Burns and Novick: The Vietnam War (4)

The last DVD of the Vietnam war series, episode ten, tells the story of the fall of Saigon in April 1975 almost precisely as I have told it in my writings and presentations (see my article at http://atticusreview.org/bitter-memories-the-fall-of-saigon/). It recounts the withdrawal of U.S. military support and assistance and finally the cessation of financial aid to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the death knell for that country. It details the North Vietnamese conquest of Phuoc Long Province in January 1975, the fall of Da Nang in March, and Ambassador Martin’s insistence that no evacuation was necessary. Then the chaos of the final days and escape by helicopter under fire of those like me who stayed behind so that others could leave the country.

I was all the more moved by the appearance in the film of so many people I knew during those tragic days. I was on a first-name basis with at least a dozen people quoted, interviewed, or shown.

So many people have asked me why neither I nor any of my people appeared in the story. The same question could be asked about why none of us showed up in the histories written during the time the series was being researched. The reason is that we were under deep cover. Few Americans and even fewer Vietnamese even knew we were there. The presence of any employee or unit associated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in Vietnam during the war was deeply classified. We were not at the embassy but hidden in an inconspicuous office suite at the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) building at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of Saigon. We went out of our way to avoid contact with other Americans so as to remain invisible.

Our cover was that we were the office of the Department of Defense Special Representative (DODSPECREP). That made us sound distant enough and so harmless that no one paid us much attention. My contacts at the embassy were strictly limited to the ambassador and the CIA chief of station, Tom Polgar.

NSA’s presence in Vietnam was still classified through the end of 2015. The only publications that mentioned any of us even in passing were Frank Snepp’s Decent Interval (1977) and volume II of Scott Laidig’s Al Gray, Marine (2017). It was not until Thurston Clarke brought out his Honorable Exit in 2019 that our story began to be told.

More tomorrow.

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