On 29 April 1975, as the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon, the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end and I were holed up in our comms center. We had no food left and hadn’t slept for days. Just after daylight, I got a call from the Vietnamese major I’d visited a few days before. He wanted to know where his boss, the general, was. He’d tried to telephone the general but got no answer. I dialed the general’s number with the same result. I found out much later that the general had somehow made it from his office through the mobs in the streets of the city to the American embassy and had gotten over the wall. He was evacuated safely while his men stayed at their posts awaiting orders from him. They were still there when the North Vietnamese arrived. All of them were killed or captured. Those who survived were sent to so-called “re-education camps,” really concentration camps where the death rate soared. Those who did not die were imprisoned for many years.
After I got back to the states and returned to NSA in 1975, I learned that the general who had abandoned his troops was now working at NSA. I wanted nothing to do with him and avoided him. Years later, I received an invitation to an awards ceremony—the general was being given a medal for his work during the fall of Saigon. Disgusted, I refused to attend. NSA’s deputy director, Ann Caracristi, summoned me to her office. She berated me for failing to honor a hero. I referred her to the eyes-only messages I had transmitted to the director at the time, General Lew Allen, describing the Vietnamese general’s emotional collapse and hysteria. General Allen had never shared the messages with her or anyone else. And he had destroyed them when he left the agency in 1977 to become commander of Air Force Systems Command. The men who worked with me and I were the only living human beings who knew what had happened.
I told Ann about the Vietnamese general’s abandonment of his troops when he was safely evacuated. She had never heard the story before. She refused to cancel the awards ceremony, but she allowed me to avoid it.
That Vietnamese general worked for a number of years at NSA before his death. I never spoke to him. I and the men who served with me in Vietnam declined to ever be in his presence. In the name of his 2700 subordinates he had left to their fate, we refused to mourn his death.