April 29

Tomorrow is the forty-seventh anniversary of the fall of Saigon in 1975. The date brings back stark memories of my escape under fire during that debacle after weeks of terror.

Longtime readers of this blog will already know why I’ll never forget the month of April 1975. I was in Saigon as head of the clandestine National Security Agency (NSA) operation focused on keeping track of the North Vietnamese conquest of South Vietnam. The 1973 peace agreement signed by the U.S. and North Vietnam declared that the Vietnam war was over. But I knew from the intercept and exploitation of North Vietnamese radio communications that the North Vietnamese had no intention of adhering to the agreement and that the fall of Saigon was imminent. The evidence was overwhelming.

The American ambassador, Graham Martin, forbade me from evacuating my people. The Hungarian member of the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), a tripartite committee established to monitor the 1973 ceasefire between the U.S. and North Vietnam, advised Martin that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon—it wished to participate in a coalition government of all patriotic forces to rule jointly. Martin, to whom the very idea that the communist flag could ever fly over South Vietnam was anathema, believed the Hungarian and rejected my repeated warnings that an attack was about to begin.

I disobeyed Martin’s command and evacuated my 43 subordinates and their families using any ruse I could think of. Some I sent out on home leave, others on vacations, and still others on temporary duty (TDY)—on government business. Toward the end, when my travel funds ran out, I bought a ticket with my own money on Pan Am for one of my guys. He flew out on the last Pan Am flight from Saigon.

More next time.

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