April: Memories of the Fall of Saigon (5)

On April 29 1975, the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Việt Nam Dân chủ Cộng hòa, that is, North Vietnam, which now calls itself the Socialist Republic of Vietnam— Cộng hòa Xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam) completed its conquest of South Vietnam and captured Saigon. In so doing, it violated the ceasefire agreement it had signed with the U.S. in 1973. And I barely escaped with my life.

About 1400 (2:00 p.m.) that afternoon, I got Bob and Gary aboard a helicopter that would carry them to a ship of the U.S 7th Fleet cruising out of sight in the South China Sea. By the time I went out by chopper that night, it was pitch black and pouring rain. As soon as we took off, I saw tracers coming at us. We took so many slugs in the fuselage that I thought we were going down, but we made it. That day, 71 American military helicopters flew 662 sorties between Saigon and the ships of the 7th Fleet. The operation extracted more than 7,800 evacuees from the Defense Attaché Office and U.S. Embassy. Even though the North Vietnamese had plenty of fire power at its command, not a single helicopter was shot down. I have concluded that those firing at my helicopter were not the North Vietnamese, but the South Vietnamese we were abandoning.

I carried in my hands the two flags that had stood on both sides of my desk, the red and yellow banner of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and the stars and stripes.

Those two flags are now displayed at NSA’s Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland.

More next time.

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