April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (10)

By 27 April 1975, I knew that the final North Vietnamese attack on Saigon could come at any moment. We were, by dint of lying and deception, finally down to just the three men, me and my two communicators, Bob Hartley and Gary Hickman. None of us had slept through the night for longer than we could remember, and our diet was bar snacks we’d scrounged from a hotel before the mobs surrounding us made it impossible to get out. I found out that Vienna sausages were edible cold straight from the can and that mustard on pickle relish, if eaten in quantity, could stave off severe hunger. Granted, I developed bowel problems, but my guess at the time was that it was due less to the food than to stress. Coffee we had aplenty—Bob and Gary had seen to that—and I’d made sure I wouldn’t run out if cigarettes. From then on it was lots of coffee, chain smoking, almost nothing to eat, and no sleep.

We locked all the rooms in the office suite except the comms center, and I moved my cot and my .38 in there. Bob and Gary and I established a regimen: one guy took a two-hour rest break while the other two worked.

Then a series of messages I’ll never forget flowed in. They asked me to get children out of the country. The requests were from American men who had fathered kids in Vietnam and wanted to save them. I shuddered to think what might happen to Amerasian youngsters when the communists took over. But it was too late. I had no vehicle and couldn’t even get out of the compound—surrounded by panicky crowds anxious for escape—much less to the addresses the children’s fathers gave me. To this day, I don’t know how the senders managed to get messages to me.

More next time.

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