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APRIL 2015



15-year requirement. They had great difficulty in understanding

why what looked to them exactly like U.S. government employment

legally was not. Even though they were making more money in

Vietnam, they felt they were letting down their extended families,

who were counting on them to achieve legal residence in the

United States and then seek immigrant visa status for their parents

and siblings.

Looking Back

By October 1970, when I departed Vietnam, about 350,000 U.S.

troops remained in the country. Embassy Saigon was busier than

ever. And though I never again served in Asia, my involvement with

Vietnamwas not yet over. Here are three vignettes I recall vividly

frommy later Foreign Service career.

Washington, D.C., 1982:

I attend the National War College,

whose curriculum includes, for the first time since 1975, a two-

week segment on Vietnam. The move came at the insistence of

several faculty members who said it was past time for study of the

war’s lessons. The NWC staff who had argued for further delay were

proven right when the heated discussion destroyed the camarade-

rie carefully cultivated among the student body over the previous


Not the least of the surprises was the astonishment among

military students when their State Department colleagues noted

that between 1966 and 1975, a higher percentage of Foreign Service

officers thanmilitary officers served in South Vietnam. (Admit-

tedly, large troop deployments were also garrisoning in Germany,

Italy and South Korea, among other overseas duty stations.)

Brussels, 1995:

The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, where I was

serving, receives a group of five newMarine security guards, one

of whom is clearly of Vietnamese origin. In the ensuing chat, the

Marine reveals that as a 6-month-old child, he had arrived in the

United States with his refugee parents, who fled via boat after the

fall of Saigon. With heartfelt emotion he exclaims, “I am very proud

to be a U.S. Marine.”

Quantico, Virginia, 2010:

I hear a retired general assert that

we talk about lessons learned, but they are only lessons observed.

They do not become lessons learned until we apply them.