During the last week of April as I hunkered down in my office on the northern edge of Saigon amidst the artillery shelling of the North Vietnamese, statements from the U.S. government were at best noncommittal, at worst upbeat. Were my bosses in Washington reading what I was sending them? Did they even know what was going on?
The U.S. military knew. Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) at Pearl Harbor had dispatched the 7th Fleet to the South China Sea to evacuate Americans and some Vietnamese. Aboard were Marines, commanded by Colonel Al Gray, an officer I had known since he was a captain. Al and I had kept running into each other in South Vietnam starting in the early 1960s. In late April 1975, Al flew into Saigon from the 7th Fleet by helicopter and found me holed up in my office. He told me his mission—to evacuate friendlies—and assured me he’d get me safely out of the country. The evening of 29 April, he saved my life by getting me safely out of Saigon. He went on to become Commandant of the Marine Corps. Al Gray is a hero to every Marine I’ve ever met.
The ambassador never did call for an evacuation. He was countermanded from Washington in the predawn hours of 29 April 1975. By then it was too late to rescue the 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers that had worked with the NSA organization. They were all killed or captured by the North Vietnamese. Those captured were sent to “re-education camps,” really concentration camps, where the death rate was very high.
Throughout those hideous days at the end, the U.S. government had little to say publicly and expressed mild surprise when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. I’ll always be grateful to the military side of the government, and especially to the Marines. Without them, if left to the civilians, I’d have never survived.
Maybe readers will understand why I always capitalize Marines.