My Guys in Vietnam

My last tour in Vietnam, in 1974 and 1975, was as the head of a covert operation run by the National Security Agency (NSA) in Vietnam. Its purpose was the collection and exploitation of the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese. I and my 43 guys worked closely with the South Vietnamese government to learn everything we could about the enemy and his intentions. We were spectacularly successful even though our warnings about the enemy were often ignored.

All of us were veterans. We’d all served our country in one of the branches of the military. We were disciplined and devoted. And we worked as hard as any group I’ve ever seen.

It was quite a collection of men—at that point, after the evacuation of my secretary, it was male only. The largest group was communicators who manned the comms shop twenty-four hours day. Most of the messages exchanged were with NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland, who would analyze the result of our work and intercept from many other sources to unmask what the North Vietnamese were up to. During the last week or so of April 1975, NSA forecast the North Vietnamese attack on Saigon.

But I also had with me analysts and linguists whose achievements remain unparalleled in my memory. During the last few weeks before Saigon fell, my guys were working around the clock, sometimes snatching what sleep they could in the office. As I struggled to evacuate my people and their families as the end came closer, we were forced to work with fewer hands on deck, but the workload got larger.

What made those days even harder was that Graham Martin, the U.S. ambassador, the man in charge of all U.S. activities in Vietnam now that the military had withdrawn, refused to allow evacuations. He was convinced that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon. He rejected my warnings that the assault was about to begin. I knew I had to get my men and their families out of the country before the North Vietnamese struck. So I lied, cheated, and stole to get my people out. I sent them out on any pretext I could dream up.

More tomorrow.

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