More on the Fall of Saigon

More on the escape from Saigon on 29 April 1975: After I was evacuated to the Oklahoma City, the flagship of the 7th Fleet, we sailed to Subic bay and I got a flight to first to Honolulu so I could brief the brass at CINCPAC, then to Baltimore. Once there I finally got to see a doctor. He diagnosed me with amoebic dysentery and pneumonia as a result of inadequate sleep and lack of food. Here are some details I added at the end of my report:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Al Gray, a Marine intelligence officer who became a combat commander, with saving my life and the lives of my two communicators. I don’t call him Al anymore. That stopped the day he became Commandant of the Marine Corps. These days I call him “Sir.” General Gray is the finest leader I have ever seen in action and a man I am privileged to know.

None of the 2700 Vietnamese who worked with us escaped. All were killed or captured by the North Vietnamese. Many could have been saved but for two factors: (1) The Ambassador failed to call for an evacuation—by the time he was countermanded, the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon. And (2) the general in command of those 2700 abandoned his troops and was safely evacuated. They were still awaiting his orders when the North Vietnamese attacked them.

Ambassador Graham Martin’s career was effectively ended by the debacle he authored in Saigon. He retired not long after the fall of Vietnam. Bob and Gary, my two communicators, survived and went on with their careers. Bob died about seven years ago, but I spoke to Gary a few months back. He’s doing fine.

And me? Besides the pneumonia and dysentery, I sustained ear damage from the shelling, and I’ve worn hearing aids ever since. Worst of all, I suffer, even today, from a condition we didn’t have a name for back then—Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). It resulted not just from the fall of Saigon but from earlier experiences in the war. When I got back to the states, my marriage crumbled. The home I yearned for didn’t exist, and I was afraid I was going to lose my children, my reason for staying live. I knew I needed help, but my job was intelligence, and I had top secret codeword-plus intelligence clearances. Had I sought therapy, I would have lost my clearances, and therefore my job. I had to grit my teeth and endure the irrational rages, flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks.

As it happens, my writing vocation and my need to help others saved me. I wrote down everything that had happened to me in Vietnam, and I volunteered to help others worse off than me. The writing ended up being 17 short stories and four novels, all now published. Meanwhile, I worked with AIDS patients, the homeless, the dying in a hospice, and sick and dying soldiers in a VA hospital. Writing down what happened, it turns out, is an effective therapy for PTSI, and when I was with people who needed help, my unspeakable memories faded. I learned that compassion heals.

 

Further on the Escape from Saigon

Further to my recollections about what happened in Saigon on 29 April 1975. I was in the DAO building at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of Saigon. The North Vietnamese were shelling us as we attempted to evacuate to ships of the 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea, and armed South Vietnamese Air Force officers had forced their way into the building and were roaming, demanding evacuation at gunpoint:

I recall being locked in a room alone and told to wait until I was called for, trying to stay awake in my chair as the building pitched from artillery hits. I didn’t want to board a chopper until I got confirmation that my communicators were safe aboard a ship of the 7th Fleet. And I wanted to get to a telephone to confirm that our Vietnamese counterparts were being evacuated. As far as I knew, they were still at their posts awaiting orders. But there was no telephone in the room, and I couldn’t leave because the South Vietnamese air force officers were still on the prowl.

The next thing I remember is being outside.

It was getting dark, and rain was pelting the helicopters in the compound. I protested to [Marine Colonel] Al Gray that I wanted to wait for confirmation that my two communicators were safe, but he ordered me, in unrepeatable language, to get myself on the chopper now. I climbed aboard carrying with me the two flags that had hung in my office—the U.S. stars and stripes and the gold-and-orange national flag of the defunct Republic of Vietnam.

The bird, for some reason, was not a CH-53 but a small Air America slick. As soon as we were airborne, 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. All over the city, fires were burning. Once we were “feet wet”— over water—the pilot dropped us abruptly to an altitude that scared me, just above the water’s surface, and my stomach struggled to keep up. It was, he explained to me later, to avoid surface-to-air missiles. All I remember of the flight after that is darkness.

Continuing the story of what happened at Tan Son Nhat (on the northern edge of Saigon) on 28-29 April, 1975, as the North Vietnamese were attacking us: In my last post, I told of my call to the U.S. embassy in downtown Saigon and their response that they couldn’t help us because we were too far away:

By that time, the Marines from the 7th Fleet had landed. I tracked down Al Gray and asked if he could evacuate us with his guys. He reassured me he would.

We got word that armed South Vietnamese air force officers had forced their way into the building and were on the loose, demanding evacuation at gun point. Offices were to be emptied and locked. We were to proceed at once to the evacuation staging area, an office the Marines had secured. We sent our last message announcing we were closing down. It was a personal message from me to my boss, General Lew Allen, Director of NSA:

  1. HAVE JUST RECEIVED WORD TO EVACUATE. AM NOW DESTROYING REMAINING CLASSIFIED MATERIAL. WILL CEASE TRANSMISSIONS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS MESSAGE.
  1. WE’RE TIRED BUT OTHERWISE ALL RIGHT. LOOKS LIKE THE BATTLE FOR SAIGON IS ON FOR REAL.
  1. FROM GLENN: I COMMEND TO YOU MY PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THE BEST NSA CAN GIVE THEM FOR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH BUT ESPECIALLY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED.

Even though the message was from me to General Allen, I still began the third paragraph with the words “FROM GLENN.” I wanted to be sure he knew it was me speaking.

We destroyed out comms gear and crypto and locked the door as we left for the staging area.

The remaining events of 29 April are confused in my memory—I was in such bad shape [from days without food or sleep] I was starting to hallucinate. I know that, as the shelling continued, I begged Al Gray to get my two communicators out as soon as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the idea that, after all they’d done, they might be hurt, captured, or killed. Sometime in the afternoon, when finally they went out on a whirlybird, my work in Vietnam was done.

Any Reviewers Here?

I’m looking for reviewers for Last of the Annamese, which will be published on 15 March 2017. I can send prospective reviewers an ARC (advance review copy) if you give me an address and a place where your review would appear. Posting a review on the Amazon.com page devoted to Annamese would work. Leave a note for me here or email me at tomglenn3@gmail.com.

More on the Fall of Saigon

Several days ago, I quoted from my report on the fall of Saigon, the nonfiction basis for Last of the Annamese. I had succeeded in getting my 43 men and their wives and children out of Saigon by virtue of lying, cheating, and stealing despite the Ambassador’s refusal to call for an evacuation or to allow me to evacuate my people. Only three of us remained at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern edge of Saigon: my two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end (Bob and Gary) and me. We were shelled all night and two of the Marines at our gate were killed. Around four in the morning, we got in a dispatch telling us that the evacuation had been ordered—apparently Washington had countermanded the Ambassador. I pick up the story from there:

We gave up trying to rest. The air in the comms center, the only room we were still using, was faintly misty and smelled of smoke, as if a gasoline fire was raging nearby. After daylight, I got a call from the Vietnamese officer I’d visited a few days before. He wanted to know where his boss, the general, was. He’d tried to telephone the general but got no answer. I dialed the general’s number with the same result. I found out much later that the general had somehow made it from his office to the embassy and got over the wall. He was evacuated safely while his men stayed at their posts awaiting orders from him. They were still there when the North Vietnamese arrived.

Next I telephoned the embassy. “The evacuation is on. Get us out of here!

The lady I talked to was polite, even gracious. She explained to me, as one does to child, that the embassy could do nothing for us—we were too far away, and, although I probably didn’t know it, the people in the streets were rioting. Of course I knew it; I could see them. I uttered an unprintable curse. She responded, “You’re welcome.”

More from Annamese Dust Jacket

Continuing quotes from the Naval Institute Press dust jacket for Last of the Annamese, coming out next March:

Back cover:

“As author, peacemaker, and a philanthropist helping to mend the wounds of war for U.S veterans returning from Vietnam, I found Last of the Annamese by Tom Glenn a brilliant piece of work on healing. His story, with twists and turns, is a must read!”

  • Le Ly Hayslip, author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and The Child of War, Woman of Peace

Last of the Annamese is all the more vivid, thrilling, and moving because Tom Glenn experienced many of the heartbreaking events he evokes so poignantly. He has also provided us with a thought-provoking reminder of the consequences of becoming deeply enmeshed in another nation’s conflicts.”

— Thurston Clarke, author of The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America

“Tom Glenn has poured a broken heart and a grieving soul into the pages of Last of the Annamese, a novel of love and war and tragedy set amid the fall of South Vietnam and the capture of Saigon in those dark days of April 1975. His fiction is carefully woven between the threads of historical fact that ring true to one who was there in the beginning and in the end, just as Tom Glenn was. I found it impossible to put this book down before reading the last page.”

— Joseph L. Galloway, coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young and We Are Soldiers Still

“Passion, intrigue, and espionage intertwine during the fall of Saigon in Last of the Annamese. Tom Glenn’s novel is a proverbial bookend companion to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and a poignant study of the U.S. relationship with Vietnam.

Stephen Phillips, author of The Recipient’s Son: A Novel of Honor

More Quotes from the Annamese Cover

Continuing quotes from the dust cover for Last of the Annamese: These are endorsements printed in the back flap:

“Few novels of any genre grab you like Glenn’s searing depiction of Saigon’s fall. Compellingly evocative of the desperate last days of a doomed country, Last of the Annamese haunts you long after the final page.”

— George J. Veith, author of Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973‒75

“Last of the Annamese is an epic saga about the death of a people and a way of life that has been perishing in slow agony for a century. The canvas is huge, the brushwork dense and bold. Against a background of thousands at war, dying amid the ruins of ancient temples and centuries-old cities, it forces its characters into a place of raw survival and desperate emotions.”

—Grady Smith, author of Blood Chit