I shuddered to think what might happen to Amerasian youngsters when the Communists took over. But it was too late. I had no vehicle and couldn’t even get out of the compound—now surrounded by panicky crowds ten to fifteen people deep anxious for escape—much less to the addresses the children’s fathers gave me. To this day, I don’t know how the senders managed to get messages to me.

More tomorrow.

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