Saigon, April 1975: Mobs in the Streets (2)

On my last foray through the streets of Saigon in late April 1975, to go to the embassy to plead in vain with the ambassador for an evacuation, I got mobbed. I was driving the black limousine provided to me as an office head—I’d already evacuated my Vietnamese chauffeur. The mob that filled the street to overflowing blocked my way. They pounded on the car and screamed at me. I had with my .38 revolver. I pointed it out the windshield and bared my teeth. Those in front of the car backed off just enough that I was able force me way through.

That was my last trip out of the office. From then on, those of my subordinates still in Vietnam never left my office except to board a plane out of the country.

The compound that housed the DAO building—where our office was located—was surrounded by a chain link fence about two stories high that tilted out at the top with barbed wire. The mobs surrounding the compound outside that fence grew daily until they were ten to fifteen people deep. They wanted the Americans inside to get them safely out of the country.

Just before sunset on 28 April, five South Vietnamese pilots, who had defected to the North Vietnamese side, bombed the runways of the airport. That meant that fixed-wing aircraft could no longer take off; we’d have to depend on helicopters for evacuation. The North Vietnamese then began shelling Saigon—and our compound. Shells fell inside the fence. The building next door to us blew up. The Marine guards at our western gate were hit; two were killed.

The shelling frightened away the mobs surrounding us. Ironically, the North Vietnamese action achieved for us something we had not been able to do for ourselves: it cleared the mobs from around the compound allowing us to escape to the helicopters waiting to carry us out of the country.

I got my last two subordinates on a helicopter about 1400 (2:00 p.m.) on 29 April. I escaped under fire on a helicopter that night in pouring rain after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon.

My heart still goes out to all those people who tried so hard to escape the North Vietnamese and failed. They were the desperate mobs pleading with us. We flew away and left them behind.

More tomorrow.

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