To reduce the anxiety of the guys in my workforce, I decided not to tell them that the ambassador had refused me permission to evacuate them and their families as it became more and more obvious that the North Vietnamese were about to attack. Until recently, I thought I’d been successful in my ruse. But about a year ago, I had coffee with one of my communicators. He told me that they all knew about the ambassador’s orders but didn’t let on to me to reduce the pressure I was under. The communicators were of course reading the eyes-only messages I was sending to my boss, the director of NSA, General Lew Allen, and they quietly shared that news with the rest of the staff.
The bond that formed between me and the men who worked for me at the end in Saigon remains as powerful today as it was when the tragedy happened. The best manifestation of our devotion to each other is a plaque my guys gave me about a year after the fall of Saigon at a dinner where we all gathered to reminisce. Across the top are the words “Last Man Out Award.” Below that is a brass eagle and the following:
“MACV HQS SAIGON, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH VIETNAM
“The fall of Saigon will always remain a monumental tragedy in U.S. history. This is to finally recognize your exceptional leadership while safely evacuating all your employees and the closing down amid the danger and chaos of those final days.
“[Signed] The Women and Men and Dependents of F46”
End of quote. “F46” was our unclassified designator.
That plaque hangs on my office. I see it—and remember—every day. The love I bear those men—and the feeling is too strong to call it anything short of love—has never weakened.