On Sunday, June 16, the Washington Post published on page B7 a review by Pierre Asselin of Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War (Doubleday, 2019). When the book first came out, I did an interview with the author. You can read it at at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/an-interview-with-thurston-clarke
The book is of singular interest to me because Clarke describes in scrupulous detail the last six weeks of the Vietnam war which I lived through, escaping under fire when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon. He includes half a dozen anecdotes about me and my struggle to save my South Vietnamese counterparts.
The review devotes several paragraphs to the appalling performance of the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, who refused to believe the warnings from me and others that the North Vietnamese were preparing to attack Saigon. His failure to prepare caused the death of multiple thousands of South Vietnamese and the imprisonment of thousands more.
One paragraph of the review caught my attention for its eloquence and detail: “Boldly assuming that the U.S. government would not leave them behind, these daring Americans refused to board rescue ships and helicopters until most if not all the Vietnamese for whom they felt responsible had departed. Risking their careers and lives, they collectively saved more than 130,000 men, women, and children. ‘America’s first helicopter war,’ Clarke writes, ended with ‘the largest helicopter evacuation in military history.’ Sanctioned by neither the White House nor Ambassador Martin, the effort constituted the biggest wartime evacuation since Dunkirk in 1940 and the largest humanitarian operation in American history to date.”
Nearly all the books I have read on the Vietnam war portray the U.S. performance as abysmal. We deserve that judgment. But the valor of those who, at the end, fought with everything they had to save the South Vietnamese most at risk has, until now, gone untold. I’m grateful to Thurston Clarke for setting the record straight.