The Fall of Saigon

So, it was thirty years this past week-end since the fall of Saigon, ‘eh? It seems like only yesterday to me. I remember sadly watching the black and white pictures on the TV that day, remembering the streets that our company clerk, Tom, (who was my driver) and I roared through on our Jeep, on our way to the South Vietnamese Civil Aviation Authority building, or to the compound that housed the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) in Saigon.

I remember wondering what would happen to Mr. Trang (I think that was his name), who headed the Civil Aviation Authority, when I was there. Would he be sent to a “reeducation camp”? And what would happen to the Chinese waiters, waitresses, and kitchen help at the Loon Foon restaurant at the sprawling U.S. Army base at Long Binh, where I lived? (I taught them English every Sunday morning, after I attended Mass. My mother went to Follet’s bookstore on South Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago, and purchased a bunch of grade school English primers, which she sent to me. They were a big hit. The Chinese were very interested in improving their English language skills–and, we had a raucous good time. They fixed me a big glass of café au lait (the real thick, gooey stuff–no imitation there) and croissants for breakfast (the French influence in Vietnam)–and, we sat outside for an hour or two and learned English. What fun!).

Standing there, watching the chaos that was unfolding before my eyes on the television, I remembered that last time that I was in Saigon, visiting our U.S. Army flight following station, which was co-located with the U.S. Air Force Ground Control Intercept (GCI) facility, known as “Paris Control” (named for Saigon, the “Paris of the Orient”). I used to drag in a mattress and sleep there, since they had the air conditioning going full blast to cool all the radar equipment

I liked bantering with both our Army guys and the Air Force staff at each of these GCI facilities. The U.S. Air Force had little air traffic control in Vietnam, as I recall, but had three Ground Control Intercept facilities in the country that they used to guide their tankers to meet up with their fighters and bombers–“Paris” in Saigon, “Pyramid”, up in the northern part of South Vietnam (named for the mountains up there that were shaped like pyramids, and “Patty”, in the southern part of the country, along the Mekong River delta (named after the rice patties that surrounded it).

I know it was a long time ago–but, it seems like yesterday to me. “Flight watcher” was my name. Tracking ‘copters was my game!!!

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