Monday, April 21 through Friday, April 25
Starting Monday morning every day was hectic, especially with our reduced American staff. To take Mary Viszneki’s place as secretary was Hiem (Miss) who had been our receptionist. As Chuck Yeomans had left his secretary, Miss Thao, didn’t know what her job would be. She was happy to become receptionist. We still had our entire Vietnamese staff of about 90 and continued some operations just to keep them all busy. Some of us were wondering, out loud, why we couldn’t start evacuating some locals, even if it proved to be temporary. Probably arrangements hadn’t been made with the Government to let them leave without passports. We had too many to operate efficiently with our small American staff but we weren’t about to put anyone out of a job at this time. And we were spread quite thin for supervision. McClure headed our Local Currency Branch, Analysis Branch and whatever could be done in Budget. Clarence Combs headed Dollar Accounting. Paul Kostamo was in charge of the Voucher Examination Branch and the Cashier, Claims and Payroll Branch. Bill Rice and I supervised overall but, due to the shortage of personnel, we worked in any branch that had a most urgent crisis. For instance, Kostamo might be tied up in a Cashier crisis when I got something concerning a voucher payment. I would take it to a local in Voucher Examination Branch to get it done. That works alright when you have a few pretty good key locals. We were down to where we could supervise, and nothing more–too much was going on and we had too few Americans. No time left to plan an orderly closing of the Mission. Contractors had to be paid off as of yesterday to avoid rioting by their employees, USAID and SAAFO employees were in town from Regions I and II, and everyone had problems. Anytime you left your office, someone was waiting to stop you. Usually it was something you could do nothing about and, more often than not, something that you did not even know about. You could only sympathize and truthfully say you did not know, or had no authority to do anything. Of course, it was difficult to do any work under these conditions. Late in the week, I had to close my office door to do the most urgent work and even, in a couple of cases, to lock the door. Many people, including some of our local employees, were becoming frantic. The 8:00 P.M. curfew meant the restaurants, including the Guest House and CRA (Combined Recreation Association), closed at 7:00 P.M. Since you had to stay at home for several hours you wanted to eat out, usually with co-workers discussing the day’s events. Besides we didn’t have time to go to the Commissary or PX to get food, although our cooks could get things in the local market. But after going to work at 7:00 A.M. and working through lunch, with everything a crisis, I craved a couple of martinis and something to eat in peace, especially the martinis. And the CRA served good martinis. Then after going home and reading the paper, I soon went to sleep. I was quite tired every night and slept well.
I was Charlie Brooks’ agent after he left on Friday, April 18th, with only a few hours notice. I did take an hour and a half on April 21st to let his cook into his apartment to clean out all the food. And he seemed to have enough for a family of six. At that time I thought to myself that there wouldn’t be a food shortage in Saigon for a long time as Americans’ food supplies were just entering the market. Then another day at noon I packed his air freight and intended to take it (about 130 or 140 pounds) to Shipping, after I got a copy of his orders from Personnel Office. I never had the time.
Before Chuck Yeomans left, he handled his air freight and packed his household effects. They just had to be picked up and he had made an appointment for Marion Patten’s crew to put them into a lift van at 4:00 P.M. Monday. At noon, Monday, I saw Pat and he was running behind schedule but would phone me. By Wednesday, as I hadn’t received a call, I called him and he set the time for 4:00 P.M. that day. Then he called and said he would meet me at Yeomans’ apartment a little before 4:00. I planned to leave the office at 3:30 P.M. But five minutes before that time something came up that I couldn’t avoid. So I sent Mr. Rice’s driver, Tien, to the apartment at 196 Hong Thap Tu [?] with the keys to Yeomans’ apartment (Clarence Combs had since moved into it) and his packing list.
What had come up was that we were authorized to tell all of our locals that they were to be evacuated if they wanted and could be accompanied by their spouses, both sets of parents, sons under 17 years of age, daughters under 21 (both only if unmarried) and unmarried brothers and sisters of the employees and their spouses in the same age brackets as their children. They were to let us know the next morning if they wanted to be evacuated and the numbers of family members to accompany. We tried to warn them that some of them might be better off by staying and they should seriously consider this decision. From this point on my time was primarily spent on this, at least whenever I could break away from other distractions.
I believe it was about this time, maybe even on Monday or Tuesday, that the locals were paid all accumulated leave, severance pay, tet bonus, etc., in dollars (not by check). On Thursday, after we got the information from employees on numbers to be evacuated, we told them that those employees to be evacuated could exchange up to $2,000 worth of piasters with the Disbursing Office (USDO) and be paid by a dollar check. We also asked certain key employees to stay on and help us to continue operating. We told them that their families would be evacuated first and the employees would be evacuated when we were. Most wanted to go as soon as possible. Some of our top employees such as Mr. Ba, the two Mr. Minhs, Mr. Luat and Mr. Tiep agreed to stay. Even they had reservations, some even mentioning Nha Trang where all Americans got out, leaving some Vietnamese employees behind. We told them that if they sent their families on ahead, they could wait in Guam and then the employees would go out with the last of us–that it would be easier at that time without their families.
In CCP Mr. Minh would send his family ahead and he could handle payrolls. Mr. Au and his family were not leaving, so he could handle claims and supervise the cashiers. We had 4 or 5 cashiers from Saigon, most of them single, two others who had come down from Danang, and one from Nha Trang. We told them it was imperative that we retain at least two cashiers, and hopefully three. No one volunteered and finally only the two from Danang agreed to stay, one of whom was married, with a family, and who had lost relatives in the fighting for Danang. However, she did keep her family with her. Miss Minh, the CCP secretary, said she wanted to go, along with her family, as she had a fiance in West Germany. I was a bit disgusted with the group in CCP and let them know it.
Mr. Huu, who was now the highest ranking employee in Voucher Examination (VEB [?]), was needed but he asked to leave. After he explained with tears in his eyes, that he had no family except for 3 children and 3 brothers and sisters, all within the authorized age limits, he had to go with them to take care of them. I agreed and said it was better he went than to let those little kids go on ahead.
On Friday the Embassy found that the mob scene for converting piasters at the USDO was unmanageable, so then only those in the process of leaving could convert. Roy Young told me that Lovie Davis, Personnel, or I should give him a note, authorizing those leaving to convert. On the first day, I sent him lists of ADFM people, but on later days it all funnelled through Lovie Davis. They were also getting dollars, not checks.
Friday night, families of key employees, and Mrs. Combs, met at an assembly area (USAID II) at 6:30. At Tan Son Nhut airport they waited in an old barracks area and did not leave until 1:00 A.M. Sunday (over 30 hours of waiting).
Late Friday we were told we could evacuate 120 people, including family members, from ADFM the next day.