We have now received some news and know that South Vietnam has surrendered. Wednesday, April 30, 1975

[Martindale, continued]

Wednesday, April 30, 1975

         After a pretty good night’s sleep, I was up at 7:00 A.M. Men have the head for the first 30 minutes of every hour (7:00-7:30) and women and children the second 30 minutes. We heard that all Vietnamese would eat breakfast first because they would be flown by helicopter to other ships, possibly even landing craft that would go directly to Guam or Wake Island. It was about 9:00 A.M. before we could go to eat. Everywhere we go, we have to be escorted. For breakfast , I had scrambled eggs, shrimp, sweet roll, plums, with Sprite and coffee to drink.

         The Captain came by before we ate. He said some Marines from the Embassy compound had been withdrawn. Ambassador Martin had been evacuated and the evacuation was about over in Saigon. During the morning, we heard that the Embassy had been hit pretty hard after everyone left and was on fire. It seems that about 20 minutes after we were lifted off last night, there was a riot in front of the Embassy and resulted in Marines fighting ARVN soldiers. We heard that 5 marines had been killed but don’t know where or how. Of course, it could only be a rumor (Apparently, it was a rumor).

         This morning, several S. Vietnamese helicopters landed bringing the families of crew members. We probably evacuated a lot of Generals’ families, so I guess its every man for himself. After landing, some of the helicopters were pushed over the side for lack of room. I heard of only one who went back to Saigon to evacuate more.

Since 1:30 p.m., we have been having some excitement. A Cessna with a Vietnamese major, his wife and 4 or 5 children on board, wants to land on this carrier. The ship is speeding up to give him more landing room. As many as can crowd into a small room in our quarters area are watching deck action on a closed circuit TV.

         Now he has made it O.K. The ship sped up so he was going only about 15 knots over the deck. Late today several South Vietnamese helicopters, including Chinooks, have landed. We have now received some news and know that South Vietnam has surrendered. Where we earlier thought the helicopter pilots had deserted, we now know they got away from the North Vietnamese with their copters

         All kinds of rumors of where we are going–one rumor says we will stay on this ship and go to Subic Bay, Philippines, about 3 days away. Another says we will be transferred by helicopter to another ship, probably a cruiser, that will get to Subic faster.

        Wednesday night and all the Vietnamese have been transferred to other ships, supposedly to go directly to Guam or Wake Island. And now we have been told to go up for boarding helicopters to go somewhere. Everyone lined up once and then, in about 5 minutes were told to fall out. We were told to report ot the foksel (that seems to be how the sailors pronounce it; as an ex-air force pilot I don’t know what it is. But I vaguely remember reading in various books of a word, something like Fo’c’sle, which I took to mean forecastle). At about 11:00 p.m. everyone lined up again. Bill Rice and I have been after the medics to get a stretcher for Clarence Combs, because of his bad feet, and we said we would wait for him. It was just as well because most of the line moved out toward the flight deck, and then everyone was sent back in again. And flight operations have shut down for the night. Apparently something was “Fokked up” on the “FOKSEL”. We thought the weather (rain) might be the reason but found later that it apparently was not. We have now been told that we will get off tomorrow, Thursday, and should indicate our choice of (1) helicopter to a commercial ship for passage to Guam or Wake Island; (2) Stay on the ship as it goes south, past Vietnam, and then go with the Air Force helicopters to their base in Thailand, or (3) Stay on board the ship until it reaches Subic Bay. We decided that all AID people should go to Bangkok.  Incidentally, all five of our ADFM people are on this ship. In Bangkok, we can get travel orders and take a week’s TDY somewhere to buy clothes and rest. If Jennie* left Bangkok, as scheduled, on Wednesday, I may go by way of Guam on my way home. Anyway, another late meal, about 12:30 a.m.

*Tom’s wife

Monday, April 28, 1975

[Martindale, continued]

Monday, April 28, 1975

         We proceeded pretty well on schedule and moved out of the bowling alley to an area next to the gym, probably around 4:30 A.M. I should say about one-half of our group did. I had made arrangements with the people at the processing gate to stage our people in this area, in the order that their names appeared on the manifests, so the processing could proceed in an orderly manner. When I notified our people in the bowling alley to get ready to go to the staging area, this excited another group into action. The group scheduled directly ahead of us, unknown to me, was also in the bowling area. They hadn’t been told to get ready and consisted of only about 40 employees of the American radio station. They moved out very quickly into part of our staging area. So I moved only one-half of our people, and left the others in the bowling alley in two groups.

         Our people waited very patiently in the staging area as, first daylight, then sunrise, came. If  I had not already known them, I would have had to admire them then. We had all been up since the early morning before, and God only knows how much sleep they had that night, with the excitement of getting ready to leave their country. But here, as the sun came up, 65 and 70-year-olds seemed to have more energy than I had; and I knew they had sat up all night, seemingly as tense and nervous as could be.

         At this point I should state that, of all the people processed, it seemed that USAID had a very low percentage, considering the number of people in the country from various organizations. That is, other than SAAFO personnel. SAAFO people were a breed apart, and though ordinarily shown as AID personnel, they reported primarily through the Special Assistant to the Ambassador for Field Operations, hence the initials SAAFO. These Vietnamese weren’t even AID employees after June 30, 1974 (although we still paid them and supervised them) but were nominally GVN employees. Vietnamese personnel of DAO contractors, such as P, A and E, were being evacuated. And on the last day a lot of voluntary agency local personnel were evacuated. I don’t know as AID contractors’ local employees were ever evacuated, and a lot of our own direct-hire Vietnamese never got the chance. And so many others were secretly evacuated; supposedly many GVN officials’ families, and those of high ranking military officers had to be, in order for us to be able to safely evacuate our people. I know the night our people were waiting in the bowling alley, at about 10:00 P.M., I saw two U.S. government officials that I knew, who said they had just brought in 600 people. It was so secret they couldn’t tell me who they were. But they didn’t wait anywhere near 16 hours. And the next night they were to send out 600 more.

         At about 6:30 A.M. we were next in line for processing, when a halt was called. I was told that we would hold until 8:00 o’clock, I told our people to relax until 8. Some bought coffee and bread from the soldiers through the adjoining fence. Some of these warriors had been on duty all night, hawking their wares through the fence. They had samples of newspapers, cigarette packages, etc. stuck to the fence. Up until about 2:00 A.M. there was a virtual army of Military moonlighters manning the fences. Come daybreak, there was also an army pushing bread and coffee. I accepted some French bread from some of our people. After a while, shortly before 7:30 A.M., I went to the men’s room in the gymnasium. I came out about 7:30 and found that our people had been called to go in for processing. It didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would. I had told our people that we would start processing at 8:00 A.M. (as I  had been told). So when I came out, they were not in their proper order, and, at first, there was a bit of confusion. and now there was new Defense Attache Office (DAO) man at the gate, a civilian who had either been a top sergeant or had nurtured delusions of being a top sergeant. His yelling and cursing at the Vietnamese created more disorder. I had designated a Vietnamese to be in charge of each of our four groups. By having each of them line their people up and bringing them into the gate in their regular turn, we finally convinced “Napoleon” that we could organize them better than he could.

         As our 300 some-odd USAID employees were processed through, our 89 Controller Office personnel dwindled to 86. Chi’s mother decided at the last moment that she couldn’t leave her country. And another employee, who was also the second wife of the USAID Director’s driver, tried to get her sister through with her. Her sister was over the age limit of 20 but somehow she had gotten onto a bus. When the count was made at the gate (there they only checked numbers of people) of “employee and one other,” the sister also breezed inn. “Napoleon” was alert enough to count three people when there should have been two, although the employee’s baby was quite small. So she had a choice of going with her baby only or not at all. I guess her sister had been taking care of the baby because the employee elected to stay behind with her baby. I vowed to see that all  three were put on a later manifest, now that I knew how the system worked.

         I followed our employees through the baggage-checking process and the body searching. I wanted to see how the entire operation worked. There was no check on baggage weight, although we had religiously told our people that they would be allowed 20 kilos per adult and 10 kilos for others. And they were well below those limits. Some were apprehensive about the body searching. After being paid accrued leave and severance pay in greenbacks, and being allowed to convert up to $2,000 worth of piasters into U.S. currency (although many would have preferred dollar checks), some employees had a few thousand dollars on their bodies. Some had sold all of their property (houses, automobiles, Hondas, etc.) and had converted the piaster proceeds into gold and jewelry, at unfavorable rates. But even these Vietnamese, or most of them, probably didn’t have as much wealth as the U.S. newspaper reporter, who made headlines by reporting on the wealthy Vietnamese refugees, has just in the equity on his home. They had to carry what they could out with them. Apparently the American guards were concerned primarily about anyone carrying firearms. The solder who checked them was a very personable, outgoing type, who did a great deal to ease the tension among these people who had been waiting in the processing area for more than 16 hours. I saw more smiles in ten minutes there than I had during the entire 16 hours. Of course, they were near the end of the line too. Hien, our ex-receptionist, ex-secretary, was so happy after she got through the metal detector. She said the detector went “rrr, rrr” and the sergeant asked her what she had on her person. She told him she had some jewelry and she was passed on through.

         I wanted to see our people through to the airplane but the sergeants overruled the Navy Lt. Commander, who had given me permission. They cited anti-hijack regulations. So I saw them all aboard the busses  at 9:20 A.M. headed for the airplanes. I don’t think they were delayed further because they had been held up awaiting busses. It seemed a shortage of drivers had developed, as drivers were getting out also. I felt glad for our employees but was very sad, knowing I would probably not see a one of them again. Parting with some close friends such as Hien and Cam Van was especially hard. I was so choked up I couldn’t say goodbye to them as I was turned back at the gate, but could only wave goodbye.

         During my tour through the processing cycle I found that no check was made of the relationship and age requirements when employees and their families boarded the busses. Bus monitors should have made this check but did not have time. And an American couldn’t have made heads or tails of the Vietnamese names, not to mention the second and third wives and their children. The employees could have held to the original number of family members they had reported, and we would never have know the difference. Then when the manifests were turned in, the number of persons listed was allowed to go through the gates. The employee’s name was called plus, say, 4 others. Five people were counted as they went through the gate and were as good as in Guam. We were given the rules and put the fear of God into our employees. And I think we did right; otherwise, fewer of our employees could have gone. But I don’t know how many others did likewise.

         After I saw our people off I went home, took a shower and grabbed two hours of sleep and a snack and then back to the rat race. I found that another list of 120 had been prepared and the people were being processed. Based on our money exchange experience, Bill Rice got permission for USAID to make the  exchange for its employees and to accept piasters, with dollar checks to be sent ot the employees on Guam, or wherever they went. A list of personnel turning in piasters was kept, and I  don’t know whether the employees were given receipts on the spot or not.

         We had the usual rush of employees seeking us out and citing their particular problems. Vietnamese officials sought out anyone they knew in the U.S. Mission for help. Colonel Vuu, a very knowledgeable Accounting major, with an MBA from Syracuse University was getting out of the military on April 30th and was looking for help. Mr. Truong, Director General of DGBFA who had been of so much assistance to us, and had probably done more for the U.S. Government than any of our own employees, was seeking help. He was most vulnerable in case he couldn’t get out. All we could do in such cases was refer these people to the Director’s Office, as we were only authorized to make arrangements for our own people and their families. But these were also good friends and we had to take the time, which we didn’t really have, to talk to them. I don’t know whether Col. Vuu got out or not but I’m pretty sure Mr. Truong did not. But again, I’m not sure, as some of these people surprise you with their ingenuity.

         I was surprised that afternoon to find that Mr. Au  was on the job. I found that he had told Paul Kostamo that his family had gone out in the group that I had shepherded. I told Paul, who was not aware of the case, that Mr. Au must have decided that there was more money around to be stolen. And then I found that he had been helping to count the money that was turned in for payment by dollar checks. I told Bill Rice that he was on the job, so we called him into the office. He told me that his family had gone out, and then we told him that we knew better because Bill Rice was monitor of the bus that his family was supposed to board and that I had stayed with the group all night and had a list of all the people that boarded the plane. We told him that everything would be O.K. if he just brought $2,000 the next day to turn back in. He made some lame excuse about his son being in an accident, but we told him we still expected the money the next day. I bet Bill 1000 piasters that he would never come back to work again. I guess I won the bet because the next morning there was a 24-hour alert and before the day was over we had all left Vietnam.

         I went to CRA to eat but found they were serving only sandwiches. Then I drove to the Guest House in the USAID I compound. While waiting to be served, and while sipping on a cold beer, at about 6:30 P.M. all hell broke loose. That was when the U.S.-built planes hit Tan Son Nhut airport, but we didn’t know that then. We heard all kinds of shooting outside. Our waitress became so agitated that she was literally jumping up and down and running around between tables. We made her go into the kitchen as she was making everyone more edgy and nervous. People were running around out in the lobby and the firing outside sounded as though it was in our compound. I fully expected someone to rush through the door firing a gun at any time.

         In time things quieted down, our waitress reappeared and served us and we left. I took Bill Ward home to 259, and he lent me his curfew pass in case I didn’t make it home before curfew. When I got home I found that a 24-hour curfew was in effect.

         At about 9:00 P.M. I went to Bill Austin’s apartment to see if there was an alert for evacuation. Bill was our building warden. While I was there he received a call from the Mission Warden’s Office wanting three drivers to go to Tan Son Nhut to drive busses back to our apartment. It seemed all the drivers deserted when the shooting started at the Air base. Bill asked me if I was a bus driver, I said I’d never driven one in my life. He told the Mission Warden he had one volunteer right there in his apartment.

         A little later Bill Austin, Al Dominguez and I were taken out to pick up some busses. There were probably 8 or 10 other drivers there also. We picked up the busses in front of  the DAO headquarters where 5 or 6 hours later rockets hit, killing 2 marines and destroying some other vehicles. After learning where the various gears were, I was able to drive alright. I was more afraid of possible trouble from the ARVN or National Police than anything else and at one check point the did come on board and check for passengers. With the tension of driving around during curfew, going through road blocks, etc. I found that my clothes were almost all entirely wet with perspiration when I reached home. I called Jennie in Bangkok before going to bed somewhere around 1:00 A.M.

Sunday, April 27, 1975

[Martindale, continued]

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.

Sunday, April 26, 1975

[Martindale, continued]

Saturday, April 26, 1975

         On Saturday our 5 Americans got together and started getting names of people to evacuate. As different crises came up, people left to handle them. I was finally working alone, which was actually faster even though I was continually diverted. We told our employees that if ineligible people were included, such as overage children, we had been told that the entire family would not be allowed to leave. As a result, when making up the list on Saturday,  I found that families were much smaller than had been indicated. Mr. Huu’s small children, brothers and sisters, it turned out, were all over 20 years old. He was really crying when he admitted it, but probably only because they couldn’t go. A lady employee had listed a 53 year old brother. What started out as more than 120 watered down to less than 90. Then I took more names and finally ended up with 123. We found late Saturday that this group would not leave until the next day. We told the employees to convert money if they wished and to alert their families.

Martindale, Short Intro

Thomas Kinton Martindale (1921-2000) was born in Tennessee. He flew “The Hump” in the Army Air Corps during WWII. The GI Bill helped put him through the University of Michigan and there he took a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting and secured his CPA. After some accounting jobs in the mid-west, he joined the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID) where he worked until retirement. He was controller in the mission in Saigon and was there as South Vietnam collapsed under the advance of the North. Martindale remained in Saigon until the last day and participated in evacuation efforts.

In following posts, I will transcribe notes about the final days, notes that he wrote for his family, notes that are now archived and of interest to more than his family alone.

Thomas K. Martindale. Leaving Vietnam

INTRODUCTION

I started writing this on Wednesday, April 30, 1975 while on board the USS Midway east of Vietnam. I hadn’t been able to write home very often during the preceding two weeks so I wanted my family to know what I had been doing during those hectic days. They couldn’t understand why I hadn’t gotten out of there.

         I also thought there should be some recollection of events for the record. Even a week later, days had tended to merge with one another. Note that I said Vietnamese employees were paid on Wednesday, or maybe earlier. I have since talked to an American who helped stuff the envelopes Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. They were then paid Thursday afternoon.

         I continued writing this in Bangkok and completed it on May 4th. Many of the names have probably been misspelled and I can’t vouch for all the dates. I have just recited events as I saw them and tried to recall my feelings at the time. Since I have continued to draft or redraft parts of this at night, I have dreamed about some phase of the evacuation almost every night in my sleep.

THOMAS K. MARTINDALE
Manila, Philippines
May 9, 1975