When the US-Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer’s two best military sources committed suicide. At the same time, an American diplomat endangered the lives of escaping staff and CIA personnel, according to James Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate Vietnam, in an interview.
“As for my experiences back in Vietnam at the end, the absolute chicken shit character of the men in the US Embassy in Saigon, how they were so petty and self-indulgent, so pedantic and so distant from the fighting,” contributed to the US war’s failure and chaotic end, Parker said. He was evacuated on May 1, 1975, two days after the US abandoned its Saigon embassy.
“Their pusillanimity disrespected the men, American and Asian, I had known who died fighting the good fight,” he said. “I’m speaking about all the Americans at the US Embassy in Saigon, though this does not include the Americans from the CIA that had retreated from positions in the northern provinces [of South Vietnam] down to the embassy, as the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) moved south.
“The State Department people were not folks to look up to in a combat zone,” said Parker, who now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, after working at the CIA for 32 years, starting in 1970. Parker has authored several books about his CIA combat experiences in Southeast Asia, including his latest 706-page volume entitled, “The Vietnam War Its Ownself.”
The book’s blurb promotes the story of one man who came early and stayed late. On April 23, 1975, one week before communist North Vietnam achieved victory over US-backed South Vietnam, the evacuation plan for the consulate in Can Tho city, where Parker was based at the time, degenerated into chaos, he claims.
“Jim D, a career Central Intelligence Operations officer and chief of the CIA base in the Delta of South Vietnam” insisted the safest, most reliable evacuation would be in helicopters, Parker said in the interview, declining to reveal Jim D’s surname. But Can Tho Consul-General Terry McNamara demanded the consulate evacuate by boat down the Bassac River, a 60-mile route to the South China Sea.
According to Parker, McNamara did not trust the CIA’s reliable battle-hardened Air America pilots would fly them to a waiting US Navy ship. Jim D rebelled, replying: “I have my people to protect, and I have [Air America] helicopters. My people go out by helicopter.” Parker’s and his CIA colleagues’ escape was also “at extreme risk with McNamara’s plan,” he said.
“Mr McNamara’s plan did not provide for the safety of the CIA officers,” he wrote. “We had no cover. If we were captured by the North Vietnamese, as was entirely possible, McNamara suggested we tell them that we were USAID engineers, which would not have held up during any type of serious interrogation.”
“Everyone in the consulate knew that McNamara had facilitated the evacuation of his Cambodian in-laws, plus cooks and drivers and others of questionable eligibility, through Tan Son Nhut (Saigon’s airport) while refusing to allow the base to evacuate its more vulnerable KIP,” Parker claimed, referring to the CIA’s Key Indigenous Personnel.
“He must have known his plan would leave CIA agents behind. And I don’t think he cared,” Parker said in the interview.
Parker, Jim D and others eventually arranged Air America helicopter flights to US Navy ships for themselves, the consulate, embassy and CIA colleagues, plus more than 100 KIP during the final 48 hours before Saigon fell to communist troops.
Parker joined the CIA as a contract employee in 1970 and, in 1971, became a paramilitary case officer fighting alongside ethnic Hmong guerrillas and Thailand’s forces against Lao and North Vietnamese communists inside Laos until 1973.
The next year he became a CIA intelligence officer in South Vietnam handling Vietnamese agents in the Mekong River Delta and liaising with South Vietnam’s military.
One week before the war’s end, Parker’s best South Vietnamese source, General Tran Van Hai, had predicted the April 30 deadline of North Vietnam’s victory over Saigon. But Saigon’s CIA Station Chief Tom Polgar and CIA head analyst Frank Snepp refused to believe Parker, he said.
Both CIA seniors insisted North Vietnam would allow Saigon and the southern Delta to remain separate under US protection after a last minute cease-fire, he said. On May 1, 1975, General Hai was found dead.
“General Hai lay face down at his desk. Alone during the night, without saying good-bye to anyone, he had committed suicide. A half-empty glass of brandy, laced with poison, was near an outstretched hand,” Parker wrote in his book.
“That report Hai gave me [predicting] the day Saigon would fall to the NVA…that intel probably had a bearing on my receipt of the [CIA’s] Intelligence Medal,” Parker said in the interview. In addition to the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit, Parker received a Certificate of Distinction and two Certificates of Exceptional Service over a 32-year career.
Hours after North Vietnam’s April 30 victory, South Vietnamese General Le Van Hung — Parker’s other best CIA source and also “my friend” — said he would commit an “honorable” suicide. General Hung saluted his troops “and then shook each man’s hand.
“He asked everyone to leave. Some of his men did not move, so he pushed them out the door, shook off his wife’s final pleas, and finally was alone in his office. Within moments there was a loud shot. General Hung was dead,” Parker wrote.
One month earlier, off Danang’s coast, violence erupted among evacuees aboard a US ship, the Pioneer Contender, chartered to the Military Sealift Command and mastered by Marine Captain Ed Flink. Flink was evacuating Americans and thousands of South Vietnamese civilians when Danang fell to the communists at the end of March. But some US-backed South Vietnamese Rangers also climbed aboard.
Parker wrote about meeting Captain Flink aboard his ship during the war’s final hours after Parker’s KIP were transferred there. “The Vietnamese Rangers…took over my ship. Killed, raped, robbed. You could hear gunshots all the time. Soldiers were walking around with bloody knives,” Flink, a World War II veteran, told Parker.
“We had to lock ourselves in the pilot house. I only had a crew of forty plus some security, but there were thousands of those wild, crazy Vietnamese people. They finally shot some of the worst, once we docked…but I’ll tell you, son, it was hell. We found bodies all over the ship after everyone got off. Babies, old women, young boys. Cut, shot and trampled to death.”
Asked about the bloodshed, Parker said in the interview: “It was Vietnamese officials who shot the rioters.” South Vietnamese marines shot dead about 25 people they claimed were communist Viet Cong suspects, an Associated Press reporter aboard the ship reported on March 31, 1975. Flink later told interviewers that Vietnamese conducted onboard “kangaroo courts” and executed suspected communists.
One month later, on May 1, “Standing on the bridge of the Pioneer Contender and looking back at Vietnam, I suddenly sensed — in a startling moment of clarity — that even though we had lost, we had done right by coming here to fight this war,” Parker wrote. “History will look kindly on our good intentions to save a country from being overrun by an aggressive neighbor.”
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist, reporting news from Asia since 1978
Lets keep re-visiting a war we never should have got involved in and a war that we "LOST."
I agree… look at where Vietnam now… it would have been nice if someone foresaw where this country is gonna be.
The agressive neighbour was fighting for freedom and self determination against a cowardly muederous hegemon. Every Vietnamese lost love ones during this one sided war but the Vietnamese won ar great cost, 15% of the population lost their lives.
After all those years, this CIA guy still thinks of having good intention to keep a country fight a war with an aggressive neighbor, and manage to write a book of over 700 pages. I guess not a single sentence from that book worth reading.
You must be one of those brainwashed by the commies in Hanoi who were fighting to impose the communist ideology upon Vietnam under the guise of driving off the US invader.
An experiment of collectivization ordered by the party head Le Duan was an unmitigated economic disaster in the 70s leading to starvation because peasants had their land taken away and they refused to grow crops.
The commies ideologues in Hanoi relied on Soviet financial support to keep the economy afloat but that was no longer available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Southerners like former Premier Phan van Khai came up with economic reform called "Doi Moi" which has shown great success.
Vietnam now is practicing capitalism, supply and demand model, and is opening to the world. Marxist-Leninism ideology is dead and is ditched the world over, even by China. The commies in Hanoi committed a crime against the Vietnamese people by trying to impose a discredited ideology upon the country and triggered a fraticidal war.
Interesting insight into the last days of the Saigon regime.
It’s complicated to understand why the Vietnam War. Vietnamese people are very independent-minded and will use every opportunity to drive out invaders, usually Chinese, this time French colonialists. After WWII, the French tried to return, out of national prestige, because they wrongly believed a great power needs to have colonies.
The question people posed was that if President Truman were advised to help Vietnam regain independence from France, then the Vietnam War would not have happened. Truman instead made a fateful decision of helping the French return to its former colony but he knew better at the time that there was a new rising empire posing a threat to the West, the communist Soviet Empire.
The Viet commies have eliminated other nationalists and seized power in Hanoi and placed themselves in the communist bloc in order to get weopons to fight the French and later, the US. From then on, it’s a ideological war between the communist bloc and the West. Through propaganda, the Viet commies managed to mobilize the whole population of North Vietnam to participate in the war to liberate the South and drive out the US "invaders".
North Vietnamese people have been deceived into fighting to liberate the South but the true agenda of the commies was to impose a Marxist ideology upon Vietnam. It was easy at the time because the commies have full control of the information. Nowaday people are better informed through social media, Facebooh, Twitter and will not be fooled by the commies.
Chào bạn Trần Văn Tôm Mát, bạn không phân biệt được yếu thức hệ và dân tộc sao? Người Việt Nam bây giờ là kinh tế thị trường, nhưng khi cần thì vẫn cầm súng bắn bất kỳ bọn ngoại xâm nào, dù chúng có là CS như Trung Quốc hay TB như Hoa Kỳ.
Typical american shortsightedness. Ho chi minh was a commie BUT he admired jefferson AND he was counting on america to help him oust d french NOT china or russia as d viets distrusted d chins. Must b becoz d chins thruout history tried to invade vietnam countless times. But of course americans dont read history books. Being a cia spook didnt help this guys lack of historical context.
Vince Vince There is no freedom of expression or free press in Vietnam. All information is vetted and controlled. You can only read the official press which gives out distorted version of events and you tend to believe them. The commies thrive on lies and they don’t want people to find out their wrongdoings. That’s why they want to suppress free flow of information.
Communist Vietnam is a one party dictatorship with no press freedom, no independent judiciary. Commie justice is a joke because the judiciary is subordinated to the party, hence corruption is rampant. Corrupt officials think they are above the law and are not afraid of being exposed in the press and punished. Most commie officials have their pig snout in the trough.
The commie party places itself above all else, above the law, above parliament. The party head is answerable to no one. This is where danger lies when he negociates in secret with a foreign government over the head of the Vietnamese people. It happened with former party head Le Kha Phieu who was lured into a honey trap by the China and made a Chinese woman pregnant. He was blakmailed by China into ceding territory. The Gulf of Tonkin was divided 62% Vietnam and 38% China. As a result of Mr Phieu’s action, that has become 50/50.
Vietnamese land inherited from their forefathers is sacred and not given away without consulting the Vietnamese people. The commies have kept the information secret. According to Wikileaks, a delegaton of top commie leaders composed of Nguyen Van Linh, Do Muoi, Pham Van Dong went to Chengdu in 1990 for a secret meeting with Chinese leaders Giang Zemin, Li Peng. It’s not known whether under pressure but both sides have agreed to a timetable giving Vietnam up to 2020 to merge into China as an autonomous province in the same token as Tibet, Inner Mongolia.
The agreement was supposed to be kept secret and the Vietnamese people have no say in it. The commies in Hanoi have committed treason. The commie party has passed its sell by date. Vietnamese people should rise up and sweep the commies from power and form a multi party parliamentary system like in the West.
Ah, contray, Mr. Nebres, I know my history, unlike you apparently. Ho Chi Minh was recruited by the Soviets in 1922 to work on a Free Vietnam program out of Moscow. He was dispatched at least 3 times in the next 18 years to South China and to Hong Kong. Being arrested in both places as a Soviet agent. In 1939 he was sent by the Soviets back to join the Viet Minh in Northern Vietnam. There is no known time/incident when he terminated his agent relationship with the Soviet Union.
I don’t mind criticizm, but I greatly dislike being attack with incorrect information.
Mr Parker none of what you said really discount what mattered.
You treid to discount Ho as a soviet agent but Ho seeked Soviet help because soviets were the only ones remotely willing to help any nationalists in that crazy colonial/world war era.
Also you won’t be able to counter the fact that US ended up trying to bring the French colonialnists back to Vietnam, thus alienating a great deal of the country and drove Ho into the the only other alternative’s arms. willing Soviet agent or not, he had no other choice.
Its easy for you Americans to say this and that after the fact on who’s right and who’s wrong on your relative safe porch overlooking us, but as peoples personally experienced the colonial era on the bottom of the pile that knows the death depreviation humuliation anger and hope along with the hopelessness it was associated with, sorry if we have little time for your self-righteousness.
Good luck selling your book amongst your fellow americans who shares similar experiences with you. Maybe even some French men.
Jim Parker Thanks for some titbits of infos about Ho Chi Minh. There is still some mystery about the exact identity of the embaumed body in the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. The Viet commies in Hanoi maintain some myth about Ho, the so-called "father" of independent Vietnam, to justify the legitimacy of their hold onto power.
The original Ho died from illness in Hong Kong in 1939. Hanoi relied heavily on China for material support to prosecute the war. China has trained a special agent to take over Ho’s identity, kind of body double. During the dispute over the South China Sea and the positioning by China of an oil rig in Vietnamese territorial waters, China’s Global Times has published photos claiming Ho was in fact a colonel in the PLA.
Could the body in the mausoleum be that of the chinese agent. DNA samples should be taken to establish the real identity of the body. Over the centuries, China always has design over Vietnam and would love to take over. The commies in Hanoi owe a debt of gratitude toward China for helping win the war and have facilitated chinese infiltration. China hopes to win Vietnam without firing a shot and open the way for expansion into Southeast Asia which they failed to do during previous dynasties.
Jim Parker well do you think if he were a freedom fighter living in d states he would have been backed by d u.s. instead of its close ally d french? Of course not. I am also not denying his commie views, its just that if he had beat d french n d americans welcomed him as a liberator, vietnam would have been a close ally n frend from d 50’s till today. Did u guys really need to go thru 20yrs of mistakes n dead lives in dealing wid vietnam? On their own they have welcomed america back. Why? BECOZ THEY DONT TRUST D CHINESE N RUSSIANS. Or was kissinger wrong in dealing wid china vis a vis russia too?
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