So much of the irrationality during the fall of Saigon resulted from the ambassador’s continuous reporting to the Secretary of State and the president that the North Vietnamese had no intention of assaulting Saigon. He had been approached by the Hungarian member of the International Commission for Control and Supervision (a group established in 1973 to monitor the supposed cease-fire) who told him that the North Vietnamese would not attack the city. They instead wanted to form a coalition government of “all patriotic forces in the south” and rule jointly. The ambassador believed that gentlemen, a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam, in the face of overwhelming signals intelligence that the attack was imminent.
One result was no plan for the evacuation of South Vietnamese that had worked with U.S. forces. I described the resulting chaos in a scene from Last of the Annamese in which the protagonist, Chuck, asks his boss, Colonel Troiano, about evacuation plans:
“The Embassy’s dragging its feet,” Troiano said. “The Ambassador thinks there’s going to be some kind of cease-fire to negotiate the formation of a coalition government. But we haven’t been idle. Ever hear of the DAO [Defense Attaché Office] Special Planning Group? Don’t let the name fool you. The SPG’s the forward evacuation coordinator. It’s been quietly working with the Marines flying in from ships off the coast to get everything ready. But the Ambassador is doing everything he can to throw obstacles in their path. He won’t allow the Marines to wear uniforms, fly in on Marine helicopters, or stay overnight. Because we’re expecting mobs outside the gate, the deputy DAO, General Baughn, sent a message to higher ups requesting additional security guards when the evacuation begins. The Ambassador was furious—ordered Baughn out of the country. So now all the preps are sub rosa. Trouble is, the city is already rolling toward panic. That’s going to make it rough.”
“So the servants at the houses, the chauffeurs—”
Troiano wilted. “If the Embassy had faced the facts and started evacuating people other than high-risk Viets, we could have gotten many of them out. As it is . . .” He shook his head.
“What will we do, sir?”
“When I find out, I’ll tell you.”
End of quote. In short, the ambassador never did call for an evacuation. But the military side of the U.S. government was under no delusion about what was happening. It moved ahead, ordered the 7th Fleet to the South China Sea with Marines and helicopters aboard, and established liaison with people on the ground in Saigon. The sad part of the story is that the evacuation effort was too small and came too late. We couldn’t evacuate those faithful South Vietnamese who had worked with us against the communists. They were left behind to the mercies of the conquering North Vietnamese. That included 2,700 South Vietnamese soldiers that had worked with my employer, NSA.