If we look back over our lives, we can remember significant life changing moments… try it.
Think back over your teens and twenties… maybe thirties.
Remember once, when something happened, your life was changed forever?
May have been an encounter, good or bad, with another person.
Maybe an accident.
Birth of your child. Death of a parent.
A conversation that led to a job.
For me, it was something else.
Let me explain:
On the subject of the way the US de-assed Vietnam – mostly known as the 29 April 1975 evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon – I make the claim of being the last American official out; leaving Vung Tau, Vietnam on 1 May 1975, two days after the US Embassy was evacuated.
That is with the following four disclaimers:
Number 1: That there may have been US POWs left behind in North Vietnam. There are accounts of US airmen shot down over North Vietnam later seen briefly in North Vietnamese POW camps, and then never seen again… so it is possible that some Americans servicemen were held in North Vietnam and/or Russia after 1975. But with the passing of time and lack of a single bit of creditable post war evidence that Americans were being kept against their will in SEA, this question must be left open.
Number 2: Several American businessmen and newsmen remained behind, including my good friend Alan Dawson who worked for UPI as a reporter.
Number 3: And there was Tucker Gougelmann. A Marine veteran of WWII, he sustained wounds in the Pacific’s Solomon Islands that took two years to heal. He wanted to make the Marines a career but resigned in 1949 to join the nascent CIA. One of his last CIA assignments was to Saigon. He began a family there with a Vietnamese woman and was living in Thailand in April 1975. With the fall of Saigon imminent he returned to Vietnam in mid-April, and missed all opportunities to get out of the country by month’s end when other Americans fled. He tried to hide in an alcove behind a refrigerator of a home in Saigon, but was found out by police and taken to the Chi Hoa prison downtown Saigon. He was taken from there several times for interrogation. While the new Government of Vietnam denied that they were holding Gougelmann for the remainder of 1975 and 1976, in 1977 they released his remains to U.S. authorities.
Postmortem examination by U.S. government officials revealed that Gougelmann was tortured during his captivity, as evidenced primarily by a very large number of broken bones which appeared to have been broken and re-broken after healing.
So Gougelmann was still there.
And then there is Number 4:
I don’t know where or how they shot the Indian Jones films, but I’ve been in a couple of places/situations right out of those movies.
First, a couple of stories from my The Vietnam War Its Ownself and then finally something from the more recent past.
A google of “The Vietnam War”… gets 86,500,000 hits.
86 million plus… yet that figure doesn’t represents nearly all the literature out there on this period of world History. I’ve done some writing on the subject, and am constantly amazed at the enormous volume of information that can be accessed – the variety of the first hand field reporting and second hand analysis.
There are looks at this war from every conceivable angle. The political maneuvering to set up the battlefield. The world-wide protest against the US involvement. Battlefield acc’ts of the actual fighting and finally the diplomatic finagling to set the stage for the collapse of South Vietnam and the final evacuation of Americans.
January 1966: On Operation Crimp, a few days after Patrick had been killed (see Rants and Yarns # 134) my 3rd platoon, Alpha Company, 1st/28th Infantry, 1st Division was still in the Cu Chi area of the Iron Triangle.
After we had rested for a couple of day we received orders to move at first light against a VC controlled village to our front.
As we were getting on line early that next morning, preparing to move out, Pete’s platoon moved by on my right to reconnoiter in the front of our advancing line. When Pete and I saw each other, we smiled and nodded our heads in greeting. Pete looked tired. He raised his M-16 up in the air and then went out of sight.
Story below on the Tunnels of Cu Chi is taken from my The Vietnam War Its Ownself book. Designated Operation Crimp, my battalion launched early January 1966 into the enemy sancturies northwest of Saigon.
An area called the Iron Triangle. No one knew exactly what to be expected… other than we were told to expect determined resistance, with no help from the local villagers, who were all VC sympathizers .
We deployed by helicopter from Phou Lai to a hot LZ in the middle of the enemy area and spent what was left of that first day and night securing a defensive perimeter. I had the 3rd platoon of “A” Company, 1st/28th Infantry, 1st Division. A 2nd Lt Author had taken over the 1st platoon after Ray Ernst was wounded. Joe Duckett, the former commander of the 2nd Platoon had been wounded the operation before Crimp and evacuated to Japan. My OCS buddy Pete had been transferred from the 4th platoon to lead the Battalion recon platoon. “A” Company commander was Capt Jack Woolley. My platoon sergeant was Staff Sergeant Cecil Bratcher. My radio operator was Pvt Gilbert Spencer, a black man from Detroit. One of the men in my platoon was Private Wiler Beck. In the summer of 1965 he was released from the brig back in the states for shooting a man and was scheduled for a Dishonorable Discharge… when, with all the bodies being moved around at the depot he was assigned, he somehow got out of the line to be kicked out of the service and into a line of replacements for the 1st Division.
New to each other and to jungle combat only months before, we were coming more and more together and did not fear what lay ahead as much as we simply didn't know what to expect. Other then we were goin deep into bad guy country.)
We just got back from a trip through Europe, see Rants and Yarns # 75. However the first time I took on the continent was with Joe Duckett, coming home from Vietnam in 1966.
I have known many gallant men. Dirt farmers growing up, soldiers in the Army, case officers in the CIA, … but the fighter pilots known as Ravens flying forward air control planes and the men flying Air America helicopter and fixed winged planes for the CIA guerrilla army in the mountains of Laos were brave and professional sumbitches of the highest order, akin to the best war fighters in all history.Let me repeat. Air America and the Ravens were gallant pilots; and surely among the bravest to ever serve their country in war.
Following is Chapter 30 of my The Vietnam War Its Ownself book. It picks up after I had just finished some time with my family in Vientiane and was headed back to the fighting in Long Tieng…