On September 10 of this year, I mentioned that there was “a story for another day.” This is that other day. This blog post is prompted in part by a suspicion articulated to me some time ago that because I “taught English in South Vietnam from 1972 to 1974 and returned briefly before the fall of Saigon in April 1975” (according to the bio on the back of my book, LOVE BENEATH THE NAPALM), I must have been a spy. What particularly snagged the person who suspected me of CIA connections was the fact that I returned briefly to Saigon on April 22, 1975 and was able to leave the next day without an exit visa, taking with me three young Vietnamese friends (one of those friends is the young lady pictured on the right in both of the photos which accompany this blog). Well, it would be nice to romanticize my background, but the truth compels me to quash such silly notions.
Yet how was an unaffiliated American civilian able to breeze in and out of a country that was about to fall apart? The story is simple, really. Although it may fall into the “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” category. So here goes:
In 1967 my brother married his first wife, Claudia Van der Heuvel (starts out simply, remember). Her mother, Gerry, a reporter for the Newhouse chain of newspapers in Washington, D.C., was in 1969 appointed to be press secretary for First Lady Patricia Nixon, and then, after serving in that capacity for some time, she was assigned to be a press attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Our ambassador to Italy at that time was Graham Martin, who subsequently became our last ambassador to South Viet Nam in June, 1973. Martin’s secretary was a woman named Jane (Janie) Jazynka, who became good friends with my future ex-sister-in-law’s mother while they were in Rome together. When Graham Martin was sent to Saigon, Jane Jazynka accompanied him and became secretary to the Deputy Chief of Mission there, Wolfgang Lehmann. Armed with an introduction from Gerry Van der Heuvel, I became acquainted with Janie sometime after I arrived in Saigon, which was in the fall of 1972.
On April 22, 1975, after a twenty-one hour “shuttle” flight on Japan Air Lines and a connecting China Airlines flight into Saigon (a story for another other day), the first person I contacted upon my return was Jane Jazynka. I had decided to go back to Saigon after receiving a letter from one of the Vietnamese friends (not the young lady pictured) on April 19, while I was staying with friends in London, telling me that she was well aware that the North Vietnamese were about to take over the South and that she could not live under the Communists. She left it at that, although I didn’t (a story for another other other day). Back in Saigon (it was late on the 22nd at that point), Janie told me to collect my friends and go to Tan Son Nhut airport with them the next morning and look up Kenny Moorefield, Graham Martin’s personal aide, who was in charge of granting clearance to the Americans and their Vietnamese charges who were trying to flee the country as the North Vietnamese closed in on Saigon and the evacuation picked up steam. When I did so on the 23rd, I found that Moorefield had already filled out a form in my name, which he had also signed and stamped with the Embassy seal, allowing me to take out my friends sight unseen by him. Late on the afternoon of the 23rd, the four of us took off on a C-141 bound for Guam, thence to Camp Pendleton, San Diego, and points elsewhere. And that’s it.
You see, it’s all really quite simple, isn’t it?