April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (4)

Continuing my series of posts on the fall of Saigon 46 years ago this month:

On 17 April 1975, I was in my office, which was now doubled as my bedroom and stoveless kitchen, reading the latest messages and reports before I burnbagged them when one of my comms guys came in with a news dispatch—he wanted me to see it right away: Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, had fallen to the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian communists allied to North Vietnam.

I knew the end was near. Saigon would be the next to fall. But the U.S. ambassador in Saigon continued insisting that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon, based on assurances from the Hungarian member of the International Commission for Control and Supervision.

My stateside boss, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), sent me a message ordering me to close down the operation and get everybody out before someone got killed. The ambassador still wouldn’t hear of it. I continued pushing hard to get all my people out of the country using any pretext I could think of.

On 22 April, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimated that the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) wouldn’t last more than a week. But the White House accepted the ambassador’s conviction that Saigon would not be attacked. No evacuation was ordered.

I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that my chances of survival were slim. But I was so focused on assuring that none of my subordinates were killed or wounded that I didn’t have time to consider my own situation.

More next time.

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