Background Image
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  22 / 100 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 22 / 100 Next Page
Page Background

22

APRIL 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Allan Wendt was a junior FSO on night duty when the embassy

was attacked by Viet Cong commandos. This is his story.

BY AL LAN WENDT

AllanWendt, a retired FSO, served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1971. He

also served in Düsseldorf, Brussels, Cairo andWashington, D.C. He

retired in October 1995 after serving as the first U.S. ambassador to

Slovenia, but returned to the State Department in 1999-2000 to work on

Bosnia and Kosovo.

T

he fortress-like U.S. embassy in

downtown Saigon was the citadel

of the American presence in Viet-

nam during the Vietnam War. From

this block-long concrete structure,

under the direction of the courtly

Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, our

500,000-strong expeditionary force

and huge civilian assistance program

sought to roll back the communist tide.

At 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 30, 1968, I lay asleep on a cot in Room 433

on the fourth floor of the embassy. I was a 32-year-old Foreign

Service officer on my second overseas tour of duty and was just

beginning my first week-long stint as night duty officer.

Suddenly, the building was rocked by a loud explosion.

Automatic weapons fire broke out, and rockets began to thud into

the building. The embassy was under attack. As I soon learned,

a 20-man Viet Cong commando squad had blown open the wall

surrounding the embassy compound and poured into the court-

yard. With this strike, the communists launched their famous Tet

(Vietnamese lunar new year) Offensive.

Viet Cong Attack on

Embassy Saigon, 1968

FOCUS

ON THE FOREIGN SERVICE IN VIETNAM

I quickly retreated into the more secure and better equipped

communications roomwhere a communications specialist, James

A. Griffin, was on duty. A call to the ground-floor Marine security

guard post revealed that at least one Marine guard, Sgt. Ronald W.

Harper, was alive and functioning. The Viet Cong attackers, at that

point, were not in the building.

I took the elevator to the ground floor, where the situation

looked bleak. There was considerable damage to the building

and another Marine lay wounded and covered with blood. We

managed to carry him up to a cot on the fourth floor, the one I

had been sleeping on. I soon learned that in the initial attack,

four military policemen and one Marine security guard had

been killed.

Under Attack and on the Line

Despite an atmosphere of extreme tension, I found I was

able to communicate with the outside world. From the fourth

floor communications room, I placed and received innumerable

telephone calls to and from the White House Situation Room,

the State Department Operations Center (where I had previously

worked) and the U.S. Military Assistance Command Center near

Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport.

An American civilian telephone operator skillfully weeded out

nuisance and nonessential calls. I spoke regularly to embassy offi-

cers at the offsite command post set up for Amb. Bunker. Civilian

and military callers from near and far wanted to know the exact

state of play. Were there any enemy fighters inside the building?