The Sad Month of April (11)

More memories of the fall of Saigon, 45 years ago this month:

Not long before sunset on 28 April 1975, I made a head run. The mammoth Pentagon East, what we called the Defense Attaché Office building (originally the MACV [Military Assistance Command, Vietnam] building) at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of Saigon, was in shambles. Light bulbs were burned out, trash and broken furniture littered the halls, and the latrines were filthy and smelled disgusting. I came across men on stepladders running cables through the ceiling. They told me they were wiring the building for complete destruction. “Last man out lights the fuse and runs like hell,” they joked.

I went into the men’s room. I was standing at the urinal when the wall in front of me lunged toward me as if to swat me down, then slapped back into place. The sound of repeated explosions deafened me and nearly knocked me off my feet. Instead of sensibly taking cover, I believed I needed to know what was going on—I was an intelligence officer. I left the men’s room and went to the closest exit at the end of a hall, unbolted it, and stepped into the shallow area between the western wall of the building and the security fence, a space of maybe ten to fifteen feet, now piled high with sandbags.

The first thing I noticed was that the throngs of refugees had dispersed—no one was clamoring outside the fence—presumably frightened away by the explosions. My ears picked up the whine of turbojets. I shaded my eyes from the setting sun and spotted five A-37 Dragonfly fighters circling above the Tan Son Nhat runways. They dove, dropped bombs, and pulled up. The resulting concussions sent me tumbling, but I was on my feet and running before the planes went into their next approach. Back in the office, I received a dispatch telling me that renegade pilots who had defected to the Communists were bombing Tan Son Nhat.

More next time.

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