April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (5)

Continuing my recounting of the saga of the fall of Saigon and my role in it. From here on, I will be relying on my article that appeared in the Atticus Review on February 9, 2016.

By mid-April 1975, despite the Ambassador’s refusal to call for an evacuation, outgoing commercial airlines leaving Vietnam were choked with passengers, and U.S. Air Force C-130 and C-141 transports daily carted hundreds of Vietnamese and Americans out of the country. The embassy made a point of explaining that their departure was not an evacuation. It was a reduction in force to free up resources to help the Republic of Vietnam.

I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to get out and about—the crowds in the streets were becoming larger and more menacing. Some of the men, in ragged Republic of Vietnam military uniforms, were armed. I knew the danger, but several trips were crucial. I told my Vietnamese driver, who usually ferried me around town, to use his U.S. pass to drive his family onto the military side of Tan Son Nhat in the black sedan assigned to me, a Ford Galaxy with diplomatic plates and American flags, and escape while they still could. Then I took over the sedan. Armed with my .38, I drove it rather than my small Japanese car, foolishly believing that the impressive official vehicle would ward off the massed refugees.

I had it exactly backwards.

The sedan attracted the most desperate of those seeking evacuation. I was mobbed once, but when I bared my teeth and leveled the .38, the crowd pulled back just enough for me to force my way through.

One trek was to help a Vietnamese family related to our house servants to get into the air base at Tan Son Nhat so that they could find a way out of the country via a departing U.S. military aircraft. Because South Vietnamese guards at the gates would allow no one to pass without official identification, the family members hid in the trunk and on the floor by the back seat of the sedan, covered with blankets. The guard admitted me without incident. The family managed to get on a C-130 and fly to Guam. Much later, they contacted me in the states to thank me.

More next time.

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