The End of the Golden Chain
General Richard Baughn believes that the U.S. set the South Vietnamese up for eventual defeat by teaching them our expensive ways. Then, when Congress dug in its heels on the budget, some Americans kept promising the Vietnamese that more aid would come, while they told Congress the South’s ability to continue would be in jeopardy without more money. Baughn says, “The Vietnamese monitored these discussions very closely and maybe the only people we convinced that continued fighting was not possible with the lower budget were the South Vietnamese themselves. Had we had some South Vietnamese belt tightening before or starting with General Murray's request to the Ambassador, they would have been better conditioned and better postured for the change. (And it’s important to repeat that there was a great deal of evidence that the south always had more of everything than the north during most of the war. They needed more than money).
“I still cannot forget General Rosie O'Donnell's very perceptive comments in 1962. The North Vietnamese were always much more determined than the South Vietnamese and that’s why we had to keep increasing US troop levels to 500,000.”
It was really unfortunate, Baughn believes, that all of the equipment and supplies went for naught during the last days of the war. As it turned out, the DAO Army Division reported that at least 95,000 short tons of ammunition were left behind in MR 1 and MR 2 and was captured by the advancing North Vietnamese Army. And he recalls, another 20 to 30 thousand short tons were held off the coast and never delivered. During some of the extremely heavy fighting in Vietnam, the South Vietnamese used about 60 to 70 thousand short tons per month. So without more supplies they still had about two months of ammunition even under heaviest of combat conditions. But President Thieu's misguided actions forfeited the use of large quantities of ammunition and other military fighting hardware. Baughn strongly suspects that South Vietnam's supplies could have been even larger than those cited above.
There were highly-visible waste at the DAO and other agencies that could have been eliminated to set an example of belt tightening that might have influenced the Vietnamese and led them to see clearly that “the end of the golden chain was near.” One of the most visible of these was the number of staff cars and drivers assigned to individuals. “I had a staff car, an overweight, bullet-proof Chevrolet with a driver who was on 24 hour dispatch. In addition to that, I had six servants. The high number of servants for senior officers had started years earlier. Originally in my quarters there had been five assigned, but my predecessor hired a temporary maid when one of the regular maids had a baby. When the regular maid returned my predecessor didn't have the heart to let the temporary maid go.”
“The pay of these servants had gotten way out of hand by Vietnamese standards. The head maid who worked for General John Murray and later for General Homer Smith had a higher salary than General Cao Van Vien, the Chief of Staff for entire the South Vietnamese military forces. This may sound minor, but these facts were well known by the Vietnamese and I’m certain left them with the idea there was no end to the generous support of the United States. The Americans should have set the example by cutting waste and it should have started at the top in to be effective.”
When Baughn arrived the entire DAO was working seven days a week and most of the work days exceeded the normal eight hours. With only about 50 military people the bulk of the American work force were civilians. They had to be paid time and a half for overtime. In addition, many received a monthly bonus as an inducement to work in South Vietnam. “When you tallied their monthly pay and overtime,” Baughn says, “Although General Murray, General Smith and myself were in charge of DAO we far from the top wage earners in the DAO.” Baughn points out that a reduction in the DAO 40 to 50 million dollar budget would have been small in relation to the total aid budget, but a few million could have been easily saved.
Colonel Richard McMahon's July 1974 end-of-tour report for the DAO also covered in detail what he believed to be overstaffing through the American Mission. McMahon said the DAO was only paying lip service to the objective of turning things over to the Vietnamese. He cited cases where one agency might reduce their work force; the people would then quickly be rehired by another agency. He said it was a case of "Let's find a job for good old Charlie." He pointed out that in some cases American numbers had been increased. McMahon said, “My observations in the DAO did not indicate this was an agency that was trying to eliminate itself. It appeared to be flourishing.”
McMahon also said that many of the contractors hired to train and assist the Vietnamese were not interested in working themselves out of high-paying jobs. He said most of the employees had "vested interests." They were married to Vietnamese and they wanted to live in Vietnam. With their high incomes and the low cost of living in South Vietnam, they could maintain a very high standard of living.”
Overstaffing in the provinces was yet another example of waste of the taxpayer's money, according to McMahon. Citing a case where six different agencies of the American government had one or two representatives in each of the four regions and most of them were collecting the same or similar information. He believed that two good people, with proper supervision, could have done the same job as well if not better. He said that a few of the more candid DAO representatives had admitted to working no more than two or three hours a day. Of course, they wouldn't admit this to their bosses. Naturally, the bosses voiced strong disagreement with McMahon, but, Baughn says, “I sincerely believe he was absolutely correct.”
McMahon presented an excellent case for eliminating the entire Attache Office in the Embassy to which he and four or five other senior officers were assigned. He pointed out the Chief of the DAO was the military man the ambassador talked to and McMahon said that his office had been allowed to go its own way with little if any guidance from the Embassy. “If my memory serves me correctly,” Baughn says, “the replacement group of officers in the Embassy's Attache Office agreed with McMahon.”
McMahon maintained that the large DAO intelligence staff and field representatives could be cut back by relying more on the CIA. He said, “The CIA appeared to be very objective and the overall quality of their information was outstanding.” McMahon wrote that with the exception of NSA assets and aerial photography, all intelligence came from the same source--the Vietnamese themselves. He said that a few of the more dedicated and experienced Americans in the field were able to make valuable assessments of their information, but they were rare exceptions.
“Colonel McMahon sent his report to me and to General Murray. General Murray was very upset by it because McMahon had not brought these comments to him earlier,” Baughn said. Baughn was not sure what action Murray took as a result of the end-of-tour report, but some time after Murray departed, Lieutenant General Daniel Graham, who was placed in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency called Baughn about it. He asked Baughn if he had seen the report and wanted to know his reaction to it. Baughn told him he had read it very carefully and then passed it to General Murray. Baughn told Graham of Murray's reaction. He said that based on his own observations to date, the report was very objective, had foundation and that Baughn had not found anything in it with which he could disagree. Baughn also said that some of the agencies that McMahon was pointing the finger at would probably disagree strongly with it. That was the last time McMahon's report was ever mentioned to Baughn.
Changing the subject, Baughn recalls an interesting incident that occurred within a week of his arrival in Vietnam. General Murray asked him to sit in for him at the Mission Council Meeting, which was the Ambassador's staff meeting with the heads of the agencies. When the Ambassador arrived and saw Baughn, he immediately introduced Baughn as his very good friend. He said that they had served in Thailand together. Baughn said he was taken aback since he’d had never met Martin before. “I had heard his name mentioned when I was flying combat over North Vietnam from Thailand,” Baughn says, “but I had never seen the man.”
Baughn later mentioned this to Murray. Murray just smiled and said that the Ambassador was a master at dividing and conquering. "You have just had some distance put between you and the other agency heads and everyone else. They'll figure you're too close to the Ambassador and they will be very careful in what they say to you."
Baughn received a warning at the Pentagon as to how the State Department jealously guarded its prerogatives where the U.S. military was concerned. Since South Vietnam was run mostly by former military men, there was a natural tendency for them to be more at ease and open with the American military. “But after the US fighting forces had departed in 1973, the State Department wanted no mistake to be made about who was in charge,” Baughn recalls. “Martin, of course, was a natural for following this policy. But Martin did not limit it to just the military—he maintained an iron fist control over all of the other agencies in the U.S. Mission.”
One of the functions assigned directly to Baughn when he arrived in Vietnam was Operations and Plans. During his review of the plans he came across a document entitled "Evacuation Plan." Colonel Paul Siegmund, USMC, was in charge of the plans office and was with Baughn during this review. In paging through the Evacuation Plan Baughn noticed that one of the assumptions was that the Vietnamese military would provide the security, in most instances, if the Americans were ever to evacuate. The first thought that came to Baughn’s mind was, "Why would we want to evacuate if the South Vietnamese are in control of the situation?"
He asked Colonel Siegmund about this and, as Baughn recalls, he said that there were a number of inconsistencies in that document. Colonel Siegmund indicated that attempts to make changes and improvements were never received with much enthusiasm at the Embassy. The reason given for not changing was that” it might alarm the Vietnamese!” Baughn thought that if Martin was so concerned about alarming or panicking the Vietnamese, “then it appeared that withholding corrections to glaring flaws in the evacuation document was very incongruous. The prudent and logical thing would have been to modify the evacuation document as we identified problems requiring changes during a period of relative calm. As it turned out, several of the major flaws were not acted upon until a week or so before the final evacuation of Saigon.”
Baughn also noticed Embassy estimates of how many people -- Americans along with third-country nationals -- would be evacuated. The estimates were low, especially regarding loyal Vietnamese. The estimates also centered on Saigon and its environs and did not include people who were located throughout the rest of country. Of course, later it was found that the embassy estimates were far too small. “Unless we had some kind of idea of the total number of people to be evacuated from the provinces, as well as firm estimates of the numbers and locations of people around Saigon—then we did not in fact have a plan—but only a concept,” Baughn says. Colonel Siegmund, agreed and he tried to rectify this deficiency, but to no avail. Colonel Siegmund never received the necessary cooperation from the Embassy before completing his tour in March of 1975. Since the Consul Generals located in the various Military Regions were the only ones with the authority and the capability to determine the numbers of Americans in their areas, Baughn says, “we needed the Embassy's full cooperation. Again, the reason given for the lack of cooperation was that it would probably alarm the Vietnamese.”
“Until sometime in April of 1975, we had for the most an evacuation concept but no evacuation plan—and the omissions made it a highly flawed concept,” Baughn said. “We knew how the evacuation should be handled, but without a valid head count and knowledge of where these people were located, we could not turn the concept into a final plan. In addition, we were never allowed to plan a worst-case situation where security would become a problem, although this would more than likely be the situation if an evacuation became necessary.”
As Baughn recalls, there was very little consideration made for evacuating the loyal Vietnamese employees—the ones who had performed so ably in very sensitive jobs for the U.S. Government. Had any serious attempt been made to address this problem, he says, old Vietnam hands would certainly have highlighted the problem of trying to evacuate Vietnamese without their families.
In November of 1974, Colonel Bud Day, USAF, and Commander John McCain, USN, both former Vietnam POWs, came to Vietnam on official visit. They were briefed by the Embassy on the Vietnam situation and, as usual, were given the story that everything was going well. Colonel Day and Baughn had been acquainted for a long time and so they dined together during Day’s visit. During the course of the dinner the two men discussed how the war was going for South Vietnam. Day said to Baughn that he was happy to hear that they were doing so well. Baughn then gave his version of how they were doing -- a version that followed more along the lines of what the DAO had been reporting, which pointed out that the morale of the South Vietnamese was dangerously low, corruption was taking a huge toll and degrading their fighting capability and the balance was shifting dramatically in favor of the North Vietnamese. “Needless to say, Day was shocked,” Baughn remembers.
“I also told him that the people who were working on the MIA problem in Vietnam were not getting full support from the Embassy and that this had been upsetting me for some time. The US MIA people were denied one of their most effective tools—access to the press. The Embassy would not grant them the freedom they needed with the press when significant information that should have gone out. This was just another indication of Martin's press paranoia,” he observed.
On March 26, 1975, Baughn invited the Deputy Commander of the Vietnamese Air Force to accompany him on a visit to the Phan Rang Air Base, where General Pham Ngoc Sang, the 6th Air Division Commander from Pleiku had just escaped to after the SVN Army had cut and run from MR II without warning. “When we arrived, general Sang met us and immediately asked if he could get some supplies of bombs, fuel to fight the communists. He was mad as hell at the Vietnamese Army because they had evacuated Pleiku and never told him or his people anything about it. He said, “The Vietnamese Army had cut and run and left the highlands without a fight. They just ran away with no enemy in sight and never told any of us in the Air Force they were leaving.” Sang wanted to fight and ask us to help him get some army troops to protect his base while he bombed and attacked the communist forces. There was no doubt about his and his forces willingness to fight and it came as a breath of fresh air after so many stories of the South Vietnamese Army. We visited his airman and their families and they voiced their utter and complete contempt for the Vietnamese Army.
On the same visit Baughn also went to Nha Trang where the MR II headquarters was located, “to see if any of the command elements were still there.” He had been there a few months earlier and it had been a bustling place. “But now I didn’t see a single person. It was like a ghost town and reminded me of the movie Gunga Din when Cary Grant, Victor McLaughlan and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., entered a recently deserted outpost and village.” Nha Trang was occupied by the NVN a few days later.
When Baughn got back to Saigon he immediately called General Tran Dinh Tho, the Chief of Operations for the JGS, and told him about General Sang and the situation at Phan Rang. “I urged Tho to get some ground forces up there to secure the base, because the army had already evacuated. I also asked him to help arrange to get food and supplies in so the Vietnamese Air Force could fight. I told him that I was going to request some airlift supplies from the U.S. Air Force as well. I felt this might be the spot where the South Vietnamese could hold—but only if they moved fast. My airlift request to the U.S. Air Force was turned down right away. But the Vietnamese did get some army troops and supplies up there. Phan Rang held out until April 16th. General Sang was captured on that day.”
Baughn also briefed General Homer Smith – the Defense Attaché -- regarding his trip to Phan Rang and told him about the South Vietnamese Army “bugging out for no reason at all when the Air Division was ready to fight.” General Smith informed the JGS about the situation. But their eventual support proved to be too little too late.
Somewhere around the time the situation in MR-1 was showing signs of falling apart, an army general from General John J. Burns's Seventh Air Force headquarters visited General Tran Dinh Tho, the Chief of Operations for the Joint General Staff and reported that based on his discussions with Tho, the JGS had a good plan for defending MR-1 and Da Nang. The US Army general was very confident that they could regroup and hold. “It was really a laughable story in view of our minute-by-minute reports coming from Da Nang,” Baughn says. This same general had been trying to computerize the war for some time and one of his findings stated that the South Vietnamese were losing the battles but winning the war. About this time, Admiral Gayler came to Saigon – “Ambassador Martin was still back in the United States and the same Army general came to give Admiral Gayler the computer analysis of the present fighting. DAO intelligence personnel voiced their concerns about the briefing, but the general persisted. It did not take Admiral Gayler long to detect the flaws.”
The SVN military collapse in MR-1 and the resulting evacuation effort in Da Nang appeared to be spawning fears throughout South Vietnam. “Word of the Da Nang situation was spreading fast and many Vietnamese felt betrayed, with signs of anti-Americanism starting to appear. I worried that bringing all of the refugees south might result in more panic and I doubted the ability of the South Vietnamese government to handle the refugees in the face of other security problems.”
Baughn recommended in a letter to the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM,) since the Ambassador was still back in the States, that the uncontrolled mass evacuation be stopped. It was suggested that if the US were to assist in evacuating anyone from the northern Military Regions it should be military units that could be regrouped and used to defend the rest of the country. At the time Baughn said, “It appeared we were just reacting to situations rather than organizing an effort to salvage some of the fighting forces to defend against the NVN.” Baughn showed General Smith his letter. Smith had many things on his mind and his reaction was polite, Baughn recalls, but he was cool to the suggestion. “I don't know what he did with my letter. I retained a copy in my personal files. Later on Smith wrote in one of his end-of-tour reports words to the effect that he thought the refugee evacuation might not have been in the best interests of South Vietnam.
Baughn met the French Army Attache shortly after the attache was assigned to Saigon during the summer of 1974. He was a paratrooper who had fought in Vietnam and had been at Dien Bien Phu. Baughn asked him to give his appraisal of the situation after he had been in country for six months. “I believe it was around January or February of 1975,” Baughn recalls. “The French officer briefed me that South Vietnam had more than enough ammunition, hardware and supplies to fight the war, but lacked the most essential element of a good military organization—the will to win. He also emphasized their weak senior commanders and rampant corruption,” Baughn remembers.
There was a retired U.S. Air Force colonel Baughn had known in the past who had married a wealthy Vietnamese woman. “She was half French with a lot of money and good political connections,” Baughn said. They were living in Saigon and shortly after Baughn’s arrival in April, 1974, Baughn asked the colonel and his wife how long they thought South Vietnam could hold out against North Vietnam. The colonel's wife answered without hesitation, that they would hold out no more than one year. Her husband nodded his head in agreement.
Many of the military people assigned to the DAO could see the end of South Vietnam coming in January, 1975, when Phuoc Long Province fell to the North Vietnamese, Baughn says, “Others had seen it coming for a longer time. After the central highlands debacle in March 1975 a few more doubters became believers and by the time of the Da Nang panic all doubters admitted that the light at the end of the tunnel was all but out.”
Despite Ambassador Martin's refusal to do update the evacuation plan because he thought it would alarm the Vietnamese, he sent a sizable amount of his "personal valuables" back with General Fred Weyand, who was returning to the United States in early April. General Weyand had reviewed the situation and was going to brief the President on how many American troops would be required to stabilize the situation. Baughn’s Vietnamese maid asked the next morning, after General Weyand had left, when the Americans were leaving. When asked why she wanted to know, she said that the word was spreading that Ambassador had sent a lot of his valuable things back to the States with General Weyand. Many Americans were also discussing it.
“During this period many of the Embassies of other countries started sending their people home. There were other events taking place that were highly visible to the Vietnamese, all of which pointed toward the eventual evacuation.”
On April 1, 1975, CINCPAC sent a message to the DAO stating that the fall of South Vietnam appeared to be imminent and could happen in as soon as five days. They called for a massive reduction in American personnel as soon as possible and outlined other appropriate actions. General Smith requested that Baughn take the action on this message and Baughn assembled the senior military division heads in the DAO that afternoon. He also requested Colonel Wahle and Colonel McCurdy from the Attache Office in the Embassy, since they had been involved with the recent Embassy evacuation actions. He asked Colonel Wahle to chair a brainstorming meeting to come up with a list of actions that the DAO should take in support of CINCPAC's plans and guidance.
Colonel Wahle’s group worked most of the night developing plans for sea, fixed-wing air and helicopter evacuation techniques for covertly moving people. They recommended actions that the DAO could take immediately on its own and others for the Embassy. On the next day -- April 2nd -- the recommendations were given to General Smith and to Admirals Benton and Oberg. Baughn remembers that” without exception, everyone present agreed with the plans and recommendations.” The same afternoon, Wolfgang Lehman, the Deputy Chief of Mission, was briefed and he agreed that the alert status of the fleet and of the Air Force troop carrier forces should be upgraded and he approved of the holding of two to four MSC ships at Newport for possible sea evacuation. He deferred to Martin concerning a recommendation to order dependents and nonessentials out of the country. Martin turned that suggestion down. Although Baughn and others had discussed withdrawal of some high-value equipment and aircraft, they never brought up the subject because “we simply had to concentrate on people first.”
That afternoon General Smith put Baughn in charge of the evacuation for the DAO and Baughn selected Colonel Wahle as his assistant. Smith also assigned Baughn some young officers to act as a special planning group and to assist in making preparations for security relative to the evacuation of the DAO. “I think it is fair to say that no single group of individuals did more than these young officers in eventually making the evacuation work,” Baughn says. “They were involved in all phases of planning and occasionally they would ask about taking some action that might be too overt for the Embassy. One case I recall was preparing new helicopter landing pads on the roofs of some buildings in Saigon. My response to Colonel Wahle was to do it. I told him to do whatever was required to make the evacuation successful.” It was about this time that Colonel Elmer Graham, a superior army communications officer, suggested that we obtain some satellite communications since we had only communication cables that could be easily cut. I gave him the go ahead and within a week we had satellite communications capability. Colonel Graham was a doer and this was typical of his work.
Baughn was able to determine for the first time how many Americans and third-country nationals were located in Saigon. As I recall, he says, “this was around the 7th or 8th of April and the figure was about seven thousand, which was much higher than the Embassy had been estimating. At last we had one of the critical pieces of information for developing the evacuation plan, but had no idea of how many loyal Vietnamese to evacuate.
The next week was a hectic one, filled with meetings and with frustration, Baughn remembers. “We had airlift capabilities and quotas for moving people out. Despite Embassy approval we started moving loyal Vietnamese, but many of them refused to go without their families. I think that General Smith did more than anyone else in the entire Mission to remove this bottle neck. Most of the American agencies in the Mission soon became aware of the DAO evacuation planning and wanted to follow our lead. On the 9th of April the Ambassador, after receiving recommendations from a number of people, put General Smith in charge of the Mission-wide evacuation planning. Smith again designated me as his agent to accomplish this responsibility.”
The next day Baughn held the first Mission-wide evacuation meeting. A number of high ranking civilians agreed that it was about time that somebody be put in charge of planning. Al Fancis, the Consul General in Da Nang when it collapsed, called to offer his assistance and cooperation, although the Embassy hadn’t included him as an attendee. “He had performed well under the most difficult of circumstances in Da Nang ,” Baughn says, “and saw the critical need to fill the obvious gap in Saigon in order to avoid a repetition of the Da Nang experience—or worse. He recently had been assigned to do some planning on evacuating Vietnamese and had been pressuring the Ambassador on the importance of doing the necessary Mission-wide evacuation planning, which put him out of favor with Martin. But Al continued to work hard and made a very important contribution to the evacuation process.”
At the meeting each of the agencies within the Mission reported what they had done in the way of preparing for an eventual evacuation and what problems they had identified. It appeared without exception, Baughn says, that the other agencies were pleased to hear how much the DAO had accomplished and made them feel somewhat relieved.
Yet, Baughn says, “One thing that startled all of us during the meeting was a request by the Embassy representative (Martin’s DAO monitor), who was observing the meeting. He informed us that the Ambassador would like to have a summary sheet outlining the provisions of the evacuation plan. The DAO monitor had requested a copy of the evacuation plan from us the day before.”
“The inference that Martin was not familiar with a plan that could be implemented within days and that he had no one on his staff familiar enough with the plan to brief him, caught the attention of all of us,” Baughn says. “We also were informed by the monitor that we would withhold further planning actions until Martin had been briefed and put his ‘blessing’ on the plan. We had no time to waste and the request to delay planning action was ignored and the on-going activity by the DAO continued unabated.”
The next day Baughn had a meeting with two Marine officers from the designated evacuation force in Okinawa, who were sent to review the situation, familiarize themselves with the proposed Saigon extraction points, and review the DAO planning actions and to provide further suggested actions that should be taken in preparation for the evacuation. After reviewing the situation, Baughn says, “The Marines were very concerned about the number of Americans still in Vietnam and an unknown number of loyal Vietnamese that would have to be evacuated. They believed that if they had to evacuate such large numbers it would be a high-risk situation for everyone concerned.”
With the lives of so many lives at stake and the military situation deteriorating rapidly, the Marines felt a special security force should be clandestinely moved into Vietnam as soon as possible. They also agreed that Marine helicopter pilots be brought in to augment the small group of Air America helicopter pilots who were already flying nonstop. The Air America people had asked for this, since Air America had one pilot per chopper, half of the normal crew requirement. For safety reasons, more pilots were urgently needed.
The arrangement for the Air America support had been accomplished by the DAO special planning group. “This was just another of the many actions the group had taken,” Baughn says, “despite Martin's business-as-usual policy. I don’t know the exact figure, but over 1,000 people were carried by the Air America helicopters. This would not have been the case if the special planning group had not initiated their planning actions.”
Baughn and the Marine colonel jointly prepared a message with our recommendations. “I asked the colonel to show the message to Martin’s DAO monitor, so the monitor could designate who in the Embassy should see the message before its release. Keep in mind, now,” Baughn says, “the monitor was the person who was supposed to insure that Martin was kept informed of all DAO actions. But for some reason, he did not see fit to show this message to Martin, although it had to be the hottest topic on the embassy’s list.”
Baughn can’t recall exactly who in the Embassy saw and signed message, but he recalls being happy they did not show it to Martin, since this information was something that needed to be released right away. “I would certainly not have sent it over Martin's objections.”
About two o'clock the next morning, Baughn was called by the message center and told that he had an urgent personal communication. The message was from Lieutenant General John Roberts, the Deputy for Personnel at Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, and it stated that Baughn was to depart from South Vietnam on the first available aircraft!
Later Baughn heard from General Roberts that Martin had telephoned the Secretary of Defense and asked him to get rid of Baughn immediately. Martin had read the Baughn message in his file that night and called for his removal.
Baughn concludes, “If I had it all to do over again I would do exactly as I did before. I was determined to avoid any further risk to the thousands of Americans and loyal Vietnamese and I was determined to avoid at all costs grandstand plays for lost causes, bureaucratic face-saving schemes, dim-witted intrigue or senseless demonstrations of bravado. The longer we continued Martin's head-in-the-sand policy, the further we put thousands of Americans and loyal Vietnamese at risk. ”In complete disgust,” Baughn said, “I decided to retire early.”
“Some thought that Martin had a vested interest in hanging on in Vietnam,” Baughn says, “because it would be his last hurrah. Others thought he would try to avoid being chased out of Vietnam at almost any cost due to his arrogance and irrational determination to establish his place in history. Representative Paul McCloskey, who visited Saigon while I was there, said that he thought Graham Martin was demented. General Louis L. Wilson, who was with the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Air Forces, once visited Martin. “As General Wilson and I drove away from the Embassy, Wilson shook his head and said, ‘I have now met my first egomaniac.’" One official, Baughn remembers, who knew Martin well, said that ‘Martin was one of the few men who could stand in the shadow of a corkscrew.’”
Reports show that during the evacuation the Embassy kept interfering with the process. About two weeks before Saigon fell; Martin suddenly expressed a desire to work on a plan to evacuate a million Vietnamese. His eleventh hour grandstanding caused hundreds of Vietnamese to rush to the DAO compound and nearly over whelmed the evacuation process. One attempt by the Embassy on the 21st of April to suddenly restrict Vietnamese evacuees to those of the immediate family nearly caused a riot. Several times they needlessly diverted evacuation buses and Air America helicopters on low priority missions.
When General Smith declared that the fixed wing(C-130) operation could not be continued, Martin refused to accept the recommendation and went to Tan Son Hhut to see for himself, which wasted precious time. “Getting in and out of the Embassy compound was a demanding operation during daylight with fresh crews,” Baughn says. “The Marine and Air America air crews and evacuees they were transporting should never have been put in that hazardous situation. When General Smith declared the airfield unsafe for fixed wing aircraft to continue their operation, the Marine commander should have been put in complete charge of the evacuation and Ambassador Martin should have been on one of the first helicopters out. It was only by the grace of God, the professionalism of the U.S. Marine Corps, DAO personnel and the civilians serving in Saigon that a major disaster was averted during the final withdrawal from Vietnam. In the end, thousands of Vietnamese were evacuated. Unfortunately, many deserving were left behind and many undeserving made it out.”
Looking back now, the American effort in Vietnam appears to Baughn to have been “a lost cause just waiting to happen.” Baughn points out that American military defeated the NVN in battle after battle, but never broke their will to fight. “During most of the war, the map that General O'Donnell was briefed from in 1962 changed very little in relation to the huge American effort in Vietnam. The red and the white would flow back and forth. During the day the white or the SVN controlled areas would increase. But as a rule, at night much of the white turned to red. And in April of 1975 it all became red.”
“I reject the notion that Vietnam was a military defeat. It was anything but that. It was political defeat, lead by the anti-war media and timid politicians—pure and simple. The NVN could have been defeated militarily had we chosen to apply our military power decisively. And of course, this could have been done without the use of nuclear weapons. But even if we had defeated them militarily, I am convinced that the NVN’s will to fight would never have been broken. Up to the very end, the NVN had less of everything than the SVN, except their will to win.”