Foreign Service National employees, the locally hired staff at U.S. diplomatic and consular posts, share many of the same challenges and dangers as their American colleagues. Particularly in wartime situations, their service to the United States can endanger their lives. That's the case today in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it was four decades ago in Vietnam.
In going through some old personal papers, I came across the handwritten draft of a memorandum I wrote on February 16, 1968, in Danang, describing the experiences during the Tet Offensive of my fiancee (now my wife) Tuy-Cam, who was then an FSN at the consulate general in Danang and had previously served at the consulate in Hue and the embassy in Saigon. I had previously served in both Hue and Saigon, and was at that time working in the pacification (counterinsurgency) program (known as CORDS--Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) in Quang Tri, the northernmost province of South Vietnam. Both Tuy-Cam and I had gone to Hue, her hometown, for the Tet holiday and were trapped there when North Vietnamese forces overran the city on the night of January 30-31. The subsequent battle, in which American and South Vietnamese forces retook the city in bitter house-to-house fighting, was one of the fiercest and most prolonged of the Vietnam War, with high casualties among both combatants and civilian residents of the city. I was rescued by U.S. Marines after nine days behind the enemy lines disguised as a French priest, and I was able to find Tuy-Cam and bring her to Danang on February 14. (My story is at: www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_8/bullington_tet.html.)
During the occupation of Hue, the communist forces executed some 3000 Vietnamese who worked for the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments or who were otherwise considered enemies (out of a total Hue population of about 100,000), as well as several Americans and other foreigners. We did not know the extent of this atrocity at the time I wrote the memorandum, but the bodies were found in mass graves after the city was re-taken by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. Both Tuy-Cam and I narrowly escaped this fate.
The memorandum was addressed to Ambassador Barney Koren, who was concurrently consul general and the deputy for CORDS at Third Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) headquarters. It was designed to provide information and insight on what was happening in Hue during the North Vietnamese occupation, which continued in parts of the city until February 27. In transcribing it, I have added some explanatory material in brackets for terms that may not be clear to contemporary readers, and I have eliminated a few names of people who are still living in Vietnam. - J. R. Bullington, Editor.
TO: DFC III MAF - Ambassador Koren
FROM: J. R. Bullington
SUBJECT: Experiences of Tuy-Cam in Hue
Following are the experiences of my fiancee, Tuy-Cam, during the enemy occupation of Hue for the period she was there, January 31-February 14, together with some related information she learned.
When the attack began the early morning of January 31, Tuy-Cam was in her family residence, along with several other members of her family, including her mother, five sisters, and three brothers. The two eldest brothers are both RVNAF [Republic of Vietnam, i.e. South Vietnam, Armed...