So many readers have asked my why Ambassador Graham Martin didn’t believe the overwhelming evidence from signals intelligence that the North Vietnamese were about to attack Saigon. I can only speculate.
Martin’s son had died in combat in Vietnam. Perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the North Vietnamese would be victorious. To do so would mean accepting that his son had died in vain.
And Martin’s reporting to Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, and to President Ford emphasized the positive—how well the South Vietnamese were doing—and downplayed the negative—that the North Vietnamese had already conquered more than half the country and were intent on achieving complete victory. He partly reflected and partly contributed to optimistic tone that the U.S. government was presenting to the public.
I still shake my head in wonder that we refused to face the defeat that was staring us in the face and failed to prepare for it. The consequences for me are life-long. The 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who had worked with NSA during my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam were all killed or captured by the North Vietnamese after we pulled out and abandoned them. I still grieve over their loss. These were men I knew and admired for their bravery and toughness.
Because the ambassador refused to allow me to evacuate my staff, I lied and cheated to get them and their families all safely out of the country, but I was still in Saigon when it fell to the North Vietnamese. My hearing was permanently damaged in the shelling at the end, and I was physically ill from exhaustion and inadequate diet when I finally escaped by helicopter under fire on the night of 29 April 1975—after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
So I don’t know why Ambassador Graham Martin failed to heed my warning. I only know the consequences.