A spy’s daughter remembers the haunting unreality of embassy life in South Vietnam before the fall

House_sevenSarah Mansfield Taber at The American Scholar:

One summer evening in Saigon in 1974, we were invited to dinner at the home of another U.S. embassy employee, probably a covert operative like my father. I don’t remember who he was, but I recall the house—an elegant colonial villa with high ceilings and boldly colored tiled floors, surrounded by a high concrete wall. We parked on the street, walked past two guards, and slipped through a slender door cut into the wall’s façade. Like so many experiences during this sojourn of mine, stepping through that portal felt uncanny and intriguing and off. The country was at war, the enemy digging its steady way down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Yet here I was, a rising junior in college, tagging along with my parents in hand-tailored dresses to elegant dinner parties featuring French food served by beautiful Vietnamese girls. I was annoyed at my mother that whole summer and jealous of my brother, two years younger, but I remember feeling, as I passed through that almost invisible door in the gate, that I was entering into a private and ephemeral principality, a world that could crumble at any second.

After dinner, my mother pleasantly tipsy, we ventured into the warm tropical night, across the dusky garden with its pots of fragrant plants, and out the magic door. Not a guard was in sight. Residence guards, in their little booths, often fell asleep in the evening, worn out by their bored, day-long vigils in the unrelenting heat. The embassy people joked that they hoped the guards would wake up if the Vietcong arrived.

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