"Tan Son Nhut's Last Day"
"Tan Son Nhut's Last Day"
April 30, 1973
By: Robert J. Ver Merris

On 5 July, 2002 I found the Tan Son Nhut Association website by pure accident.  I couldn't believe it.  I rushed off an email application immediately, and then read your stories.  It's been a long time.  The following is my story at Tan Son Nhut; it is at the time of the end.

Briefly as a background, I volunteered for the Army in the Spring of 1970 just prior to high school graduation.  I became a Military Policeman with specialized training as a Sentry Dog Handler, at Lackland Air Force Base.  After a year of pulling security dog duty at Ft. Carson, Colorado, I volunteered for Nam, late 1971.  Orders for Nam came for the spring, 1972.

April , 1972 was a new era in Vietnam.  The NVA launched an attack which was later labeled "the Easter Offensive."  The attack was a massive WWII type blitzkrieg with large infantry/armor formations.  With this, I arrived at Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam May 1972.  U.S. military in Vietnam at that time was I believe about 25,000.   With a week at Camp Alpha I then went to Long Binh for a day of in-processing with the army.   Then back to TSN and assignment with the Army's 69th Signal Bn., Camp Gaylor.   The duty was not regular MP stuff; there were no sentry dogs, no real MP authority-just guard duty type stuff.  We provided security at the front and back gate of Camp Gaylor, a Signal installation outside of TSN, an ARVN Signal installation in Saigon, and we guarded "something" the Presidential Palace.  It was real "Barney Fife" stuff as we weren't allowed to have a clip in our weapons.  There were about 10 of us MP'S.   Our command structure came under the Signal Corp.  The company commander was Capt Moore, and my section sergeant was an E-7, Tom Robinson.  Our Lt., who I barely saw, managed a band most of the time.  A friend was Doug Simpkins; we had been together through MP school, dog handler school, a year of Ft. Carson, Colo., and now Vietnam.

Despite arriving in Vietnam during the NVA Easter Offensive the time at Tan Son Nhut was good.  Guys transferred into TSN from other parts of country called TSN, "The World."   It wasn't quite, "The World," the Vietcong threw mortar attacks into the base 1-3 times a month, always at 0800, when the alarm siren went off every morning.  Tan Son Nhut during 1972 - 73 had the facilities:  bowling allies, swimming pools, movie theater, a large BX, and my favorite - an EM Club, where I put away many screwdrivers listening to songs of '72 - Rod Stewart's, "Maggie Mae," "T-REX," Carly Simon's, "You're so Vain," Arlo Guthrie with "City of New Orleans."  Of course there was the G.I.'s song, "We gotta get out of this Place."

The end of year 1972 saw a change at Tan Son Nhut.  I remember the Vietcong rocketed the base more.  Were they bored?  Nixon and Kissinger were going hot and heavy with the Paris Peace Negotiations.  Nixon got angry with the progress and in December 1972, he launched his massive Christmas bombing.  That seemed to get the North's attention.

In January 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the American involvement in the Vietnam war began to come to an end.  At the first day of ceasefire, the Vietcong threw one more rocket attack into Tan Son Nhut and I spent the first day of peace in the bunker again.  Very soon afterward Tan Son Nhut and Saigon got some new faces as the Paris Peace Accords granted the peace supervision by the International Commission and Supervision (ICCS); these troops were from Hungary, Poland, Iran, and Indonesia.  By the Accords, all U.S. military was to be out of Vietnam April 30,1973.

I am very proud that I was able to stay to that final day of our involvement in Vietnam.   Tan Son Nhut military personnel rapidly dwindled down.  On April 30th there were only several hundred of us left.  Tan San Nhut looked like a ghost town.   I went to Camp Alpha, where it all began for me.  There was minor out-processing.  4 - 5 civilian airliners waited for us on the runway.   We quietly lined up to enter the "Freedom Flight."  At the bottom of the mobile stairway to the plane was a team from the ICCS to observe the departure.  To my shock and anger, also as part of the team was a fully uniformed member of the Vietcong!!

April 30, 1973 my plane took off from Tan Son Nhut and the American side of the war was over.   I understand that in a matter of minutes of the last plane to leave, Tan Son Nhut was ransacked and looted until almost nothing was left.  The airline gave us a free drink.

To all who served in the Vietnam War, the civilians who participated in Operation Babylift, for those who never came back:

May God Bless and Keep You.

Robert J. Ver Merris
Sgt (E-5), USA
Military Policeman
Tan Son Nhut
May 1972 - April 30, 1973