Yesterday afternoon, I offered my presentation with slides on the fall of Saigon at the 50+ Center in Ellicott City. Thirty-odd people attended and gave me their undivided attention as I told of my escape under fire on the night of April 29, 1975, after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I don’t know how many times I’ve given the presentation. I stopped counting a year or two ago when I reached seventy.
As always, at two points in the presentation, I choked up and had tears in my eyes. The first time was when I told of a South Vietnamese officer who told me that he couldn’t live under the communists. “When the communists come,” he said, “I will shoot my three children, I’ll shoot my wife, and I’ll shoot myself.” That officer didn’t escape at the end, and I have no doubt he carried out his plan because so many other South Vietnamese officers did exactly what he described.
The other highly emotional point in the story comes when I talk about the two men who volunteered to stay with me to the end, the communicator Bob Hartley and the communication equipment technician Gary Hickman. As I say during the presentation, I’ll always love those two guys for their raw courage. In staying with me as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, they risked their lives because I asked them to.
At the end of the presentation, I describe how Al Gray, the Marine officer I wrote about in yesterday’s blog post, arranged for me to escape. In the dark and the pouring rain on the night of April 29, 1975, I boarded a helicopter for the flight to the ships of the U.S. 7th Fleet cruising out of sight of land in the South China Sea. No sooner were we airborne than we came under fire. We took so much lead that I thought we were going down, but we made it.
More next time.