Doctor Henry Kissinger's Letter
Dear Master Sergeant Broussard:
Dr Kissinger has written the enclosed piece about the Fall of Saigon and about his activities and thoughts on that tragic day. He was glad to do it for you and the Fall of Saigon Marines Association.
I apologize for the delay in getting it to you. As you can imagine, recent events have occupied a good deal of his time. I know that his thoughts have often been turned to Vietnam, much as I am sure yours have been. With the Marines once again on the front lines, we here join Dr. Kissinger in hoping for their safe return, and indeed for all our armed forces.
Suzanne S. McFarland
Dr. Henry Kissinger’s activities and thoughts about the Fall of Saigon
The Last Day
The Pentagon’s plan for implementing the final evacuation were far from precise. There was a glitch in communications between the helicopters on aircraft carriers and the tactical air cover for them based in Thailand, leading to a disagreement among various commands about when the operation should start, whether it was Greenwich Mean Time or local time. A new schedule had to be established, and the operation started in earnest with a few hour’s delay.
As American were being lifted from the roof of the American Embassy during the morning of April 29 (Washington time), President Ford, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and I briefed the congressional leadership. After that, all was silence. I sat alone in the National Security Adviser’s corner office in the West of the white House, enveloped by the eerie silence that sometimes attends momentous events. The White House National Security Council office was the Washington command center for the evacuation of Vietnam even though the actual airlift was being conducted by the Pentagon. Neither Ford nor I could influence the outcome any longer; we had become spectators of the final act. So we sat in our offices, freed of other duties yet unable to affect the ongoing tragedy, suspended between a pain we could not still and a future we were not in a position to shape.
Ours was, in fact, a command post with essentially nothing to do. My Deputy, Brent Scowcroft, kept track of the myriad details with selfless dedication and efficiency. Robert C. "Bud" McFarland, later President Regan’s National security Advisor, was in charge of the administration of my office. He had served in Vietnam as a Marine and now, with tears in his eyes, had to tend to the mechanics of the collapse. Many of his fellow Marines had died to keep this tragedy from happening. Bud was deeply moved, though he made a valiant and nearly successful effort to try not to burden the rest of us with his sorrow. There was an almost mystical stillness.
By now it was early afternoon in Washington, well after midnight in Saigon. Despite his original inclination to end the airlift at dusk in Vietnam, Ford had ordered it to continue all night so that the largest number of Vietnamese might be rescued - especially those still inside the embassy compound. Around 2:00 pm, I learned that there were still 760 people there and that, for whatever reason, only one helicopter had landed in the previous two hours. I called Schlesinger to discuss how we could evacuate this group completed. For it was clear that the North Viennese would occupy Saigon at daybreak. We computed that thirteen helicopters would do the trick.. But to throw in a safety, we agreed on a total of nineteen. U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was to be on the last helicopter.
At 3:48 pm Washington time (4:58 the next morning in Saigon) Martin left with ninetieth or last helicopter - or what we thought was the last. He had done an extraordinary job. Over a two-week period, he had orchestrated the evacuation of over fifty thousand South Vietnamese and six thousand Americans with only four casualties. And he had kept the situation sufficiently calm to allow another eighty thousand refugees to get out on their own.
As soon as I thought the last helicopter had left, I crossed the passageway between the White House and the Old Executive Office Building to brief the press. But on returning to my office, I found that Vietnam still would not let go easily. While Graham Martin and the remnants of the embassy staff had indeed departed a 4:58 am Saigon time, elements of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade protected the evacuation - comprising 129 Marines - had been left behind for some inexplicable reason. Huge credibility gaps had been manufactured from far less then this, but those of us in the White House Situation Room had to time to worry about public relations. The helicopter lift was resumed. It was 7:53 pm Washington time (and already daylight in Saigon) when the helicopter carrying the last Marines left on the embassy roof.
Two hours later, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon.
For the sake of our long-term peace of mind, we must some day undertake an assessment of why good men on all sides found no way to avoid this disaster and why our domestic drama first paralyzed and then overwhelmed us. But, on the day the last helicopter left the roof on the embassy, only a feeling of emptiness remained.. Those of us who had fought the battles to avoid the final disaster were too close to the tragedy to review the history of twenty years of American involvement.
And now it was too later to alter the course of events.