Between 1962 and 1975, I was in Vietnam at least four months every year. I had two PCS (permanent change of station, meaning at least two years) tours there and so many shorter trips (called TDYs, temporary duty, usually four to six months long) that I lost count. That meant that I was absent from my four children for long periods. In some respects, it was for them like growing up without a father.
But both of my PCS tours in Vietnam were accompanied—I had my family with me. They lived in Saigon while I was in the field with the troops. On the first, from 1963 to 1965, I only had one child, my oldest daughter, Susan. But she and her mother were forced to return to the states in 1964 when the war heated up and U.S. troops were committed in large numbers. On the second PCS, beginning in 1974, all four of my kids and their mother were with me until twenty days before Saigon fell when I evacuated them surreptitiously (the ambassador had forbidden evacuations, sure that the North Vietnamese would not attack Saigon) by sending them to Bangkok for a “vacation.”
I was allowed to have my family with me starting in 1974 because the fiction deliberately perpetrated by Henry Kissinger was that the war was over. South Vietnam was now a “gentleman’s tour,” gracious, even luxurious, and devoid of danger. I knew better, but I reasoned that Saigon was safe enough.
It wasn’t. Terrorist incidents through the city became rife. As the North Vietnamese came closer, we could hear shelling in the distance. I got my family out as soon as I could.
Hence, all four of my children remember Vietnam. Susan, who was a teenager during my second PCS has the best memories. She and her American friends had parties and gatherings and spent endless hours at the embassy pool. She reminded me recently that she and her girlfriends spotted Frank Snepp (whom I’ve written of in recent posts) there. He was a strikingly handsome man, and the teenage girls idolized him. I knew nothing of that at the time, or I would have been alarmed. Frank was well known for his womanizing.
More next time.