Ambassador South Vietnam
April 29-30 1975
Ambassador Graham Martin
From Left to Right: Unknown (Out of Picture), Ambassador Graham Martin (Ambassador to South Vietnam), General Wyman,
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford
Letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps
from Ambassador Martin
May 6, 1975
General Robert E. Cushman
Commandant of the Marine Corps
Headquarters, United States Marine Corps
Dear General Cushman,
With the deepest feelings of pride and appreciation for the work of you Marines of Marine Security Guard Battalion and the Ninth Marine Amphibious Brigade, I solicit our consideration in the processing of awards for both heroic and meritorious achievement in connection with the final evacuation from the Republic of Vietnam. I have personally congratulated Major James H. Kean, the Commanding Officer of the Marine Security Guards in Saigon, and Brigadier General Z. E. Carey, Commanding General of Ninth MAB, and have requested that the prepare awards consistent with their after-action reports to be submitted through the appropriate channel.
During the course of the operation, the Marines were subject to hostile fire and rioting by both military and civilian units, the later resulting in the loss of two Marine Security Guards. The Marines remained at their post until all non-combatant in the evacuation sites at the Defense Attaché Compound near Tan Son Nhut Airfield and the actual Embassy compound were safely landed aboard aircraft. The Marines were the last to leave both sites, the Defense Attaché operation been completed at 2200 29 April 1975 and final eleven Marine Security Guards lead by Major Kean departing the Embassy roof-top at 0758H 30 April 1975.
Continuously threaten by incoming fire and intimate danger posed by the massive crowds, the Marines refrained from employing firearms relying only on non-lethal deterrents to accomplish their mission. In so doing, their achievements are living testimony to the discipline, pride and professionalism which are the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps and it through the Marines' judicious self-control that a firefight was avoided.
I ask your special consideration in the preparation of an appropriate award for Major Kean as Commander of the Ground Forces at the U.S. Embassy and Brigadier General Carey as Commander of the 9th MAB. Best personal regards.
LCpl Randy Smith shaking hands with Ambassador Martin at Marine Corps Birthday Ball during better times.
Oldest Marine and Youngest Marine (LCpl Randy Smith) share cake which is a tradition at the Marine Corps Ball.
Ambassador's Personal Protective Security Unit
by SSgt Clem Segura USMC
Background of the Personal Protective Security Unit
SSgt Segura, SSgt McDonald, SSgt Daisey, SSgt Broussard, Sgt Gozgit
As delineated in paragraph F.2 of the Memorandum of understanding between the Department of State and the U.S. Marine Corps pertaining to the use of Marine Corps Personnel In the Marine Security Guard Program, specially trained Marine' Security Guards may be assigned to the personal protection of a U.S. Chief of Diplomatic Mission Abroad. Such assignments will be subject to the following conditions:
a. An actual threat to the Ambassador and the host government was either unable or unwilling to provide an acceptable degree of protection. b. Arrangements were made with the host government to insure appropriate immunity or safeguards for the Marines performing these protective duties outside the U.S. diplomatic premises. c. The duties were performed under the guidance and supervision of a professional Security Officer's). d Such duties were performed only on an interim or temporary basis for the duration of the immediate emergency or until alternate measures could be arranged. In accordance with the Memorandum dated 27 December 1972, and previously superseded Memorandums the Personal Protective Security Unit, U.S. Embassy, Saigon was created in 1965 for the protection of Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and existed until the fall of Saigon, 30 April 1975.
The activation of the Unit was the result of a White House Directive to improve protective security of the U.S. Ambassador in Vietnam. The Unit was activated and operated under the approval of the host government. The Unit performed under the operational control of the State Department's Regional Security Supervisor who was assisted by a designated State Department Security Officer. The Officer - In - Charge, Marine Security Guard Detachments Vietnam, retained responsibility and
control for Marine Corps related matters. In the beginning, staffing for the Personal Security Unit came from Company "E," Marine Security Battalion, Saigon, Vietnam. These Marines were considered to be among the "best of the best." When identified, the Marines were sent to a local selection board. The board was composed of the Regional Security Supervisor, Senior Marine Non - Commissioned
Officers from the Embassy and the Non - Commissioned Officer - In - Charge of Personal Protective Security Unit. Once selected, the new unit members were immersed in an eight (8) week Bodyguard training program supervised by the unit's Non - Commissioned Officer - in - Charge. The Unit had an internal training program that was thorough and in depth. This encompassed supplemental training for new personnel and a substantial training program for veteran members.
As the war escalated and the "Threat Condition" increased, the U.S. State Department and the Marine Security Guard Command identified a need to become involved in the selection and training of Marines designated to serve as Diplomatic Bodyguards. After completion of Marine Security Guard School, the graduates were well versed in the following subjects: Embassy Defensive Tactics...Physical Security Considerations...Destruction of Classified Material...etc. The Marines were then trained by the Office of Security, Education, and Training Staff located in Washington, D.C. The course lasted five (5) weeks and comprehensively covered all aspects of the Personal Protective Security mission. The Marines became knowledgeable in matters of Diplomatic Protocol, Security Equipment, Weapons, and Techniques. Some of the subjects covered were as follows: Counter Terrorism and Protective Techniques... Crowd Control... Technical Security Considerations ... Searches and Equipment ... Locksmith Training ... Weapons Training ... Radios... Vehicles.. .Motorcades ... Vehicle Defensive / Offensive Tactics... Ordnance Disposal ... Embassies and Personnel Functions ... etc. Upon arrival in Saigon, the Marine was provided with approximately eight (8) weeks of follow - on training before becoming a fully qualified member of the unit.
The Personal Protective Security Unit, Saigon, Vietnam was composed of eight (8) Marine Non - Commissioned Officers. The unit provided a security operation modeled on the Secret Service Personal Security template available to the President of the United States. The actual Operational detail consisted of four (4) basic positions: 1) The advance man, preceding the Motorcade by approximately 15 minutes, and responsible for advising the Motorcade on the selection and security of the route and the security situation at the destination, 2) The driver, responsible for driving, daily maintenance, and security surveillance of the Ambassador's vehicle, 3) The follow vehicle man, responsible for the supervision of the Vietnamese Police in the Motorcade and the man most directly responsible for defensive reaction in the event of an emergency on the road, and, 4) The escort man, who rides in the right front seat of the Ambassador's car, accompanies him into buildings, ceremonies, etc., maintains liaison with the Ambassador' s staff concerning scheduling etc., controls access to the Ambassador's office while the Ambassador is at the Embassy, and is responsible for the Ambassador's immediate personal safety in whatever situation might develop. In support of these four basic positions, the detail is reinforced with additional advance visits involving additional protection requirements, and other situations requiring special security considerations. Added to the basic operational duties described above, members of the PPSU also had individually assigned support and logistics duties. These duties included maintaining their own quarters and messing facility, the armory, establishing liaison for the acquisition of ammunition and other supplies, assuring rapid repair and maintenance of the Ambassador's vehicles and for the emergency and reaction equipment (examples include gas masks, oxygen systems, fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, radios, weapons and the bunker at the
Ambassador's residence). After completion of the follow - on training period, each member of the PPSU was fully capable of functioning in all of the four basic jobs, and all of the jobs were, in fact, rotated among the members of the unit, each Marine changing functions each day. The Ambassador's Personal Protective Unit supervised all aspects of security including the monitoring of residence alarm systems, controlled grounds access, monitored residence security patrols, embassy access, motorcades, telephone switchboard and other secure communications network. The 14 Vietnamese Special Police Officers assigned to the unit were truly professional Police Officers and the best the Government of South Vietnam had to offer. These dedicated and loyal professionals considered it a true honor to serve and protect the "Dean of the Diplomatic Corps", the American Ambassador to the Republic of South Vietnam. The Saigon Personal Protective Security Unit was acknowledged as the best Unit of it's type among Security Details of visiting U.S. Dignitaries who were frequent visitors to the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Vietnam.
Ambassador Graham Martin
SSgt Dwight McDonald USMC
THINGS BOY SCOUT JAMBOREE. HERE WE ARE IN A WAR WITH NO SECURITY AND HE WANTS TO GO OUT IN THE COUNTRY WITH PRESIDENT THIEU FOR A
PARADE. I HAD ESCORT THAT DAY AND I REMEMBER CLEM BEING REAL NERVOUS ABOUT IT. YOU COULD ALWAYS TELL WHEN HE WAS NERVOUS AS HE ALWAYS HAD HIS RADIO
OUT. HE TOLD ME THAT HE DIDN'T WANT TO SEE ANY AIR BETWEEN ME AND THE AMBASSADOR ALL DAY. AFTER THE CEREMONY WAS OVER THE DIGNITARIES ALL RETIRED TO A GAZEBO LIKE STRUCTURE TO HAVE REFRESHMENTS AND SHAKE THIEU'S HAND. FOLLOWING CLEMS ORDERS I WALKED RIGHT UP THERE WITH HIM AND STOOD IN LINE. THE AMBASSADOR DIDN'T NOTICE ME STANDING AT HIS ELBOW FOR ABOUT 30 SECONDS
THEN I RECEIVED ONE OF HIS STARES. I'M THINKING ADAK ALASKA HERE I COME. HOWEVER I DIDN'T MOVE AND PROVIDED COVER. ALONG COMES PRESIDENT THIEU AND SINCE I AM BETWEEN HIM AND THE AMBASSADOR HE HAD TO SHAKE MY HAND FIRST. HE KNEW ME CAUSE HE CALLED ME BY NAME AND HE PUT A REAL ICE COLD STARE ON ME BECAUSE OF ME STANDING THERE I WAS SAYING HIS BODYGUARDS WEREN'T NOTHING. AND
THEY WEREN'T. NO ONE WAS GOING TO GET TO THIS MARINES AMBASSADOR. ONE OF THIEU'S BODYGUARDS ASKED WHAT I WAS DOING THERE AND I TOLD HIM TO GET LOST. Well, WHEN WE GET TO THE RESIDENCE I TOOK THE BAGS IN AND ALMOST MADE A CLEAN GETAWAY WHEN THE AMBASSADOR SAYS "DWIGHT YOU GOT A MOMENT?" I AM
THINKING HERE IT COMES. HE SAYS YOU WERE A LITTLE CLOSE TODAY DON'T YOU THINK. I SAID YES AND TOLD HIM CLEM SAID TO AS WE COULDN'T CONTROL THE SITUATION OUT THERE. HE SAID HIS FAMOUS "I SEE." THEN HE CONTINUES ON YOU KNOW YOU REALLY EMBARRASSED AND PISSED THIEU OFF TODAY. I SAID AND SINCERELY MEANT IT IT "SIR IF YOU WANT ME RELIEVED YOU MAY I DON'T WANT TO EMBARRASS YOU." HE SAID HELL NO, I DON'T KNOW WHERE THEY GET YOU GUYS BUT YOU MADE ME PROUD, THIEU IS THE ONE YOU PISSED OFF HE WILL GET OVER IT.
Ambassador Graham Martin
MSgt Colin Broussard, Retired USMC
"all animals - 10/7 fox-4"
My job was complete after the Marine Corps CH-46 chopper landed on the USS Blueridge. A Marine Corps First Sergeant attempted to grab my grenade off my flak jacket and I pushed him away. He ordered SSgt Jim Daisy and I throw our weapons overboard. We went to the side of the carrier and threw my Swedish-K submachine gun, .357 Magnum, .45 pistol and 4 grenades overboard into the South China Sea. We
had gone 48 hours without sleep, food and cigarettes. We found an open spot in the passageway and I fell into a deep sleep. My Vietnam is over today. April 30, 1975.
CH-46 Marine Chopper flying over the American Embassy Saigon, R. Vietnam
U.S.S. Blueridge LCC-19
On April 29, 1975, Saigon is under attack. I heard 16 North Vietnamese Divisions surrounded Saigon and was attacking Than Son Nut Airport and the DAO Compound. SSgt Jim Daisy and I (SSgt Colin Broussard) were assigned as Escort and Driver to Ambassador Graham Martin.
Ambassador's Personal Protective Security Unit
SSgt Segura, SSgt McDonald, SSgt Daisey, SSgt Broussard, Sgt Gozgit
The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was ready for the kill. Tensions were extreme. SSgt Jim Daisy was assigned as PPSU (Personnel Protective Security Unit) Driver. He was assigned as the Ambassador's driver that day. His responsibilities included driving and coordinating with the rest of the PPSU on everything relating to movement. I was assigned as Escort. My duty was to guard the Ambassador. The other 4 PPSU team members were out in town picking up our Vietnam Special Police Officers family for the evacuation.
The Ambassadors Bodyguards home was next to Ambassador Martin's residence
PPSU Communication Plan
This morning rockets are falling randomly on Saigon much like the German Rockets to England.. The NVA are pounding Thon Son Nut airbase with 122mm rounds. Earlier that day we lost two of our own Marines (LCpl Darwin Judge and Cpl Charles McMahan) guarding the DAO Compound near the airport. I head it was a direct hit from a NVA RPG rocket. They were brand new in country. I didn't know them well but I heard they were good Marines. There must be around 5,000 South Vietnamese people outside the Embassy walls trying to get in. The Marines stood on the walls throwing Vietnam civilians back on the deck. It started to look like the Alamo.
Cpl Charles McMahon and LCpl Darwin Judge
Around 5,000 Vietnamese outside American Embassy Saigon, R. Vietnam
The Marines had machinegun emplacements at each corner of the Embassy roof. The rest of our 65 Marines were on the walls throwing people off. The South Vietnamese civilians knew the Americans were leaving and it started a mass panic. Incredible things happened around the embassy walls that day. A Vietnamese mother threw her baby over our 8 foot wall, perhaps thinking someone would pick the baby up and it would get to America.
Ambassador Graham Martin
United Sates Ambassador to South Vietnam
Ambassador Graham Martin
Ambassador Martin was a professional Ambassador, not a political appointee.
He was a former Congressman. He lost a son in Vietnam.
Ambassador Martin didn't want anyone to think we were going to evacuate.
I was picking up Flash Top Secret documents up (Declassed
Top Secret Documents from the FORD Library) for the Ambassador. I
figured it was either the President Ford
or Secretary of Dr. State Kissinger.
I found out 25 years later that I was right.. In fact they
had ordered the
President Ford | Secretary of State Kissinger
Each link represents a letter to the Fall of Saigon Marines Association
Two months before the Fall of Saigon, Consultant General Albert Francis from
Da Nang (No Picture found) asked Ambassador Martin for bodyguard protection to accompany him to Hue
City. Jim and I were picked to go. We flew
Air America fixed
wing from Saigon to Da Nang and
to Hue City. We landed on
the opposite side of the Perfume river and the
Albert Francis talked to the village chief. We could hear the
NVA Army fighting the South Vietnam Army about 5 miles away. The battle
was extremely loud. We left Hue in a Air America chopper out
of Hue City that afternoon. Hue was overrun the next day. We drop the Albert Francis off
in Da Nang and flew back to Saigon. Da Nang fell about 2 months after
Hue City fell. Saigon was next in line.
Hue City, Imperial Palace
Air American fixed wing and chopper
The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) was pounding the airport in Saigon and
you felt every artillery percussions. It sounded like the main attack.
We didn't know if the South Vietnamese Army could defend Saigon.
NVA Attacking Ton Shan Nut Airport
We heard that NVA were bombing the airport. We were on top of the embassy roof when we saw a C-130 South Vietnam aircraft trying to take off the runway and A wing was shot off and the plane crashed. .
The Ambassadors Personal
SSgt Dwight McDonald, SSgt Steve Johnson, SSgt Colin Broussard, Sgt Kevin Maloney
Missing SSgt Clem Segura (NCOIC), Sgt Paul Gozgit and SSgt Jim Daisy
Pictures taken at MSG School around 1975, Henderson Hall, Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Martin did not believe the fixed wing
aircraft had stopped flying in and out, so he wanted to inspect the airport.
He told me to get the team ready. I attempted to explain to him that
it was too dangerous for him to go. He told me to get the unit
ready, and I didn't question him again. As I was leaving his office,
I heard the Duty Chief of Mission protest that he was leaving the Embassy.
I radioed Jim to pass word to the PPSU Unit. I talked to
the Commanding Officer, that the Ambassador wanted to visit the airport
to see what type of condition it
s was in.
Major Kean protested, also.
Major James Kean
Commanding Officer, Fall of Saigon, American Embassy Saigon
SSgt Seguraand SSgt McDonald took off in the Advanced Jeep ,trying to find a secure route to the airport. The Marines in the Advanced Jeep gave us a code telling us which route to take. We heard that Viet Cong were out in the streets and something about assassin squads. We were all locked and loaded. SSgt Daisy was the Driver, and Sgt Paul Gozgit was the escort. Sgt Maloney and I (SSgt Broussard) were in the follow car with two Special Police Officers. We knew this might be a bad trip. The streets were lined with Vietnamese waiting for the NVA Army to roll in. We didn't know if there were enemy in the crowd. I focused my weapon at the street, and locked my finger on the trigger waiting for something to happen. It felt like an attack on the motorcade could happen any second. We made it the Than Son Nut airbase. You could see black smoke from several aircraft burning on the tarmac. The NVA had just bombed the airport and whatever planes were left couldn't take off. The airport runway was pot holed by the bombs.
SSgt Dwight McDonald at PPSU House, Saigon, R. South Vietnam
Once at the airport entrance the motorcade stopped. We all got out and stood by the Ambassador's window at the ready. SSgt Dwight McDonald persuaded the South Vietnamese to allow us in. We got the motorcade going again. This had been the first time it had ever been stopped. The Ambassador saw that the airbase was in flames from the bombing and artillery strikes. Deep black and grey smoke and fire was everywhere. The fixed wing evacuation had stopped. The Ambassador viewed the smoke and flames and ordered us to bring him back to the Embassy. Messages went out requesting a Chopper for the evacuation. This was the beginning of "Operation Frequent Winds". White Christmas was played via a radio system to inform Americas that the evacuation was going to happen.
Around 1100 that day the Ambassador asked me to take him to his residence.
All of his staff pleaded with him not to go because of sporadic firefights,
artillery and rocket explosions that were heard all over the city. I
informed the Ambassador of the current security situation at the Embassy.
There were reports of snipers
[,] and sporadic rockets firing
blindly in the city. He waved them off, so I got things ready.
The biggest fear was that there were Viet Cong (VC) running loose in the city. A couple of days earlier the NVA had stolen a couple of ARVN Intruder aircraft from Da Nang and bombed the Vietnamese Presidential Palace, about two country blocks away. Rockets, gunfire and artillery were heard all over Saigon.
SSgt Jim Daisy
I tried to drive through the main gate but the Vietnamese were trying to
overrun it. Major Kean and [
several Marines finally got the gate closed. I backed up the armored
plated 454 Chevy, but the Ambassador said he wanted Jim and I to walk him to his
house, which was about 2 blocks from the Embassy. Jim Daisy and I looked at each
other and thought that was going to be the end. We brought UZI’s, grenades, and
our TE 357s with us and went through a secret entrance in the French Embassy,
which bordered the American Embassy, and walked out to the compound in the
streets. The fear factor pucker was high. We made it through
the first street OK but the next street some "Vietnamese Cowboys" (kids carrying
M1 Carbines) on a motorcycle stopped us. We both locked and loaded on them and
they took off. We all made it to the residence. There was a
horrific firefight going on in the cemetery across the street. We
went into the house and burned classified information. Jim used Frag and
thermite grenades to destroy sensitive radio items. I called the CO to request
permission to secure the two Marine Lance Corporals who were guarding the
residence. Finally after 5 minutes I got the back-up Pontiac running
and radioed Jim to get the Ambassador outside. Lets go!
Jim put the Ambassador in the back seat and laid over him. The two
Marines armed with M16s pointed their weapons outside. I rammed the residence’s
8 foot gates with the armored plated vehicle and sped to the French Embassy.
When we finally got back to the American Embassy Ambassador Martin told Jim and
I that he owed us a bottle of scotch. I informed my Commanding Officer
that the mission was complete.
Trees and telephone lines were being cut in the parking lot by Marine and the
few remaining civilian staff making ready for the Helicopter Evacuation.
The first Marine Corps CH-53 Chopper
landed in the Embassy Compound. Out came about 30 Grunts who helped our
exhausted Marine reinforce the walls. Major
Kean and MSgt Valdez
ed the Vietnamese, who departed to the 7th
Fleet off the coast.
Then MSgt J. J. Valdez
SNCO, American Embassy, Saigon. R. Vietnam
Later that night they used CH-47’s off the roof of the
embassy. Almost everyone was evacuated by 0400 on April 30th
, including Ambassador Martin,
Jim and I. SSgt Seguara
manually moved the Ambassador up the stairs to the roof, then on to a
NVA Tank crashing through the gates of the South Vietnam's Presidential Palace
The last 11 Marines lifted off about 0500 on April 30, 1975 about the same time the NVA Tanks moved into the city. We thought the Fall of Saigon could have been similar to the 2nd Alamo. It could have been.
Click her to see the PPSU House
Ambassador Martin's Personal Bodyguards 25 years after the Fall
from left to right. Colin Broussard, Jim Daisey, Dwight McDonald
at the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. Behind are the names of our KIA.
Cpl Charles McMahon and LCpl Darwin Judge
Colin Broussard and Dwight McDonald at Marine Corps Ball, Jefferson City, Missouri on November 10, 1994
SSgt Dwight McDonald, SSgt Steve Johnson, SSgt Colin Broussard, Sgt Kevin Maloney
Missing SSgt Clem Segura (SNCOIC) and Sgt Paul Gozgit
April 1975 after Evacuation on the USS Blueridge
From Left to Right
Carlos Silva, Sgt Bennington, SSgt Segura, SSgt Daisey
Picture of SSgt Segura, Eva Kim and SSgt Broussard after evacuation on USS Blueridge
The picture is distorted - No one is that skinny -
Ambassador Martin died in March of 1990
SSgt Jim Daisy died in 1995
Ambassador Graham Martin
MSgt Colin Broussard, Retired USMC
I knew Ambassador Graham Martin and his wife for 4 months. Ambassador Martin was a professional ambassador obviously picked for a difficult job replacing Ambassador Bunker. I think he was smart and was a good leader. He lost his son in Vietnam 9 months earlier. He was always straight to the point when he needed something. I think he saved thousands of Vietnamese, American civilians and Marines by not mentioning evacuation to early and starting a panic. Ambassador Martin had a inner-circle of embassy employees. They had movie and popcorn and watched armed forces movies at his residence. One of his bodyguards would run the projector. I showed the last movie. James Bond - Live and Let Die. Ambassador Martin knew his bodyguard team would take a bullet for him and for that and other things I believed he actually loved us. The bodyguard team had no liberty and we devoted 100% of our time to the Ambassador. We washed and polished his two armored plated cars because we didn't want anyone else to touch them. We maintain and clean all weapons in the cars weekly.
One night the communications at the embassy called me at the bodyguard residence around midnight to pick up a TS Flash message. I picked up the message and went in to Ambassador residence and entered his bedroom to wake him up. A flash message must be read within 5 minutes. He said what's up Colin. I gave him the message and told him I would wait outside his bedroom. He needed to go to the embassy and I woke everyone and formed the convoy back to the embassy.
After the evacuation on the USS Blueridge the loudspeaker ask for Jim Daisey and I to report to the Captain's quarters. We were wearing civilian clothes. Ambassador Martin was introducing us around calling us Colin and Jim to the admiral and other officers. I remember the Admiral asked if we wanted some coffee and doughnuts. We got buts out of there as fast as we could. Ambassador Martin later sent a message to the Secretary of Navy if it would be already to take the bodyguards to Venice, Italy at his residence for the R&R. The Secretary of Navy sent the message to the Commandant and he replied - get those Marines back to work. That was the last time I seen Ambassador Martin.
Letter from President Ford
Letter from Secretary of State
Information about Ambassador Martin on the web
Graham Martin was a newspaper publisher who occupied several diplomatic posts, among them U.S. Ambassador in Saigon from 1973 until 1975 (the last American Ambassador to Vietnam). He was blind to the prevailing corruption of Thieu's regime, and at the same time he opposed the decrease in U.S. aid to Saigon of the Nixon and Ford Administrations.
Ambassador Martin has been blamed for unnecessarily delaying the evacuation of American officials and dependents in South Vietnam. He finally evacuated the U.S. Embassy as the North Vietnamese troops were marching into Saigon.
Graham Martin succeeded Ellsworth Bunker as U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam in 1973. He would be the last person to hold that position. Martin, along with the last remaining Americans, was evacuated by helicopter from Saigon as Communist forces overran the city in April, 1975.
Ambassador Graham Martin, impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, stands under the branches of a huge tamarind tree. He doesn't seem to be the slightest bit concerned that Communist forces are now poised less than 40 miles from the capital. For the members of the Saigon press corps, there are urgent and personal questions. Most of the news organizations have staffs of Vietnamese who have worked for them for years. Now, the main question is how to get them out of the country.
At a hastily convened press conference, Martin refuses to even discuss the problem. One reporter asks how many Vietnamese Embassy staff have left Saigon. The Ambassador replied, "that to his knowledge, only 444 American and Vietnamese personnel had left the country in the preceding 24 hours." For Martin, the question of evacuation is an idea he simply doesn’t wish to entertain. He feels that if too many people are seen leaving, a panic will start that could undermine the government of President Nguyen Van Thieu. After Martin leaves the press conference, bureau chiefs button-hole the press attache, and begin crafting their own evacuation plan.
The Saigon Embassy is being run these days as a "tight ship" by Ambassador Graham Martin, a hard-line anti-communist by anyone's standards. He is a veteran diplomat, a seasoned interventionist who used to manage the U.S. military-political apparatus in Thailand. Martin's vociferous defense of Thieu's regime has turned him into something approaching a one man lobby for more aid to South Vietnam. He has frequently locked horns with the Peace Movement. On one occasion he told a prominent clergyman that he had blood on his hands because of his failure to condemn an alleged atrocity by the other side. He's categorically denied the existence of thousands of political prisoners, dismisses well-documented charges of torture, and praises the military stockade that is Saigon as a "free and open society." He is said to run the Embassy in a totally authoritarian manner and has forbidden his underlings any contact with the press unless it has been cleared. He openly refuses to meet with journalists he considers critical or negative toward "his" policies.
As a result, most of the resident reporters in Saigon feel frozen out by the Embassy. They dismissed my chances of actually getting in to see the Ambassador, something I had been able to do in Laos. "What's the point?" one correspondent asked me. "He won't say anything. Even if he does, you probably won't be able to quote him, he'll probably be lying and you won't be able to check out what he has to say anyway." Compelling logic. Nevertheless, seeing those people has more than curiosity value. Maybe I could glean some factual tidbits about the covert maneuvers for which this Embassy is internationally infamous.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: Ambassador Graham Martin had been at his post for twenty-one months. The nation he so faithfully served had been heavily involved in Vietnam since President Kennedy sent advisors in 1962. Billions of dollars, nearly 60,000 American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese casualties later, it had all come down to this: a national government disintegrating, a capital city surrounded by the tanks of North Vietnam, and a U.S. Ambassador destroying his effects in the wee hours of the morning.
After dispatching the final message Martin, a native of Thomasville, North Carolina, left his office and, with most of the staff, made his way upstairs. They came out of the stairwell onto the roof at 4:40 AM. Shortly thereafter, a CH-46 helicopter emblazoned with the words "Lady Ace 09" hovered and then sank to the landing pad. The Ambassador, with the embassy flag, boarded the helicopter and headed out into the South China Sea to the awaiting armada of U.S ships.
Back at the embassy, a detachment of ten Marines under Major Jim Kean had secured the landing zone on the embassy roof and was holding back the crowds of Vietnamese clambering to get any available transport out of the country. Suddenly, an arm broke through the glass window of the door to the roof. One of the Marines pulled the arm into the broken glass and it was drawn back with a shriek. Someone asked Kean if the fleet knew they were there, since radio contact had been broken, but he didn't know. The Marines waited, jerking arms into broken glass as minutes passed with agonizing slowness. Finally, a single helicopter with its escorts came out of the gloom, swooped down, and picked them up, as the United States left Vietnam and the hard, dark eastern sky began to soften with the dawn of April 30, 1975.
Ambassador Graham Martin, a staunch advocate of America's Vietnam policy, had been slow to react to the mounting crisis. Misled by reports from his CIA station chief, Norman Polgar, who had been persuaded by representatives of the Hungarian legation that there were serious prospects for a negotiated peace if President Thieu would resign, Martin refused to face up to the reality of military collapse until the eleventh hour. When President Thieu resigned and departed the country on 22 April, Martin persisted with his inaction to avoid destabilizing the new government headed by General Duong Van "Big" Minh. Unlike John Dean in Phnom Penh, Martin took no effective measures to get those Vietnamese at risk in the event of a communist takeover out of the country and was slow to order the evacuation of non-essential Americans. It was not until 1 April that the embassy set up an evacuation control center at Tan Son Nhut Airport. There was, in fact, an existing plan called FREQUENT WIND for the evacuation of Saigon by helicopter, but no detailed plans had been made for its implementation. On 3 April, a small military planning group was set up within the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) staff for that purpose. Working desperately against time, the officers of the group were hampered at every turn by the ambassador's lack of a sense of urgency and, paradoxically, by his unwillingness to announce evacuation measures for fear of creating panic. Some of the initial, tentative measures on hand to reduce the number of U.S. citizens and their dependents smacked of Alice in Wonderland; on 16 April, the DAO commander US Army, Major General Homer Smith, encouraged U.S. retired military personnel and contractors to leave the country by cutting off their military post-exchange and commissary privileges, as if these would have value in a communist Saigon! A handful of Vietnamese intelligence operatives and their families were quietly flown out of Tan Son Nhut airport aboard so-called "black" flights, butt he embassy continued to observe the niceties of South Vietnamese emigration law to the bitter end, and the numbers of refugees remained low. By midnight on 20 April, only some 5,500 evacuees had been flown to safety. At that point the Military Airlift Command increased the number of flights for evacuees, but insisted initially on observing normal regulations, which required each passenger to have a seat and seat belt, so that the number of evacuees moved was still far smaller than it could have been.
The rescue operation had been delayed as long as possible-too long, in the view of many Pentagon officials. In recent weeks 44 U.S. Navel vessels, 6,000 Marines, 120 Air Force combat and tanker planes and 150 Navy planes had been moved into the area. Nevertheless, Secretary of State, Henry Kissenger and the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, argued that the final withdrawal of the American community would probably set off a wave of panic in Saigon and hasten the fall of the South Vietnamese government.
The last proconsul was a private, strong-willed and complex man. His desk was dominated by a photograph of his son in uniform, who had died in the war nine years earlier. He was also sick; his skin was skeined grey from weeks of pneumonia; he chain-smoked, and conversations with him were frequently interrupted by bouts of coughing. For months he had tried in vain to convince Washington that its client state could survive with an ?iron ring? of bombs laid around Saigon by B-52s flying in relays.
Graham Martin was the embodiment of America?s mission in Vietnam; he was one of those who had, as the historian Gabriel Kolko wrote in his seminal Anatomy of a War, a ?penchant for illusions and symbolism that made them the only true ideologists of the war?. Martin?s symbol, as the end approached, was a tree: a great tamarind which commanded the lawns of his embassy. Unless it was cut down the Jolly Green Giant pilots, flying in from carriers in the South China Sea, would be unable to land and a full-scale evacuation would not be possible.
The ambassador had made it clear that once that tree fell ?America?s prestige will fall with it?. When a pre-dawn meeting in his office on April 29 broke up without a decision on the tree, there were those who believed that the last proconsul was planning to burn with Rome. At 6.30am someone gave the order for the tree to be felled. (The CIA Station Chief, Tom Polgar, was the prime suspect.) Soon afterwards American Forces Radio broadcast the evacuation signal: Bing Crosby singing ?I?m dreaming of a white Christmas?. (Evacuees had been advised in writing to ?bring along two changes of clothing, a raincoat, a sewing kit, an umbrella, a can opener, insect repellent, your marriage certificate, a power of attorney and your will . . . Unfortunately, you must leave your automobile behind.?) In the amazing aerial Dunkirk that followed some 7,000 people were lifted out of Saigon in less than 18 hours
A look at the storm before the long quiet -- through the eyes of the victors, the losers, the ones who got out and the ones who didn't
BY GEORGE J. CHURCH
The signs of impending doom had been multiplying for at least a month. A headlong bug-out from the Central Highlands in March 1975 signaled that South Vietnam could no longer muster either the strength or the will to hold off the armies sweeping down from the communist North. The fall of Danang late in the month produced scenes of horror that appeared to foreshadow what might happen later in Saigon: panic-maddened South Vietnamese soldiers trampling women and children to get aboard the last American 727 to fly out; desperate soldiers clinging to the landing gear of that plane only to fall off into the South China Sea or be crushed against the undercarriage.
As the Communist troops drew closer to the South Vietnamese capital through early April, the atmosphere in both Saigon and Washington further darkened. Schools in Saigon and its suburbs conducted lessons and assigned homework as usual, but Nam Pham, then 18, and Diem Do, who was 12, noticed their classes getting smaller day by day. Says Do: ''One day a couple of guys would be gone, and then a couple more, and then the teacher wouldn't show up. Everybody was scared. They sensed that something tragic was about to happen,'' and some were already fleeing the country.
In Washington a special-action group of top officials was meeting almost daily, sometimes with a pipe-puffing President Gerald Ford, to hear the latest news -- uniformly bad. On April 17 the Senate Armed Services Committee, reflecting an overwhelming American desire to be done with Vietnam, rejected an Administration request for $722 million in emergency aid to the Saigon regime. ''Those bastards!'' exclaimed the usually calm Ford. Though nobody believed the aid would turn the tide, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others had hoped it might enable South Vietnam to put up enough of a last-ditch fight to persuade the North to negotiate a truce. Two days after the committee action, CIA Director William Colby told the President: ''South Vietnam faces total defeat, and soon.''
In Saigon the CIA had already begun ''black'' (secret) flights, spiriting out of the country Vietnamese collaborators who could expect only prison or death after a communist victory, and the U.S. embassy had begun burning its files. (Not fast enough: long lists containing the names of Vietnamese and specifying what they had done to help their American allies eventually fell into the hands of the Northern victors.) CIA analyst Frank Snepp, in his book Decent Interval, recalled roaming the embassy grounds on April 15 and noting a telltale sign of onrushing disaster: the outdoor swimming pool was unusable because of ashes wafting down from the incinerators on the chancery roof and floating in the water.
Yet many Americans and Vietnamese could not bring themselves to believe what they were seeing. Long after the Senate committee's rejection of aid, hope persisted for some kind of negotiated peace that would leave a nominally independent South Vietnam, possibly even a coalition government with the communists and a small continuing American presence.
Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger nonetheless argued that Graham Martin, the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, should begin evacuating the remaining Americans in Saigon and sympathetic Vietnamese. So little was done, though, that Lionel Rosenblatt and Craig Johnstone, two mid-level State Department officers in Washington, made a desperate effort to short-circuit the bureaucracy. They requested leave and hopped a commercial flight to Saigon to organize an unofficial rescue mission. Arriving at the embassy on April 22, they learned that orders were out for their arrest. They posed as French businessmen, holing up in an empty apartment found for them by sympathetic lower-level embassy employees and working the phones to round up Vietnamese to be smuggled out of the country.
Ambassador Martin, who died in 1990, was a strange combination of Pollyanna and paranoid. He often seemed to regard the Washington bureaucracy rather than the Vietnamese communists as his main enemy. In a just-declassified and previously unpublished cable, he ranted that State Department foes were calumniating him in the U.S. press: ''The sly, anonymous insertions of the perfumed ice pick into the kidneys in the form of the quotes from my colleagues in the Department are only a peculiar form of acupuncture indigenous to Foggy Bottom against which I was immunized long ago.'' If the ''mattress mice'' in Washington were pressing him to prepare an evacuation -- well, he knew the situation better: ''I have been right so far, which is unforgivably infuriating to the bureaucracy.'' Martin initially refused even to allow the precautionary felling of a huge tamarind tree that blocked helicopters from landing in the embassy courtyard. A U.S. embassy team hacked it down only around midday April 29, when the evacuation was entering its last hours.
As he once confided to White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, Martin feared even whispering the word ''evacuation'' would set off a Danang-style panic. But the ambassador also believed more fervently, and longer than almost anyone else, in the possibility of an accommodation with the communists. As late as April 28 he was cabling Kissinger that he foresaw Americans staying in Saigon for ''a year or more.'' By then, Gotterdammerung was well under way.
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