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
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.