April: Anniversary of the Fall of Vietnam (14)

The remaining events of 29 April 1975 are confused in my memory—I was in such bad shape I was starting to hallucinate. As I learned later, I was suffering from pneumonia (due to sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue, and poor diet), amoebic dysentery, and severe ear damage from the shelling. As the artillery attacks continued, I begged Al Gray to get my two communicators out as soon as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the idea that, after all they’d done, they might be captured, wounded, or killed. Sometime in the afternoon, when finally they went out on a whirlybird, my work was done.

I recall being locked in a room alone and told to wait until I was called for, trying to stay awake in my chair as the building pitched from artillery hits. I didn’t want to board a chopper until I got confirmation that my communicators were safe aboard a ship of the 7th Fleet. And I wanted to get to a telephone to confirm that our Vietnamese counterparts were being evacuated. As far as I knew, they were still at their posts awaiting orders. But there was no telephone in the room, and I couldn’t leave because the South Vietnamese air force officers who had forced their way into the building to demand evacuation were still on the prowl.

The next thing I remember is being outside.

It was getting dark, and rain was pelting the helicopters around the compound. The rain was weird. The dry season wasn’t due to end for almost a month, and here it was, pouring rain. I protested to Al Gray that I wanted to wait for confirmation that my two communicators were safe before I left, but he ordered me, in unrepeatable language, to get myself on the chopper now. I climbed aboard carrying with me the two flags that had hung in my office—the U.S. stars-and-stripes and the gold-and-orange national flag of the now defunct Republic of Vietnam.

More next time.

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