One of the sixteen excellent communicators who served me so well in Saigon before it fell in 1975 reminded me, after reading my blog posts about alcohol, that I served him and others martinis during those final days. It’s true that back then I hadn’t graduated to gimlets and still favored martinis.
In 1974 and 1975, I was the chief of the clandestine National Security Agency (NSA) operation in South Vietnam following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973. Since I had my family with me and lived in a beautiful villa, I made it my business to entertain members of my crew at every opportunity. Most of them were there without their families; all of us were given hazardous duty pay in recognition of the danger we lived with daily.
For Americans still in Saigon in 1975, alcoholic beverages were plentiful and cheap, and heavy drinking was common. I probably drank more during those frightening days than at other times in my life, but I was careful to be sure that I could be effective at all times. I was responsible for the lives of my 43 men.
At the end, as Saigon was falling, I managed get all my guys and their families safely evacuated even through the ambassador had forbidden me to do so. To get my people out of the country, I had to stay until the end. I was evacuated under fire on the night of 29 April 1975 after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon.
So, yes, all of us did drink more during that tragedy, but my guess is that my ability to drink but stay sober was probably much greater back then than it is now. What I remember from those days is not drinking but the stress of long hours without sleep or food as the final cataclysm came closer. I am justifiably proud than none of my people were killed or wounded. All escaped.