Chaos at the End

With the fall of Saigon imminent in April 1975, turmoil took over. The streets, overflowing with refugees fleeing into Saigon to escape the advancing North Vietnamese, became impassable for vehicles. Mobs demanding evacuation surrounded our compound at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon. The throngs were ten to fifteen people deep. We could no longer get in or out of the gates.

In the midst of the turmoil, the battlefield became quiet. I described the sudden quiescence in Last of the Annamese. Chuck Griffin, the novel’s protagonist, is at work in the Intelligence Branch of the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) inside that compound. The General Smith referred to is General Homer D. Smith, who actually was the chief of the DAO:

[Chuck] prepared himself for the grind through the mountains of incoming traffic, but for the first time he could remember, the total take was less than an inch high. Nearly all the classified message traffic was codeword signals intelligence reports that had originated in the states. The rest was the usual screed from the Liberation News Agency [the North Vietnamese propaganda broadcast] and news reports from the wire services. What was going on? The Republic of Vietnam, its northern provinces ripped from it, lay quivering. The North Vietnamese watched like a cat toying with a wounded bird. With little to post or report, Chuck, on Troiano’s [Chuck’s boss] orders, drafted a cable to Washington, info General Smith, updating the estimate he’d given General Weyand [the U.S. Army Chief of Staff who had visited Saigon]. In it he listed the sixteen North Vietnamese divisions known to be positioned and the two believed to be close by for a three-prong attack against Saigon.

He flipped on Sparky’s portable to get the latest ARS [American Radio Service] reporting on the war. He heard news about Hollywood films and debates in Congress followed by songs from Dionne Warwick and Al Martino. Nothing about Vietnam. Toward noon word arrived that the embassy had commanded ARS to cease all reporting about the war. Troiano speculated that the ambassador was afraid of panic.

End of quote. Throughout Last of the Annamese, the character of Chuck Griffin is a stand-in for me. I attribute to him experiences I myself had. Wherever possible, I used the names of the real people involved as Saigon fell, e.g., Generals Smith and Weyand.

But I never used the name of the ambassador, Graham Martin, in describing scenes that actually took place. The actions taken by Martin are those depicted in the book. Other sources have long since corroborated his failure to believe the intelligence presented to him and to prepare for the fall of Saigon.

More tomorrow.

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