Far and away my most popular presentation is on the fall of Saigon. By last year, I’d given it more than fifty times and stopped counting. As more and more of my experience in Vietnam has been declassified, I’ve been able to include greater detail about what happened. I can now speak openly about being a covert NSA operative intercepting and exploiting the communications of the invading North Vietnamese. I can describe my knowledge that eighteen North Vietnamese divisions surrounded Saigon toward the middle of April 1975. I can talk about the enemy unit just north of me which was awaiting the order to attack.
And I can tell of the failure of the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, to act on my warning that Saigon was about to be assaulted. He never called for an evacuation. As a result, many people died, and I barely escaped under fire.
I always tell my listeners that the story I’m telling them is also the story told in my novel Last of the Annamese. I explain that I wrote the book as fiction so that I could relate what happened from five different points of view, three American and two Vietnamese. I stress that the book, as one reviewer pointed out, is fiction in name only.
What surprises me is that every time I do the presentation, I choke up as I relate events that still move me deeply: the raw courage of the two communicators who volunteered to stay with me to the end despite the risk to their lives; the intent a South Vietnamese officer to shoot his three children, shoot his wife, and shoot himself when the North Vietnamese took Saigon; and my last message, sent to the Director of NSA, General Lew Allen, commending to him my people who had shown such ingenuity and courage in the face of disaster. During the Saigon presentation, I keep a handkerchief in my pocket to wipe the tears from my eyes as I speak of each of these events.
I do the fall of Saigon presentation because I want Americans to know what happened at the end. It was an event that changed the U.S. and changed my life. It is shameful narrative of American abandonment of those gallant South Vietnamese who fought by our side. But it’s also a story of bravery and self-sacrifice by those I worked beside. It is a story that must not be forgotten.