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96

APRIL 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Bruce Beardsley retired from the Foreign Service in 2000 following a 31-year career. He served in

Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Denmark, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines,

Mexico and Kosovo. Since then he has accepted several short-term assignments in the Balkans

with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and participated in more than 30

training exercises in Germany to help prepare soldiers bound for Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. He

lives in southwest Florida. Photos are courtesy of Bruce Beardsley.

Vietnam: Endings and Beginnings

BY BRUCE A . BEARDS L EY

REFLECTIONS

T

he end of one national adven-

ture ushers in the beginning of

another. Thus it was for Vietnam,

and for me.

April 1975. The little news from

Vietnam available at Embassy Kabul was

grim. I had arrived in Afghanistan four

months earlier, and almost immediately

the steady beat of the North Vietnamese

Army’s march on Saigon could be heard.

Provincial capitals, whole provinces, major

cities—they all fell to the onslaught.

I had served in Vietnam for 21/2 years,

first in the Army (1965-1966) and later,

after language training, as a junior FSO

in one of the provinces (1970-1972). With

each day’s news my thoughts returned to

the green jungles and rice paddies I had

known, and especially to the Vietnamese

friends and colleagues still there. Were

they alive? What were they doing? How

had it come to this?

As the ineptitude of the embassy’s

response andWashington’s dither-

ing became apparent, I was evenmore

distraught. What could I, or anyone, do?

Then, out of the blue, a message: I was to

take the next flight east to assist with the

evacuation fromVietnam. Unfortunately,

the next flight to NewDelhi, the first step of

the journey, would not depart for two days.

In the interim, I put my office in order and

tried to relearn a fewwords of Vietnamese.

Flights and time zones blurred: Delhi,

Bangkok, Hong Kong, Guam and, finally,

Wake Island. Wake was to receive and

shelter the human overflow fromGuam,

and ultimately the island housed some

12,000 evacuees. Reception arrangements

were already underway. The U.S. Immigra-

tion Service had a small team in place,

and a pair of U.S. Agency for International

Development evacuees had been sent

there, while the U.S. Air Force shouldered

the bulk of the logistical responsibilities.

The USAID guys moved on shortly after

my arrival, so I was left with the title “Civil

Coordinator” and no staff, no job descrip-

tion and little guidance. The strongest ray

of encouragement was the willingness with

which the Vietnamese evacuees pitched

in to run the camp. Once the basics of

food, shelter andmedical treatment were

organized, I increasingly devotedmy time

to unique or intractable problems.

Many of those involved families who

had left Vietnam together, but had become

separated along the way. Another group

wanted to return to Vietnam—typically

they had been ship or aircraft crewmem-

bers with no choice about departing. We

also had several hundred with relatives in

countries other than the United States.

I’ll never forget one person with whom

I spent many hours. A very nice fellow, he

had been a ranger captain and aide to a

Having been given initial incoming processing, Vietnamese evacuees line up for

resettlement processing by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) on Wake Island in May 1975.