Monday, October 25, 2021

A Top Secret Side to Vietnam Part 2

After a final refueling stop in Bangkok, the 32-hour flight landed in Saigon and stopped at the edge of the runway. The plane was obviously waiting for something several hundred yards from the main terminal.

“Why are we stopping here?” the young soldier at Bill Filbin’s side asked the man in civilian clothes that seemed to know everything.

“I have no idea,” Bill answered as he shook his head, but after a few moments, he knew. With everyone peering out the airliner windows, a black galaxy 500 was approaching alongside a truck that carried moveable stairs for the big plane. When the black sedan stopped beside the stairs for the airliner, everyone could see the purple privacy curtains in the back windows.

A few moments later, the aircraft door opened after the stairs were in place and another man in civilian clothes appeared and asked for, “Bill Filbin?”

“We always meet our newcomers out here,” the man explained as the two descended the stairs into the bright sunshine, the heat and humidity, and the unique scented tang of Vietnam.

The man from the galaxy continued. “There’s always someone with a camera at the terminal, and we try not to get the new guys photographed for as long as possible. The V.C. has most of our pictures anyway, but this will give you a little extra time.”

Over the next three years, living in a French Villa with servants, Bill worked in Saigon for the “State Department.” He worked many twelve-hour days and did everything from changing the encrypting pins on the Washington to Saigon teletype machine, to writing itineraries and accompanying visiting dignitaries such as congressmen, high-ranking military officers, and state department officials.

Throughout his three-year tour, Bill’s South Vietnamese liaison was the highest-ranking civil servant in Saigon and was nicknamed with the mysterious title of “Mr. T”

Bill and other staffers at the US embassy worked daily with Mr. T on everything from intelligence operations to babysitting visiting Americans.

Whenever new arrivals from America were scheduled, Bill would meet the newcomers at the airport and list the places in Saigon that were dangerous and off-limits.

The Continental Palace was a very popular indoor-outdoor, French-style Café that was also known as hand grenade corner—because North Vietnamese agents would ride by on motorcycles and roll hand grenades under the tables of visiting Americans.

Even after the warning, one visiting Colonel ignored Bill’s words of caution and went to dinner at the Continental Palace.

The next day the Colonel was at the embassy and anxiously looking for Bill.

“You’ve got to help me!” the Colonel explained desperately after the two were alone. “I know I wasn’t supposed to go, but I just had to see that Continental Palace. When I went to the men’s room these two locals pulled a pistol and stole everything I had! All my money, my watch, my glasses, my military ID, and my passport!”

“Okay,” Bill sat down at his desk and began to take notes. “What time were you there? Who were you with? And where did you sit?”

After the Colonel’s dreadful confession, he left the embassy in despair as Bill called Mr. T.

After only a few hours, Mr. T returned to Bill’s office with a small paper bag. Inside were all the Colonel’s belongings—including all the money and his passport.

When Filbin later presented the bag and the contents to the Colonel, the visiting officer could only stand and stare with amazement and mutter his thanks.

Over the years, Bill worked with Ellsworth Bunker: the American ambassador, many other representatives from “The State Department,” and of course Mr. T.

When the Paris peace accord was signed on January 27, 1973, to end the Vietnam War, the US embassy staffers in Saigon worked around the clock to get all of the local liaisons out of the country and away from the approaching North Vietnamese.

Mr. T was a regular at the embassy for years and was on the top priority list to leave Saigon and travel to America. With every day of troop removal, and the North Vietnamese were advancing with little or no resistance, the deteriorating conditions became more desperate, but Mr. T appeared unconcerned.

Finally, during the very last and hectic days of the American Embassy in Saigon, just before the final withdrawal of all US personnel, the ambassador stopped Mr. T in the hallway with Bill present

“Mr. T, when are you going to get your family out? The Ambassador spoke earnestly, “We have very little time!”

“Mr. Ambassador,” Mr. T shook his head. “Don’t you get it? It’s my people that are coming. My family and I have nothing to fear.”

At that flabbergasting moment, the ambassador and Bill realized that all along, Mr. T had been a double agent and always working for the North Vietnamese!

During Bill Filbin’s “State Department” work in Saigon, he received many awards for special merit including a citation for saving the life of a young Vietnamese boy who had been hit by a runaway truck and left to die in a traffic accident.

Before his intelligence career could begin, Bill attended “Sere School” or Survival, Evasion, Resistant, Escape training, and received a broken hand during a mock torture session.

Bill Filbin is a true American patriot, a citizen of Marco Island for over 35 years, and a former agent of the “State Department” who performed many duties in Saigon that he is still not at liberty to discuss.

2 responses to “A Top Secret Side to Vietnam Part 2”

  1. Donna Fiala says:

    What a story! ! ! It was gripping! I had no idea what Bill did before, but now I want to go to lunch and just say I LOVED his story and I’m proud to know him. I bet he was at the Wall every day! ! It’s so gratifying to have a man of this caliber living here with us! I would probably sit fo hours and listen to some of his stories! Thanks so much for printing this story.

    Donna Fiala

  2. Gary Cooper says:

    I believe I served in Vietnam with Bill with the U. S. Naval Advisory Group. I remember when he left, he said he was going to work for RMK-BRJ. Would like to hear from him, that’s been 50 years ago.

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