April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (7)

Further on the forty-sixth anniversary of the fall of Saigon in April 1975:

I finally understood why the American diplomats in Saigon were denying the danger of a communist assault on the city. The embassy was a victim of what sociologists now call “groupthink syndrome”—firm ideology, immune to fact, shared by all members of a coterie. The Ambassador, and therefore his subordinates, could not countenance the prospect of a communist South Vietnam and therefore dismissed overwhelming evidence from me and, as I learned later, from his CIA agents, of the coming disaster.

On 24 April, the wire services, which we monitored, reported a speech that President Ford had given the previous day at Tulane. He referred to Vietnam as “a war that is finished.” My cynicism overcame my dread. If the war was finished, what was I, a civilian signals intelligence officer and potential prisoner of singular value to the communists—in short, a spy—doing in a combat zone with nothing better than a .38 revolver to defend myself against eighteen North Vietnamese divisions?

I started doing regular physical recons of the DAO building where we were holed up. Sometimes I took out a load of burnbags to the incinerator in the parking lot and burned them; other times I just wandered around. I wanted to be sure I knew beforehand when the North Vietnamese breached the perimeter fence. As I walked the halls and crisscrossed the compound, I saw brawny young American men with skinhead haircuts who had appeared out of nowhere. They were dressed in tank tops or tee-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes. When two or three walked together, they fell into step, as if marching.

Marines in mufti! But I knew all the Marines in country, and I didn’t recognize any of these guys. What the hell was going on?

More next time.

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