The Things I Carried (2)

My two guys were evacuated from Saigon by helicopter at 1400 hours (2:00 p.m.) on 29 April 1975. I went out that night on a Huey, a small Air America helicopter. My chopper was fired upon and almost shot down, but we made it to a ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet cruising in the South China Sea. In the pockets of my slacks were what I always carried—my car keys, change, my wallet, the usual pocket litter. But I also had my passport and identity papers which labelled me as a diplomat and employee of the U.S. State Department, my cover at the time.

I was also carrying things in my hands. One was my .38 revolver, the only weapon I’d had to defend myself against the eighteen North Vietnamese divisions that were attacking Saigon. And under each arm I carried a flag. One was the stars and stripes; the other was the orange and gold flag of the now defunct Republic of Vietnam, that is, South Vietnam. They were the two flags that had stood on either side of my desk in my office.

When the helicopter I was on landed on the Oklahoma City, the flag ship of the 7th Fleet, sailors immediately took my .38 from me, but I wouldn’t give them the flags. I kept them with me as we sailed to the Philippines. I carried them on the flight from Subic Bay to Honolulu. I had them under my arms as I flew from Hawaii to Baltimore. I landed in Baltimore wearing the same clothes I’d escaped Saigon in and carrying the same belongings, minus the .38. When I returned to NSA, I took the flags with me and presented them to the agency I had represented in Vietnam.

Today, these two flags are in the Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland, adjacent to NSA headquarters.

They—and I—are home at last.

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