Monday, December 10, 2012

Henry Hicks Remembers Vietnam

Henry Hicks
"I'm Trying to Come to Work and They're Trying to Shoot Me"

I sent my family out of Saigon on April 24th. I thought when the emergency was over they would come back. I never really believed the country would fall -- even at the very end I didn't think it would fall. But I sent my family out anyway. I think I felt at that time like the old guy who had been an atheist all his life. And when he was dying he called his friend and asked to see a preacher. And when his friend asked him why he wanted to see a preacher he said, "Because I could be wrong." I didn't think the country would fall, but I thought I could be wrong. And if I was wrong I didn't want my family to pay for it.
General Homer Smith [the American Defense Attache] put me in charge of evacuating the DAO personnel. And everything went all right until the night of April 28th. We were just grinding away flying people out when all of a sudden here comes these god-damned airplanes and they bombed us. They were flown by former South Vietnamese Air Force pilots who had defected to the god-damned North, and they bombed our airstrip to stop our planes from landing. And then that night --the same night --they sent in some rockets.
About 2:00 AM on the 29th I decided to go home for a while and sleep. I drove through the city and it was pitch black. There wasn't a light on in the place. Then the next morning I woke up and drove my car back to Tan Son Nhut and the god-damned Vietnamese guards started shooting warning shots at me as I approached the gates. So I drove back home and telephoned the DAO to find out what the hell was going on out there. And they told me that all I had to do was park my car and then walk to the gate. Then there would be no problem, they said. So I drove back out there and I parked my car and I started walking to the gate and those god-damned guards started shooting at me again. They were not trying to kill me, remember. They were just trying to scare me. I got about 200 yards away from them and they were still shooting, so I turned around and left a second time. I got in my car and drove home again and called the DAO. I said, "Your god-damned men out there haven't gotten the word yet. What in the hell is happening? I'm trying to come to work and they're trying to shoot me." This time they told me to go down to 191 Cong Ly Street. I thought when I got there somebody would take me to work. Well, I got there and was directed up to the roof. And a helicopter landed there -- and Air America helicopter. Then he just waited there. He waited there for three god-damned hours! So I called the DAO and asked them why the guy couldn't take me out to Tan Son Nhut. And they said, "Well, he's got orders to wait for some other people." So we waited. And more people showed up. And then finally the pilot said, "All right. Let's go." And everybody piled into that one helicopter. There were so many god-damned people in it that he couldn't take off. So then he had to make some people get out. When he finally took off, he didn't head for Tan Son Nhut, he headed out toward Vung Tau.
He swung out low over the city and I was looking down. I could hear gunshots, but they sounded like firecrackers. I saw some kids playing in a schoolyard as we flew out over the city. Everything looked pretty peaceful. But I felt an absolute chagrin as we were going out. Absolute disgust. I just could not believe that we were going to let the communists win.
We passed over Vung Tau and headed out over the South China Sea. I was looking out the window as we were going out and all of a sudden I saw the fleet. It looked like something out of World War II pictures --the gathering of the fleet. We approached the Blue Ridge but were waved off on our first pass. Then we came in a second time and landed.
The next day they had helicopters landing on the Blue Ridge and after they landed they just pushed them over the side into the sea. It was the damndest sight you ever saw. We suddenly had disposable helicopters.
On the Blue Ridge the press had their own special room. And they did their thing. But I didn't socialize with them. In fact, I had gotten along well with the press until 1968 and the Tet offensive. After that it dawned on me that they were calling Tet a great victory for the communists. And I knew damn well that it wasn't and so did they. And I thought then, "What in the hell are they saying?" Then I saw some photographs, obviously staged, that they had taken after Tet. Photographs that were meant to pull at your heart strings. Then I saw more staged photographs, and I started to think that there was nothing that they wouldn't stage. Nothing at all.
At first, early in the war, we set up briefings for the press so they could get any information they needed for their stories. Well, pretty soon they were calling those briefings "the five-o-clock follies." It was always a god-damned game with them. Really, I never felt that it was anybody's duty to make sure that the press got good stories so they could sell newspapers and make profits and pay dividends to their stockholders. That's what they do. They're a business. But they act as though they're a very special group.
And the television people were the worst. The god-damned television people never told the truth. They never even looked for it. I never understood what the hell they were after in Vietnam. But it sure as hell wasn't the truth.

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