The fall of Xuan Loc was the final signal that Saigon was doomed. But the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, didn’t accept the evidence of a forthcoming assault on the city. The following is a recap of my final briefing to the ambassador days before Saigon fell. It is quoted from Last of the Annamese. I tell the story from the point of view of Chuck Griffin, the novel’s protagonist:
Chuck opened the briefing book on the desk with the pages facing the Ambassador. He reviewed the status of North Vietnamese forces within striking range. “Sir, the situation is critical. The fall of Xuan Loc removed the last barrier to the North Vietnamese approach to Saigon. We know from signals intelligence that sixteen to eighteen North Vietnamese divisions now surround us, poised to invade Saigon. An intercepted message early this morning sent by an unidentified North Vietnamese unit two kilometers north of Tan Son Nhat told a subordinate to await the order to attack.”
The Ambassador glanced at his watch.
“Our best estimate,” Chuck went on, “is that the enemy won’t be completely ready to move against us for another two to three days. But the North Vietnamese are in no hurry. The South Vietnamese military is crumbling fast. We expect that when the attack begins, we’ll be hit first with rockets and mortars, then artillery as enemy troops enter the city.”
The Ambassador gave him a patient smile. “Anything else?”
Chuck’s mouth opened in surprise. “Sir?”
The Ambassador stood. “If there’s nothing more, I need to get on to other matters.”
Chuck stumbled to his feet. He took a deep breath, stood straight, and calmed himself. “Forgive me, sir, but we have little time left to get U.S. citizens and vulnerable South Vietnamese out of the country before it falls to the North Vietnamese.”
The Ambassador came from behind his desk and rested his hand on Chuck’s back as if to urge him toward the office door. “Thank you, Mr. Griffin. I’ll handle it from here.”
Despite the pressure from the Ambassador’s hand, Chuck didn’t move. “Mr. Ambassador, to save lives, I plead with you to order the evacuation immediately. Even if we start now—”
The Ambassador put his arm around Chuck and edged him toward the door. “Young man,” he said as they moved away from the desk, “when you’re older, you’ll understand these things better.”
At the door, the Ambassador smiled, showed Chuck out, and closed the door. The tingle at the base of Chuck’s spine peaked.