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42

APRIL 2015

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

their victory on May Day, and we were going. They may have

painted our choppers with their targeting systems, but they let

us go unimpeded. After a while, we landed under floodlights

on the USS

Hancock

, a World War II vintage carrier. Those of us

with pistols handed them over. I slept for much of the five days'

journey to Subic Bay, the Philippines.

“Just a Few More”

The evacuation concluded in the early morning of April 30.

Amb. Martin admirably stretched out the evacuation to get out

every Vietnamese he could—“just a fewmore helicopters.” Sev-

eral inbound crews crashed from vertigo. The exasperated Navy

finally resorted to a direct presidential order for the ambassador

to get on a designated helicopter, just before dawn. That’s what it

took.

Once the ambassador departed for the fleet, “Americans only”

for boarding was strictly enforced. In the process, some 400 Viet-

namese—including all mission firefighters who had volunteered

to stay to the end—were abandoned.

Captain Stuart Herrington, a Vietnamese-speaking DAO

officer, had kept the crowd under control by promising that he

would not leave until they left. He was utterly devastated to be

ordered—forced—to abandon those to whom he had given his

personal word. Retired Colonel Herrington deservedly serves

as the moral centerpiece of Rory Kennedy’s documentary, “Last

Days in Vietnam.”

n

I grabbed a nine-passenger van

with a full fuel tank and headed

out for the designated safe

house where political section

contacts were supposed to

assemble.