Diplomats in Harm's Way

This section recognizes the dedication and sacrifices of foreign affairs personnel who have faced particularly dangerous conditions during their service abroad.

 

Diplomats at Risk

Following are just some of the many of the stories of U.S. diplomats and foreign employees of American missions who have faced great danger in crisis situations.  An excellent reference on incidents before 1995 is Joseph G. Sullivan’s   Embassies Under Siege: Personal Accounts by Diplomats on the Front Line, published by Brassey’s in 1995.   Unfortunately, that volume has not been updated to chronicle the heroism and sacrifice of  those serving in later years. 

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Terry McNamara and Jackie Bong Wright—South Vietnam 1975: The Fall

Terry McNamara

As North Vietnamese forces swept southward during the first months of 1975, capturing Danang by the end of March and forcing the evacuation by sea of remaining Americans on the staff of the consulate there, plans for evacuation of U.S. personnel from Saigon and the Mekong Delta consulate of Can Tho were moving forward rapidly. 

In Can Tho, Consul General Terry McNamara was advised to evacuate his post and depart the country from Saigon, leaving behind his Vietnamese employees.  Instead, using well-honed planning skills, a deep commitment to rescue as many Vietnamese coworkers as possible along with his American staff and exceptional personal courage, on April 29 McNamara led 300 Vietnamese, 18 Americans and six Filipino employees on a perilous 70-mile river journey to safety. 

Terry McNamara later served as ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe (1981-1984), as Deputy Chief of Mission in Lebanon during its civil war and as ambassador to Cape Verde (1989-1992).

bookMcNamara, Francis Terry.  Escape with Honor: My Last Hours in VietnamWashington, DC: Brassey’s, 1997

Jackie Bong Wright

In Saigon during those weeks before the final rooftop evacuation from the American Embassy on April 29, U.S. and Vietnamese employees, especially those working in high-visibility facilities such as the U.S. Information Service-sponsored Vietnamese American Association (VAA), were instructed to continue normal operations in order to prevent panic and unnecessary bloodshed.  Jackie Bong Wright was employed in a senior position at the VAA and was the widow of a promising Vietnamese political figure assassinated by the Communists in 1971.  Although her story was exceptional in many ways, she, like other Vietnamese employees, was torn between institutional loyalty and a desperate need to save herself in the face of a conquering army likely to treat U.S. embassy employees with particular severity.  Considered a prime target for special retribution because of her murdered husband, Bong Wright and her children were able to escape Saigon a few days before April 29 due to the personal intervention of Ambassador Graham Martin.

There is no way of knowing exactly how many Vietnamese who worked for the U.S. Embassy as employees of the State Department, the U.S. Information Service (USIS), the CIA, USAID or other American agencies escaped during those final days and in subsequent weeks.  Through misinformation and logistical difficulties on April 29, many were left waiting and vulnerable for buses or helicopters that never arrived.

bookBong-Wright, Jackie. Autumn Cloud: From Vietnam War Widow to American Activist.  Washington, DC: Capital Books, 2001.

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