The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

30 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL It took us ages, over a year—because the case started before I even got to Vietnam—before we could get to the truth of who had traveled and who hadn’t, and then try to get new immigrant visas issued for the two children who had stayed behind. The girl by this time was about 14 and the boy was 12 and able to be drafted. They had been actively trying for a good six months by March 1975. The last I saw of them, I handed the girl the files that we had; we took the petitions and everything else related to it and were starting to put them into manila envelopes, initial them, seal [them] with the consular seal and tape them shut and hand them to folks who we presumed were getting on the evacuation flight, saying, “Give this to the Immigration and Naturalization Service when you get there”—because we were so far from any possibility of doing visas then. I gave them to her, and I said, “See if you can get your brother out to the airport and give them this.” … I still don’t know if they got out. South Vietnamese refugees walk across a U.S. Navy vessel. Operation Frequent Wind, the final operation in Saigon, began April 29, 1975. CPA MEDIA PTE LTD/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO I got to see Sékou Touré at 3 in the morning after we discovered we were hostages … and, I believe, convinced him that we had nothing to do with the kidnapping of his foreign minister. However, the Americans were Touré’s only leverage on Ghana. So he did not release us until his foreign minister was returned about 10 days later. 1975 Evacuating Refugees as Saigon Falls Foreign Service Officer Mary Lee Garrison arrived at her first assignment in Saigon’s consular section in the waning months of the U.S. presence in Vietnam. She soon found herself scrambling to give refugees whatever documentation could be mustered to get them on flights to safety. Junior officers were pulled off or brought up from the various consulates and sent out to the airport. The Immigration Act basically got thrown in a cocked hat. I was supposed to try to follow the revised rules that we got from Washington in the consular section, but out at the airport what they were doing was taking a look at the folks who showed up and making an assessment whether they had half a prayer of making a life in the States, and if they did, they put them on a plane. … The rules went out the window. … You had to be practical. I found it very difficult, though. This was my first assignment in the Foreign Service. I was all of, at the time, 22 years old, and you find yourself making literally life-and-death judgments, and that’s not easy. There is one, one thing that’s going to haunt me until the day I die. It was the case of a sergeant in the military who married a woman with several children from a previous marriage. Several is an understatement. I think there were six, and they had several of their own. … This was not the 18-year-old marrying a 24-year-old bar girl. This was a sergeant of some standing marrying a mature woman with whom he fell in love. And right before the family was to leave for the States, grandma convinced two of the kids not to go, one of the girls and one of the boys. In the confusion when they got to port of entry in the States, one of the girls who was close in age ended up using her sister’s immigrant visa. This was my first assignment in the Foreign Service. I was all of, at the time, 22 years old and you find yourself making literally lifeand-death judgments, and that’s not easy. —Mary Lee Garrison