Chaos at the End (3)

Resuming from last week my series of blogs on the turmoil in Saigon in late April 1975 as the North Vietnamese prepared for their final onslaught on the city.

The North Vietnamese time-out just before the attack on Saigon ended as suddenly as it had begun. My novel, Last of the Annamese accurately reports what happened:

It started Saturday morning [26 April 1975]. Reports swamped the comms center. Long Binh was under attack, and Ba Ria fell. North Vietnamese shelling of Bien Hoa was low thunder that shook the floor. The final assault was under way. To get around the Ambassador’s edict that no one was to be evacuated, Troiano [chief of the Intelligence Branch, Defense Attaché Office in Saigon] sent most of the remaining personnel out of country by air on trumped-up “temporary duty” missions. The Intelligence Branch, the comms center, and the tank [the large room housing intelligence analysts] were now manned by five people—two comms techs who’d volunteered to stay to the end, Chuck [the novel’s protagonist], Sparky [Chuck’s co-worker and housemate], and Troiano. “We’re just here to turn off the lights when the Ambassador gives us permission to leave,” Troiano told Chuck. They adopted the eight-sixteen rule (eight hours of sleep, sixteen hours of work on rotating shifts) so that two people would man the tank at all times. Sparky made a food run, found out that the snack bar was deserted . . . .

They helped Troiano shove his desk into the tank and moved the cots and suitcases into his office. They pushed the three desks they’d be working at to the center of the room and moved all the rest into rows to form barriers in case the room was penetrated.

“Give me the keys to the jeep,” Troiano said. “All vehicle keys are to be handed over to the SPG [Special Planning Group, the small team coordinating the evacuation despite the ambassador] guys so they can clear the parking lot for helos.”

“What if we need to go somewhere?” Sparky said.

“None of us is going anywhere from now on,” Troiano said, “except by chopper.”

More tomorrow.

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