As I worked my way through Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit (Doubleday, 2019), I read of the heroic efforts of Americans to rescue South Vietnamese during the fall of Vietnam. I honor those Americans. They were successful. I failed.
Working with my organization over entire thirteen years I was in and out of Vietnam were 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers. As the fall of Saigon loomed, I tired frantically to get those men and their families evacuated. Because of the U.S. governments’ on-again off-again policy for evacuation and Ambassador Graham Martin’s failure to arrange and execute an evacuation plan, many thousands of South Vietnamese were left behind to face the vengeance of the North Vietnamese conquerors. I didn’t know that Colonel Bill LeGro, chief of the Intelligence Branch of the Defense Attaché Office (DAO), had arranged what Clarke calls an underground railroad to sneak vulnerable South Vietnamese out of the country.
I knew the men I failed to rescue. I’d worked with them, tramped through the jungle with them, sat beside them as we intercepted North Vietnamese radio signals. With so many of them, we’d gotten to the point that we dispensed with the formal Vietnamese-language address system and used the more casual and intimate forms. That was the equivalent, in English, of calling each other by first names.
All of them were killed or captured by the North Vietnamese. If they survived, they were sent to “re-education camps,” really concentration camps, where the death rate was very high. Some probably spent many years imprisoned.
I’ll never cease grieving over them. They were among the finest men I’ve ever known. We Americans abandoned them and left them to their fate.