Further on my memories of living through the fall of Saigon in April 1975:
By the last week in April 1975, my staff and I had become experts at finding ways to get our people out of the country despite the ambassador’s ban on evacuation. But that wasn’t true in the beginning. Sometime during the first half of April, I asked a staff member where the earliest flight the next day would be headed. It was destined for Delhi, India. Fine, I said. Put George on the flight to get him safely out of the country. Label the trip justification “TDY,” that is temporary duty. My subordinate responded that sending George to Delhi on TDY was a violation of the rules—we had no work for George to do in Delhi because we didn’t have any operations there. I told my staff member to do it anyway. When he hesitated, I yelled at him. We sent George to Delhi who then booked a flight from there to the U.S.
By the next day, that staff member had become as expert on finding available flights out of the country to all kinds of places to get our people safely out of Vietnam. He ended up booking himself out for Germany.
I tell that story to demonstrate how flexible and ingenious my subordinates were during those dark days. Thanks to them—and to my unflinching willingness to lie, cheat, and steal to save my subordinates’ lives—all 43 and their families escaped before Saigon fell.
At the very end, I was no longer able to draw on funds to buy airplane tickets. So I paid from my own pocket for a ticket on Pan Am for one of my last guys to escape. His flight out turned out to be the last Pan Am flight out of Saigon at the end of April 1975.
Meanwhile, on 24 April 1975, 45 years ago today, the wire services, which we monitored, reported a speech that President Ford had given the previous day at Tulane. He referred to Vietnam as “a war that is finished.”
For once, my cynicism overcame my dread. If the Vietnam war was finished, what were I and my subordinates doing in Saigon? We were, after all, men of great value to the North Vietnamese if they could get their hands on us. We were spies. If we were captured, we’d spend at least a year imprisoned and be regularly tortured. And Saigon was now surrounded by eighteen North Vietnamese divisions.
We redoubled our efforts at getting everyone out. In the end, thank God, we were successful.
More on April 1975 in later posts.