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APRIL 2015


senior South Vietnamese general. In

late April the general had taken him on

a reconnaissance flight; but instead

of flying over the battlefield, without

warning the general ordered his

chopper out to sea to join the many

helicopters landing on vessels of the

U.S. Seventh Fleet. My new friend

told me his U.S. contacts had assured

him they would see to his family’s safe

evacuation when the time came. Alas,

they hadn’t.

I sent inquiries to all refugee processing

camps, but only received negative replies.

My friend insisted he be allowed to return

to Vietnam, as he could not imagine life

without his family. We could not know

what would happen there, but many feared

there would be a bloodbath. I told himhis

rank and position practically guaranteed

that the new government would not allow

him even to visit his family. He would be

better off going to the United States, with

the hope of their joining him later. He was

adamant, and as far as I knowwas among

those who eventually returned to Viet-

nam—and imprisonment.

The heartache involved in this

captain’s case was in part offset by the

hundreds of family reunions I was able

to arrange on Wake, a happy result of my

cables to Guam and the department. I was

also able to get Washington to overturn a

decision to indefinitely delay any resettle-

ment fromWake, and enjoyed seeing

smiles on the faces of those who were

among the first fromWake to resettle in

the United States.

After a couple of months, I was medi-

vacked to Clark Air

Base in the Philip-

pines, and from there

returned to Kabul. I

was happy to leave

Wake, but remained

in contact with a

few of the refugees

I met there for

several years. That

experience laid the

groundwork for my

later refugee work in

Malaysia, Thailand

and Kosovo.

It is now 40 years

since the evacuation,

and 50 years since I

was among the first

U.S. combat troops sent to Vietnam. I still

wrestle with the ghosts of Vietnam. My

evaluation of our efforts in that war has

evolved over the years, but I am still criti-

cal of myself and my country. What could

I have done better? What should we have

done differently?

But life, and the world, move on. I

resumed trips to Vietnam in the mid-

1980s, and from the first was over-

whelmed by the friendly reception I

received—not only from officials (who

weren’t always that warm), but from the

many people on the street with whom I


Now one of “my” former first-tour

officers, Ted Osius, has recently arrived as

the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, some-

thing hard to have imagined four decades

ago. Even if one era ends on a sour note,

another one begins. Let us hope that this

will be a better chapter.


Bruce Beardsley interviews a family for resettlement in Kota

Bharu, Malaysia, in September 1979. Though his language

ability had returned sufficiently to conduct interviews without

an interpreter, he used a volunteer (to his left) to assist with

Chinese speakers and to help keep interview notes.

A crowd watches the U.S. team

interview their colleagues to determine

resettlement eligibility and priority

interviews in Pulau Bidgon, Malaysia,

in August 1979. This island held about

45,000 Vietnamese refugees at the

peak in 1979.