Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Apocalypse Not – The Evacuation from Can Tho, Vietnam — April 1975


mcnam apocalypse-now_21The shaky peace that had held in Vietnam since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 began to crumble in late 1974 after North Vietnam began a series of military offensives which pushed the South Vietnamese army back on its heels. By early 1975 it had become painfully apparent that there would not be two Vietnams, as had existed in Korea, but that the North would soon be in Saigon. Despite this, Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe that a collapse was imminent and had stalled in authorizing evacuation plans, much to the dismay of his subordinates. Terry McNamara at the time was Consul General in the city of Can-Tho. Pushing through the maze of bureaucracy and against the background of an unprecedented American defeat, McNamara came up with a bold plan that would allow him to evacuate a great number of Vietnamese employees in addition to the American staff.

In Part I of these excerpts from his oral history interview, McNamara discusses the challenges he faced as the Viet Cong continued its advance and the frustrations of dealing with a short-sighted and panicky bureaucracy. We learn about his tense relations with the CIA contingent at the Consulate General, whom he saw as losing their nerve and undercutting his efforts, while he tried to maintain calm. McNamara would have to defend his evacuation plan until the very day of evacuation orders, when he was told he would not be able to take any Vietnamese. You can read the conclusion to his story here.

You can watch McNamara discuss his experience in Rory Kennedy’s 2014 documentary Last Days in Vietnam, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. McNamara’s book, Escape With Honor, is also available through ADST. Click here to read about the fall of Saigon and other Moments on Vietnam.

 

An Alternate Plan

McNAMARA:  When Danang was overrun and Nha-Trang evacuated, I told the embassy that, “I don’t want any of the people from up north, who have been evacuated or who’ve evacuated themselves, coming down to the delta. I saw what a state many of them were in. Panic is infectious.”…. I was able to keep everybody out except the CIA people…. In mid-April, the CIA people began to predict a Viet Cong offensive against Can Tho. One of their number, with fear in his voice, told me that the Viet Cong would come pouring into Can Tho. They would “breech the town defenses in half an hour.” This was sheer fantasy. It was crap that they were being fed by the Viet Cong. I’m convinced that the Viet Cong were feeding them disinformation. It was meant to spread panic and to tie down the intact army division from deploying northwards to defend Saigon. Unfortunately, my CIA colleagues were also passing the unevaluated intelligence to Saigon and to Washington, breeding further unease….

One night the VC captured some artillery pieces in Vinh-long and bombarded Can Tho. They started fires that quickly spread, engulfing a section of the city near our consulate general. We were almost burned out. There were such problems, but we weren’t in danger of being overrun. I couldn’t convince the CIA of this….

As things began to deteriorate elsewhere in the country, I started thinking about evacuation and how to make sure that none of my guys in the sixteen offices all over the delta got left behind. First, I had to think through what kind of an evacuation would best meet our needs under several scenarios. We had an evacuation plan, which was worthless. It called for our closing the consulate general and driving to Saigon. That would only work under the most ideal circumstances, a luxury we were unlikely to have. Then I looked at evacuation by helicopters, because that’s what they were talking about in Saigon. When I considered our numbers I began to realize this would require a major commitment of helicopters, as well as troops to secure LZs [landing zones]. It was just mind-boggling. Finally, I looked at the feasibility of a water-borne evacuation down the Bas Sac River to the sea.

At the same time, I decided that I’d better start closing my outlying offices and bring people to Can Tho or send them to Saigon for evacuation. I mcnam cordshad to bring our number down, but at the same time, I wanted to avoid panicking the Vietnamese who were already very nervous…. I then began to consider who I would attempt to evacuate, if it were necessary. I took stock. There were about a hundred Americans, almost equally divided between CIA and all of the other agencies represented at the CG [Consulate General]. Most of the non-CIA types were field reps left over from CORDS [Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support, a pacification program of the U.S. military].

By and large, they were as solid as rocks. I also had three or four young FSOs, one of whom was a consular officer; the others did political reporting. Then there was a potpourri of other technicians, people who searched for MIAs [missing in action]. I was determined that I was going to do what I could for our Vietnamese employees. I felt strongly that we had a special responsibility towards them and their families.

I could now see that only the water option was likely to allow evacuation of large numbers of Vietnamese. I started to look at it more closely and saw that even limiting evacuation to immediate families, we would have 3,000-4,000 people. That is an awful lot of people. I thought how can I deal with all these people? There’s no way that I would have the means to get them all out. Clearly, only the water option was likely to give me the necessary capacity. But even then, I could not handle such large numbers.

Prioritizing Lives

I then began seriously to consider how we would reduce our number to a manageable level. After several sleepless nights, I came up with a scheme for setting priority categories for our employees. First priority was given those likely to be in mortal danger if taken by the VC. These might include CIA interrogators, etc. Second, would be people who could easily survive in a modern society, like the U.S. or France. These would include most of our well- educated staff who had skills, and spoke foreign languages. In the third category, I placed all the other unskilled or semi-skilled employees who spoke only Vietnamese and were not likely to be in grave danger. These would include guards, char ladies, the GSO force [General Services Office], etc.

I then issued instructions to all of my American supervisors that they must place all of their employees in these three categories. Finally, I told them that we would make every effort to get those in the top two categories out with their immediate families, if they wanted to go. Those in the last category, we would only evacuate if we had the available capacity. Clearly, this was a soul-searing experience for many forced to play God in making what might mean life or death decisions.

mcnam mekongEvents were now moving rapidly. Offices were being closed and people sent to Saigon or brought to Can Tho. We were reducing numbers of Americans and Vietnamese…. For the final evacuation, if it came to that, I figured we’d have to go down the river, unless we could get virtually everybody for whom we were responsible out beforehand. I talked about this with people in Saigon.

Jake Jacobson was absolutely against my going down river. He said, “It’s too dangerous to go down the river. You’ve got to go out by air, and you will only be able to take the Americans, because you won’t have enough helicopters.” We had, at this point, three or four Air America helicopters working in the delta with a passenger capacity of some 30 people.

I said, “No, I won’t go for that.” I reckoned that I would still have between 300-400 Vietnamese plus some 30-40 Americans to evacuate. And he said, “Well, that’s the way it’s going to be. If you don’t like it, go see the ambassador.”

Bypassing the Chain of Command

So I went to see [Ambassador Graham] Martin and told him that I was very upset. I was being told that I would not be able to evacuate my Vietnamese employees. I explained that a water- borne evacuation was the only feasible means of dealing with the number I had in mind. I told him that I had considered the possible dangers, but had concluded that the risk was acceptable under the circumstances.

He said, “Well, of course, you can take the Vietnamese. Of course, you can. It’s part of our plan. Of course, you can do it.” He was very agitated. He went in and grabbed [Deputy Chief of Mission] Wolfgang Lehmann and hollered at him, and said, “What’s this? Terry is being told he can’t take his Vietnamese.” And Wolfgang looked frightened. “Of course he can take his Vietnamese employees,” he stammered. Martin said to Wolfgang, “You make sure that it’s understood that he can do this, that he can take his Vietnamese out.”

I then went back to Jake and told Jake what had happened. He looked me directly in the eyes saying, “That’s all very well, what he’s saying right now, but when the time comes and you have to get out of there, and the pressures are on and the time is short, don’t be surprised if you get an order saying that you have to go by helicopter, and you won’t be able to take the Vietnamese.”

The CIA people were absolutely against this going out by water, as were some of the others. The admin officer, a retired army colonel, was also absolutely against it. Some were just not as committed to the Vietnamese as those of us who had spent years in Vietnam and who had gotten to know Vietnamese as people and not just as paid informants. Moreover, many were frightened. They believed their own intelligence reports that we might be overrun any minute. They considered going down the river just short of suicidal. That’s the way their attitudes were described to me….

mcnam map mekong_deltaNone of those who condemned evacuation by water were sailors. None of them ever asked themselves how one might block a river? It would be very difficult to block traffic on a river as wide as the Mekong. Of course there are some narrow spots. Before deciding on the water-borne option I flew over the river myself from Can Tho to the sea.

Certainly there are some dangerous narrow places with islands constricting the broad flow of the river. Nonetheless, traffic could only be stopped by armed boats in the river. The VC, of course, had no navy. They could, however, make passage dangerous and uncomfortable by firing at passing boats from the shoreline. The fact that regular traffic on the river had never been seriously disturbed would tend to indicate that our boats had a very good chance of traveling down river without being harmed.

Moreover, we had the element of surprise working for us. No one, including the VC, would have expected the Americans to leave by boat. I counted heavily on this factor of surprise in my calculations…. I had no success in convincing our CIA colleagues of the feasibility of evacuation by water. Moreover, they were becoming increasingly frightened….

Getting back to my evacuation planning. I’d bought a rice barge, with some of our counterpart funds. A friend working for USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] logistics in Saigon heard about my evacuation plan. His name was Cliff Frink. His lady friend had worked at the CG before transferring to Saigon. As a result, he knew most of the Americans in Can Tho. When he heard that I needed boats he offered two LCM’s [landing craft mechanized], lightly armored landing barges, with Vietnamese crews. They had been prepared to carry supplies by river to Phnom Penh…. The boats were perfect for my purpose. When they arrived from Saigon I cached them at different places on the riverbank, one at the Shell Oil dock and the other at a USAID compound that we had further down the river. I did not want them together for fear of losing both at the same time. We filled them with fuel, and docked them ready for use on short notice.

Earlier, I had bought the rice barge, but the LCM’s were much more capable. They were seaworthy, had strong engines, could handle relatively large numbers and were armored. Moreover, they came complete with trained crews. I now was confident that the trip down the river and out to sea was feasible at an acceptable level of risk. Furthermore, the boats were large enough to accommodate several hundred people.

At one of the evacuation meetings in Saigon I arranged with the Navy and Marine representative for a ship to meet us off the mouth of the river. The evacuation fleet representatives assured me that there would be no problem in picking us up just off shore. They would use a shallow draft LST that could get very close to shore. All we had to do, they said, was get to the river mouth.…

Reducing Panic in Can Tho

As time went on, it became increasingly obvious that a total collapse would occur. Preparations for evacuation began in earnest in the second week of April. I began to filter people up to Saigon, gradually closing offices. This was a very delicate operation. If we did it too quickly or too publicly, we ran the risk of panicking the South Vietnamese and possibly collapsing their defenses and administration, as happened in II Corps and around Danang. That was a big risk. Also, we could have had a reaction against us by the South Vietnamese themselves.

Q: If we’re going down, you’re going down with us. 

mcnam can thoThat’s right. You guys got us into this. now you are not going to leave us to face the consequences alone….

When I went to Saigon I heard various accounts of the chaos that took hold in the last days in Danang. The whole structure collapsed so suddenly. No one was prepared. I decided that there was little constructive to be learned from that dreadful experience. We had more time to plan and prepare ourselves for an orderly departure.…

On one of my visits to the embassy in Saigon I met the former Consul General in Danang, Al Francis. I had heard stories that he had conducted himself very well indeed during the evacuation. Courageously, he fought to evacuate as many civilians as possible. I understand that he was saved by my former body guard, Bucky, from almost certain death at the hands of some frightened Vietnamese marines. When I saw him, he was frustrated and very disturbed. I remember hearing him screaming in the halls of the embassy. I thought, “That is just what I don’t need in Can Tho.” Shortly afterwards, Al came to me asking whether he couldn’t come down and advise us on some of the lessons that he had learned from his evacuation.

Q: This was a test in diplomacy for you. 

Yes! Because I respected Al. He had done a Herculean job in Danang. I certainly didn’t want to offend him. Nevertheless, I also didn’t feel that I needed him in the delta. It was just the sort of thing that I didn’t want in the delta….

In Nha-Trang, I understand, they called in helicopters to evacuate the consulate general. The North Vietnamese did not arrive in Nha-Trang until a week or so after the American consulate general evacuated in great disarray. In the melee around the evacuation helicopters the Americans lost many of the people they most wanted to get on those helicopters. By bringing the helicopters in prematurely, they caused a riot with people fighting to get places on helicopters.

Sadly, some of our own most valued employees were shoved out of the way by crowds of people trying to get on the helicopters. They never got out. Perhaps I am misjudging the situation in Nha-Trang. I wouldn’t want my opinion of what went on in Nha-Trang to be taken as authoritative. I wasn’t there. Nonetheless, that was my perception of what went on at the time. I wanted to prevent it from happening in Can Tho. Against my instructions, the CIA chief brought people in who had been in the northern evacuations. As I anticipated, they spread fear and defeatism amongst their already receptive colleagues….

Taking Care of All Eventualities

In our final briefing on the evacuation, Cary Kassebaum accompanied me to Saigon. We fixed a rendezvous at the mouth of the river with the Navy/Marines. They promised that a ship would be there. I took that promise seriously. It was also made perfectly clear to us by the evacuation fleet representative that there would be no fleet of helicopters for evacuation from Can Tho. We were on our own, as I had expected we would be….

At that time, when I was in Saigon, the embassy itself was in chaos. The city itself was quiet, but you could see the apprehension in the faces of all of the Vietnamese. They didn’t know what to expect. They were expecting the worst, but they didn’t know quite what might happen.…

mcnam PiasterWe had taken the assistant cashier with us to the embassy. She carried back a large stock of American dollars and lots of Vietnamese piasters. These were to be used to pay off our employees. They might also have come in handy if we needed to pay for cooperation in our evacuation. My admin officer…wanted to have the cash on hand so that if we needed to bribe somebody, we’d have the money. We also wanted to be able to pay off all our employees before we left–the ones who were going to stay behind, in piasters; the ones who were coming with us, we wanted to be able to pay off in dollars, so that they’d have some money when they got out. We were taking care of all eventualities.

No one could yet be positive that there would be an evacuation. In my own mind, I was 95 percent sure that it would come. There was always the possibility that somehow or other they’d hold on in the Mekong delta and we wouldn’t have to leave….

Interagency Miscommunications

Early one morning, I got a call from Jacobson. This was maybe three or four days before the final evacuation on April 29. He asked me if I had ordered helicopters for an evacuation from Saigon? I told him that I had not.

He said, “Well, somebody from Can Tho has ordered a large number of Air America helicopters to come to Can Tho for an evacuation. I assured Jake that I had given no such order, nor did I have any knowledge of such an order having been given by anyone else in Can Tho.

CIA“What about your CIA people?” Jake asked. “What do you think of such a mission?”

“It would be a very bad idea,” I responded. “We are not ready to evacuate all our people yet…. Moreover, the sudden arrival of helicopters for an evacuation of Americans could elicit panic and chaos among the general population and the Vietnamese army. We could cause another situation like in Nha-Trang. Under those circumstances, many of us might not get out, especially if everyone were not taken out in the first load. Those waiting for a second or third load would have a hell of a lot of trouble. This is just the sort of thing that happened elsewhere, and we don’t want it to happen here. It’s not necessary. It would be very bad, and it could prematurely collapse the whole South Vietnamese structure in the region–something we did not want to happen.

I am convinced that it would be a bad thing.”

“I will ground all of the Air America helicopters here, and you take the same action in Can Tho, until we find out who gave that order.”

Obviously, it was the spooks. There wasn’t anybody else who could have done it. So I gave the order immediately that all of the helicopters were grounded in IV Corps.

Then I called in the chief spook to my office. Initially he denied any knowledge for involvement in the order to bring helicopters to Can Tho for an evacuation. A little while later, he came back to my office. This time he admitted that he had given the order to send the helicopters. I got very angry. He had initiated a monstrously dangerous course of action without any consultation, or even warning to others whose safety he might have endangered. He admitted that the CIA people and their agents would be the focus of his evacuation. The other Americans, as far as I could see, and certainly all of the Vietnamese for whom I felt responsible, were going to be left behind. Presumably, I would not have known anything about their operation until after they had departed. I hit the roof. This was the ultimate in duplicity and irresponsibility.

I told him that all helicopters were grounded–they were grounded in Saigon, they were grounded here–and that was that. He asked to use my direct line to Saigon. I refused. I told him that this was the last straw. He would have to leave Can Tho!

Get the CIA‘s Vietnamese staffers out first

Despite the fact that there had been repeated duplicity and they were now guilty of almost criminal irresponsibility, I remained responsible for the safety of the CIA people, as well as all others at the CG. I had to provide strong leadership. Obviously, the CIA chief had already panicked. He could not be counted on to act responsibly.… He was an Irishman with red hair, an athletic build and a hard-looking face. He looked tough as nails. But there, at nut-cutting time, when it really came down to a crisis, he lost his nerve, as did many other supposed tough guys in our CIA contingent. Without strong leadership, the organization came apart with everyone looking for his own exit to safety.

250px-Caspar_Milquetoast_Christmas_cardSurprisingly, my ex-Peace Corps volunteers, like Cary Kassebaum, who looked like Caspar Milquetoast and had glasses about as thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles, did not panic. They and my junior FSOs [Foreign Service officers] were rock solid. Moreover, these two groups were among the most insistent on our moral responsibility to take care of those Vietnamese who worked for us. Obviously, we could not take care of all of the Vietnamese in Vietnam, but we could at least try to take care of those who worked directly for us, and their immediate families. We had a clear moral responsibility to do that. Most of the CORDS old-timers like my deputy Hank Cushing, the ex-Peace Corps volunteer, and the young FSO’s all shared this view.

Anyway, I felt I had to bury my difference with the CIA chief and work with him to get his people out. I called him again to my office and told him, “Look, I feel that you’ve done something which is very bad. Under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t even talk to you again. But under these circumstances, we both have a responsibility. We both have to get all of our people out. So we must work together.” He indicated that he understood and agreed.

“Okay, how do we best accomplish this joint goal? How did you plan to use the helicopters?”

Answering my question, he told me that there was to be simultaneous landings of Air America helicopters. All CIA personnel would jump aboard and be whisked to a ship at sea. They had gotten the Navy to move a ship down to a position off the Mekong delta.…

I decided that helicopters come in singly, go to designated LZs outside town, pick up people sent to the rendezvous, and then take them out to a ship offshore. The helicopters would fly low to avoid detection by the South Vietnamese radar at Ben Thuy airbase near Can Tho. We would use only the three or four helicopters assigned to work in IV Corps.

I instructed the CIA man to get his Vietnamese employees and agents out first. I reckoned that they would be in greatest danger should they be taken by the VC. When his people were all gone, I planned to continue the helicopter operation until all of our employees and their families were safely on the offshore ship. At that point, I would only have to worry about the remaining Americans and a few essential Vietnamese employees. Given these reduced numbers, we could probably all leave in one load on our 3-4 helicopters and not bother with a waterborne evacuation….

In the last days of April, people were being moved out rapidly. Having taken precautions, our unobtrusive operation caused no ripples. The LZs were never used more than once. People were picked up by the side of roads or in fields. The helicopters were going all over the delta for their pickups. The system was working well. If we had more time, we probably would not have needed our boats. But we could not foresee when the final order to evacuate would come.

On the morning of April 29, the chief spook came to me and told me he had almost all of his people out. As planned, we would then start on the non-CIA folks. By this time, only 18 Americans, out of over one hundred, remained in the delta. We had already identified the people for whom we felt responsible. The others had been filtered out through Saigon as provincial offices were closed and non-essential programs curtailed. A number of “high priority” Vietnamese had also been reduced. Many had been sent to Saigon…. I could only hope that our people would be given appropriate priority by those running the processing in Saigon. Later I learned that this was not always the case.…

We had Vietnamese army interpreters assigned to our advisory effort. They worked directly for us as part of our operations…. As soon as they got there, I told Bob Traister, our province representative in Vinh Long, to take his gang on board the Mike boats and the rice barge to protect them. Traister himself boarded the LCM docked at the CORDS compound.…

Q: A Mike boat being… 

An LCM. It’s a triangular open decked landing craft, with a door in the bow that lowers to allow vehicles and personnel to exit the boat…. It’ll take a Mcnam LCMgood-sized truck or a World War II tank. It’s a good-sized boat, but there’s nothing indoors. The only cabin is over the engine. The rest of the boat is open, but with high armored sides protecting the cargo deck. The coxswain’s post sits on top of the engine compartment in the stern. They are good work boats. They have heavy dual diesel engines, a shallow draft, and are lightly armored. Our Mike boats, however, had been reinforced with “sleeves” of concrete protecting the engine compartment against rocket attack….

“The CIA’s own bad intelligence was taking a terrible toll on their nerves”

On the morning of April 29th, I was in my house, in bed, when I was awakened by several explosions in the town. I jumped out of bed, got on the radio, and called the Marine NCOIC [Non-commissioned Officer in Charge] Staff Sergeant. Hasty came on, with his high-pitched pubescent voice. He was tall and skinny, with glasses. He looked about 15 years old. But he was a staff sergeant of Marines, and he was incredibly gung-ho. When I told him that we were probably going to have to evacuate by water, he said, “Sir, that sounds very dangerous.”

I said, “Well, maybe so, but that’s what we’re going to do.” He drew himself up and seriously declared, “Well, no guts, no glory.” I almost wet my pants. He was marvelous. A caricature of a Marine….

Despite his fantasies, he was very bright…. Hasty was very reliable but naive and very full of the Corps: “Death before dishonor” and that sort of thing. The only problem with him was that you had to restrain him, hold onto his coattails so he wouldn’t do anything foolish. But beyond that, you didn’t have to push him, which was the biggest problem with so many people.

Anyway, I got him on the radio, and he said that some rockets had landed on the Can Tho waterfront…. To reassure me, he said that the physical damage was not extensive. I am sure that the purpose of the VC bombardment was more psychological than physical. The city remained calm, however….

We were then resigned to the fall of Saigon and the probable collapse of the regime. Thieu had gone and “Big Minh” had taken over as president. Our fate, and that of Vietnam, would be sealed in the next few days. In the delta, the VC were doing everything they could to give the impression that Can Tho and the rest of the Delta were in imminent danger. As I said, they had shelled Can Tho earlier and now they had rocketed the town. Neither had any military significance, but they did send a morale damaging message.

The spooks were getting many reports of preparations for an imminent attack on Can Tho.… I was hearing similar reports from other sources and largely discounting them as VC psychological warfare ploys. The corps commander, General Nam, agreed with my analysis. He reckoned that his forces could repel any known force that could then be thrown at the defenses of Can Tho. The North Vietnamese simply did not have the troops in the delta at that time.… It was the oldest tactic in the world — a diversion.…

But panicky people who had lost their nerve were not able to analyze rationally. That’s just what had happened elsewhere in Vietnam…. Their flight from the highlands and from I Corps was not because they had lost great battles. They hadn’t. They had lost their nerve and they panicked. A recurrence of this was just what I was trying to prevent from happening in the Delta if I could. The corps commander was a very steady guy and was not likely to be panicked. He saw his situation clearly and was a good tactician.

The CIA’s appreciation was very different. They were seeing the collapse in the Delta as imminent, with the North Vietnamese pouring into the center of Can Tho in an almost effortless thrust. As one of them put it, “They can be here in a half-hour’s time.”

Of course, their own bad intelligence was taking a terrible toll on their nerves. The thing was feeding on itself.

“The whole world was ending…” and the Vietnamese can’t be evacuated

On the morning of April 29 at about 1000 hours, I got a call on the direct telephone line from the embassy. It was Jacobson, the evacuation coordinator in the embassy in Saigon. In a calm voice he gave me the order to evacuate. He said the order had come from the President and we were to begin our evacuation at eleven o’clock. He then instructed me to evacuate by air, using the three Air America helicopters that were working in the delta. “You will be able to take only the Americans with you.”

“You mean I can’t take my Vietnamese?” I asked.

“No, you are to go by air as quickly as possible as we need your helicopters urgently to help with the evacuation of Saigon.”

Well, I had heard earlier that morning…. that Tan Son Nhut had been bombed and that they had knocked out some of the small Air America Huey helicopters. I knew that the evacuation plan for Saigon called for using those small Hueys to pluck people off the tops of buildings…. If they had knocked out a number of the helicopters at Tan Son Nhut, that meant that their capacity to execute their plan would be reduced. Jake had said that my helicopters were urgently needed in Saigon. So I said to Jacobson, “Well, you know I want to take my Vietnamese out. As I’ve told you before, we are ready to go by water. I want permission to go that way.” He replied, “No, no, no.”

I said, “Look, I know that you need helicopters desperately in Saigon.” He said, “That’s right.”

saigon airport attackedI said, “I know that Tan Son Nhut has been bombed. I’ve got helicopters here, and can release them more quickly if we evacuate by boat. Otherwise, it may take five or six hours to get the choppers to you in Saigon. You need them now, don’t you?” He said, “Yes.”

I said, “They’re out on missions now. We’ve got to get them back here. They must then be gassed up by hand pumps…. Then they would have to fly out to the fleet, gas up there, and fly back to Saigon. All of that will take at least five hours, probably longer, and you’ll be lucky if you ever see those helicopters today. I know that this is part of your evacuation plan.” Just at that point, the line went dead….

I was going to go by water whether I got permission or not, but I preferred to go with permission. I respected Jacobson very much; he was trying to do what he thought was right and in our best interest. But I just didn’t agree with him. Anyway, I tried every means of getting back in contact with Jake. We tried radio nets…. Nothing worked. Time was passing. In desperation, I picked up the telephone again and it worked. I got through to Jake, and made my case again. Reluctantly, he agreed, “You’ve got your permission to go by water,” he granted. “Just get the hell out of there.”

I had finally worn him down. The whole world was ending around him, and he could not get me off the telephone. “Just get out of there. And send those helicopters to Saigon as quickly as possible, because we need them desperately.” These were his last instructions to me.

 

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Apocalypse Not – The Evacuat…

by Chris Sibilla time to read: 23 min
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