Rerun: Abandonment

Once again, I return to a blog of several years ago: the sense of having been deserted in Vietnam in April 1975. Here are my thoughts, brought up to date by my most recent thinking.

As I said several years ago, I’ve talked at some length in various places in this blog about my feelings before, during, and after the fall of Saigon. What I haven’t wanted to talk about is my sense of abandonment.

As the North Vietnamese encroached on Saigon and I struggled to hold together what was left of my mission and my organization, I was doing it alone. I managed to get forty-one of my subordinates and their families out of the country, even though the ambassador had forbidden me to evacuate them. The embassy and CIA not only didn’t help me; they threw roadblocks in my path. I lied and cheated and stole to save the lives of my guys and their wives and children. I succeeded. The only help I received was from the two communicators, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman, who volunteered to stay with me through the fall of Saigon. The three of us propped each other up through the days when we were being shelled. We had nothing to eat and no time to sleep.

After I got Bob and Gary out as the North Vietnamese were moving into the city, I escaped on a helicopter under fire. I flew to a ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet which eventually set sail for the Philippines. Though I didn’t know it until I got back to Maryland in late May, I was suffering from severe ear damage from the shelling, exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, and pneumonia brought on by muscle fatigue, inadequate diet, and sleep deprivation.

From Subic Bay I caught a flight to Honolulu. The senior National Security Agency (NSA) official in the Pacific region met my plane. I was a wreck—I’d lost weight and was still wearing the clothes I’d escaped in. I was unshaven, in desperate need of a haircut, and physically ill. Instead of asking how I was or suggesting I look for a doctor, he said, “You can’t be seen around here looking like that.” He turned me over to one of his subordinates who saw to it I looked respectable for my briefing at CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific).

I can’t tell you the name of the man who met my plane. It’s still classified.

More tomorrow.

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