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.
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
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
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?