These days I spend more time than I want to giving presentations. I do a lecture on fiction craftsmanship and a remembrance of the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands. But most often, I tell the story of the fall of Saigon which I survived, escaping under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
The heavy public speaking schedule gets in the way of my writing. It takes time to rehearse the presentations, organize the slides, and travel to the venues where I am invited to speak. And I always refuse offers of money for the presentations on Vietnam. These are sacred stories for me. I want people to know what happened.
My presentation on the Dak To battle emphasizes one aspect of my years in Vietnam: U.S. troop commanders so often didn’t believe or act on the intelligence I was able to provide them through the intercept and exploitation of North Vietnamese communications. I was nearly always able to locate enemy units and determine what they were doing. The refusal to accept my information happened so frequently that I coined the term “Cassandra Effect” about my ability to foretell what was going to happen and the dilemma of not being believed.
The fall of Saigon story is far and away my most popular presentation. I’ve now given it more than sixty times. What happened in Saigon was one more example of the Cassandra Effect—the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, didn’t believe my warnings that the North Vietnamese were preparing to attack Saigon and failed to call for an evacuation. By the time he was countermanded from Washington, it was too late to save the 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who had worked with the NSA organization. They were all either killed or captured by the North Vietnamese.
I still grieve for them.