April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (3)

Continuing the series of posts about the fall of Saigon forty-six years ago in April 1975:

Because the U. S. ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) had forbidden me from evacuating my people, I lied about the rationale for their travel abroad. That took some doing. One day I asked my staff to book a flight out for one of my subordinates the next morning. The only flight available was to New Delhi. I ordered them to send that subordinate out on that flight with the justification of “business travel.” A staff member said that was a violation of the rules because we had no business affiliations in Delhi. I ordered him to do it anyway. When he balked again, I yelled at him. He ended up doing as I insisted.

By the next day, he and other staff members had become experts at phony justifications for travel out of the country. Thanks to their craftiness, the ambassador never caught on that I was flagrantly violating his orders and all my subordinates escaped and survived.

I knew I couldn’t leave—the ambassador wouldn’t allow it—so as I snuck my subordinates out of the country, I asked for two volunteers to stay with me to the end. I needed a communicator who could keep me in touch our employer, the National Security Agency (NSA), back in the states, and with the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC). And I needed a maintenance man who could keep the communications working. Most of the sixteen men who worked in my comms shop said they’d like to volunteer, but they felt they owed it to their wives and children not to risk their lives.

Then two brave men stepped forward. Their names are now declassified so I can tell you who they were. Bob Hartley was the communicator; Gary Hickman was the maintenance guy. I explained the danger to Bob and Gary. I said we might be bombarded or attacked by the North Vietnamese. Despite the serious danger, they agreed to stay.

As long as I live, I’ll admire, no, I’ll love those two guys for their raw courage. They risked their lives because I asked them to.

More next time.

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