Continuing memories of the fall of Saigon, 45 years ago this month:
By 27 April 1975, I had succeeded in getting 41 of my guys and their families safely out of Saigon as the North Vietnamese began their attacks on the city. Two men, Bob Hartley, a communicator, and Gary Hickman, an communications equipment maintenance man, had volunteered to stay with me to the end. We locked all the doors throughout the office suite, and I moved my cot from the from the front office—my office—into the comm center.The three of us went on a regimen of one guy resting for two hours while the other two worked. Our food, bar snacks we’d been able to scrounge while we could still get out in the streets, was just about gone. But we had plenty of coffee—Bob and Gary had seen to that—and I’d made sure I wouldn’t run out if cigarettes. From then on it was lots of coffee, chain smoking, almost nothing to eat, and no sleep.
With nothing else to do, the three of us talked. We told each other all about our families, where our NSA careers had taken us in years past, our plans for the future, the meals we craved when all this was over.
Then a series of messages I’ll never forget flowed in. They asked me to get children out of the country. The requests were from American men who had fathered kids with Vietnamese women and wanted to save them. I shuddered to think what might happen to Amerasian youngsters when the Communists took over. But it was too late. I had no vehicle and couldn’t even get out of the compound—surrounded by panicky crowds anxious for escape—much less to the addresses the children’s fathers gave me. To this day, I don’t know how the senders managed to get messages to me.
Partly to stay awake, I maintained my schedule of recon runs, checking out the parking lot and the perimeter. I got chummy with the snuffs at the gate closest to the building exit I used. Unlike most of the Marines, these guys were willing to fill me in on any new scuttlebutt. Among other things, they told me that people outside the fence were tossing babies into the compound, hoping they’d survive and escape the Communists. Most of the infants didn’t make it over the top of the fence—it was something like two stories high with barbed wire and an outward tilt at the top to prevent scalers. Some of them fell to ground and were killed because the people below failed to catch them as they fell. Those who did make it over the top fell to the ground inside the compound and were killed, because there was no one there to catch them.
More next time.