April 29 (2)

By April 27 1975, as the North Vietnamese attacked the city, there were just three of us left in Saigon, me and two volunteers who had agreed to stay with to the end. Their names are now declassified, so I can tell you who they were: Bob Hartley was the communicator, and Gary Hickman was an equipment specialist who could keep the communications equipment running. The three of us closed down the office and hunkered down in the comms center. We had almost nothing to eat, and because of the constant enemy shelling—first rockets and then artillery—we couldn’t sleep. We went on a schedule where one guy could rest for two hours while the other two kept watch.

We were rescued by American Marines under the command of Colonel Al Gray on April 29. I got Bob and Gary on a helicopter bound for the ships of the U.S. 7th Fleet, cruising out of sight in the South China Sea, at 1400 hours (2:00 p.m.). I went out after 2000 hours (8:00 p.m.) that night in pouring rain and pitch-black darkness.

By the time I escaped, I was having serious health problems. I was suffering from dysentery, pneumonia due to exhaustion and inadequate diet, and severe hearing loss due to the shelling. As I discovered later, I was also subject to Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), a mental disorder I have been plagued with ever since.

But what I had working for me was pride. I was ready to give up my life for my country. I got all my guys and their families out safely. I did everything humanly possible to avoid the fall of Saigon. And the U.S. government recognized my efforts by awarding me the Civilian Meritorious Medal for the lives I saved during the fall of Saigon.

It is something of a miracle that during my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam I was never wounded. Much of that time, I was serving as a civilian under cover as military on the battlefield, using signals intelligence to tip off friendly forces as to where the enemy was, what he was doing, and what his intentions were. My guess is that I survived intact because the enemy shot first at men with guns. Although I was carrying a .38 revolver, it remained in its holster because I was too busy gathering intelligence to unsheathe it.

More next time.

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