My Last Counterpart in Vietnam (2)

By early April 1975, the general was hysterical. He sat alone in his darkened office weeping as the North Vietnamese drew ever closer to Saigon. I visited him there, urging him to lead his troops in their mission to determine North Vietnamese intent. I was unable to get him to act. Instead, I worked directly with the most competent of his staff to assure that signals intelligence on the enemy would continue.

Meanwhile, in eyes-only messages (encrypted so that only the intended recipient can read them), I reported in detail to my boss, General Lew Allen, the director of NSA, on my counterpart’s emotional collapse. I and my staff did all we could to motivate his officers to keep the signals intelligence flowing.

By the last week of April, I had succeeded in getting all but two guys of my staff evacuated. The three of us, I and the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end, were holed up in comms center as the North Vietnamese laid siege to Saigon. After dawn on 29 April, I got a call from a Vietnamese officer I’d been working with. 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 to the American embassy and got 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 and captured them. Some were killed outright; others were sent to “re-education camps,” concentration camps where so many died.

When I recovered from the illnesses I had come down with during the last week in Saigon (amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to sleep deprivation, inadequate diet, and muscle fatigue), I returned to NSA. I learned that the agency had hired the general and that he was now working there. Disgusted that he had abandoned his troops and fled to save his own life, I avoided him.

More next time.

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