April: Memories of the Fall of Saigon (3)

Because the ambassador had forbidden me from evacuating my people and our families, I had to invent a reason for my family leaving Vietnam. I told the embassy that Ann and the children were going to Thailand for a vacation.

As we prepared on the morning of April 8 (forty-seven years ago yesterday) to drive to the airport at the northern edge of Saigon, we heard a loud explosion. A phone call warned us to stay off the streets. A maverick South Vietnamese pilot had just bombed the presidential palace, close to our villa. Here’s how Wikipedia described the event:

“On April 8 [1975], a formation of three Republic of Vietnam Air Force F-5E Tiger fighter-bombers lined up at Biên Hòa Air Base, each armed with four 250-pound bombs, for an attack on North Vietnamese positions in Bình Thuận Province. Before the second aircraft took off, First Lieutenant Nguyễn Thành Trung, who piloted the third F-5, reported his aircraft was experiencing afterburner problems. When the second aircraft departed, Trung also took off, but flew towards Saigon instead of joining the formation. At around 8.30am Trung dived on the Presidential Palace and dropped two bombs; the first bomb landed on the Palace grounds and caused some damage, but the second bomb failed to explode.”

My wife was terrified. Now she was more than ready to leave, but the South Vietnamese government declared a curfew—all were forbidden to be on the street. By virtue of my rank and position, I could legally ignore the curfew. So I loaded my family into my official limousine with diplomatic license plates, drove them to the airport, and got them onto the airliner headed out of the country. When that plane took off, I was immensely relieved.

More next time.

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