Armed South Vietnamese Air Force Officers Demand Evacuation at Gun Point

Almost three years ago, I mentioned in this blog the attempt by South Vietnamese Air Force officers on 29 April 1975, the day Saigon fell, to force the U.S. to evacuate them. They fought their way into DAO building, the U.S. stronghold at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of Saigon where we were holed up, with guns drawn and demanded evacuation. They took an American hostage and threatened his life. During negotiations that followed, they released the hostage, surrendered their weapons and, as far as I know, were indeed safely flown out of Saigon.

By that day, I had succeeded in getting all of my staff out of the country except for me and the two communicators who agreed to stay with me to the end, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman. Before dawn that morning, as the North Vietnamese began their attack on Saigon, Bob, Gary, and I received a telephone call telling us that South Vietnamese Air Force officers were roaming the halls, guns drawn. We were to leave our office suite and go immediately to the evacuation staging area, another office the Marines had secured. So we sent our last message. It’s a personal eyes-only message from me to my boss, General Lew Allen, the Director of NSA. It’s now declassified so I can quote it:

1. HAVE JUST RECEIVED WORD TO EVACUATE. AM NOW DESTROYING REMAINING CLASSIFIED MATERIAL. WILL CEASE TRANSMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS MESSAGE.

2. WE’RE TIRED BUT OTHERWISE ALL RIGHT. LOOKS LIKE THE BATTLE FOR SAIGON IS ON FOR REAL.

3. FROM GLENN: I COMMEND TO YOU MY PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THE BEST NSA CAN GIVE THEM FOR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH BUT ESPECIALLY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED.

I added “from Glenn” before the final paragraph to assure that General Allen would know these words were from me personally.

We destroyed our crypto and comms equipment and went to the staging area. Bob and Gary flew out on a helicopter at 1400 hours that afternoon. I followed that night carrying the two flags that had stood beside my desk, the stars and stripes and gold and orange banner of the now defunct Republic of Vietnam. Those two flags are now in the Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade.

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