Sunday, April 27, 1975
On Sunday morning there was a meeting of Americans to learn the rules for taking the USAID people to the evacuation center at Tan Son Nhut airport. I was going to stay with them until they left for the airplane. Bill Rice escorted one bus load to the airport. Ron Pollock had ADFA people; Dr. Bill Oldham was with Public Health and ADLD people; and Bob McCandless escorted ADPROG and ADEPP people. There was a total of 305 people to report to USAID II at 2:00 P.M. Sunday, including 123 from ADFM. We worked in the Office all morning as usual and then met at 2:00 P.M., as scheduled. Only 89 ADFM people boarded the busses. I had been told by a Vietnamese employee that morning that some employees, who had not intended to leave, put their names down so they could convert $2,000 worth of piasters to dollars. I was told of 3 employees in this category: Mr. Au (who had supposedly changed his mind about leaving); Mrs. Kim Hong (dollar accounts); and Miss An (dollar accounts). By turning in 1, 510,000 piasters they could get $2,000 in cash, which they could convert on the black market to 9 million piasters (4,500 to 1). None of the three I had been warned about showed up at the busses. As a result of people not showing up, 30 other people of ours were deprived of the chance of getting out.
The busses were 30 minutes late. One scene I’ll never forget was that of tall Bill Rice escorting a small old Vietnamese woman with short hair through the gate. She was crying uncontrollably. I asked Bill who he had there and he said “she wants to see her family.” Those not leaving were not supposed to enter the area but it was so heartbreaking to see this little old woman crying that Bill took her in with him. I believe she was Mr. Phuoc’s (analysis branch)_ mother.
After loading, our bus went to Tan Son Nhut, reaching the processing area at 4:00-4:30 P.M. After loading my bus, one of the men coordinating the loading asked if he could put 4 or 5 more people on our bus. I don’t remember whether he said they were related to Americans, or had American passports, or what, but he gave some such reason. I told him they could board our bus but I wouldn’t put them on my manifest. I didn’t hear any more from him and never saw them.
On the way to the airport, my bus was the last one in a five-bus convoy and did not have diplomatic license plates. We also lagged a bit behind the others. The National Police had set up two check points just outside the main entrance to Tan Son Nhut. They stopped my bus at each one–the other four busses were not stopped. They seemed to pick out the more prosperous-looking Vietnamese where the husband was within draft age. At the first stop they took Mat’s husband and Mrs. Luong’s husband off. Mat and her husband returned last year from 4 years in American Universities. He was draft-exempted and worked for Esso. Mrs. Luong’s husband worked for NBVN (National Bank). The police pretended to be questioning their draft status and took them back to their jeep. I followed them and asked the name of the top man in the jeep. He got excited and started yelling about Americans, how they were no good and should all get out. As he appeared to be having trouble controlling himself, and had a gun, as soon as I safely could I discreetly high-tailed it back to the bus, an waited for them to leave with their prisoners. In the meantime, Mat and Mrs. Luong were very agitated and were constantly traipsing between the bus and the jeep. To my surprise, a few minutes later the two men came back to the bus. Later that night Mr. Luong told me that the three National Police in the jeep were: (1) the driver; (2) the boss, who was yelling; and (3) another man who was sweet-talking them into parting with some gold.
About 50 yards up the road we were stopped again by more National Police. This time they got Chi’s husband (Chi and her husband also had returned last August from four years in American Universities); Mr. Phuoc (analysis branch); and again Mrs. Luong’s husband and son. They thought the son was 17 years old but, as shown on his papers, he will be 17 in September. They had to send for another boss to figure out his age. At this point I was so disgusted I made a few intemperate remarks to all and sundry on the buss to the effect that they should consider themselves very fortunate to be getting out of a country run by such as these and that I regretted very much that we had spent millions of dollars training the National Police, who apparently were devoted primarily to stealing from their own people but still hadn’t even learned to add. They all seemed to agree. But I didn’t make the mistake of antagonizing the police again. I even gave the chief a cigar and we were finally on our way. That night I learned that it had cost Chi and Mat 100,000 piasters worth, or one million piasters worth, of gold (after the last week’s happenings I just don’t remember which, although I believe it was the lesser amount) and Mrs. Luong’s family twice as much. At the last exchange rate of 755 to 1, that would be $130 (or $1,300) for Chi and Mat, and twice as much for Mrs. Luong. I don’t think Phuoc had to pay, whether because his family knew President Huong I don’t know. The next day after a SAAFO man had heard about this incident, and called me, he was furious because he said the National Police had been paid off, beforehand, to avoid this happening at those check points.
Our people were sent to the bowling alley to wait. Our 300, plus baggage, took up 3 lanes, so there were at least 1000 people there. The air conditioners were working but it was still hot, and the bright lights blazed away all night. I went over to the gymnasium to register and it took two hours to get registered on the flight schedule. We figured that if the boarding continued at the recent pace, our people would leave the bowling alley at about 4:00 A.M. and be processed for boarding at 6:00 A.M.
When I went into the gymnasium, I found that Miss Nhe, one of our single cashiers who wanted to go out first at any cost had beat me there. One of the Americans, who was working there, took me aside and told me that Miss Nhe’s roommate was his best friend, and asked if I would put her on my manifest. I told him that I couldn’t and gave the excuse that a lot of people knew the number and names of those on my manifest.