The Role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Combating Crime in Sierra Leone


I.C.Ts is very important in the world in general and developing countries to be specific. I.C.Ts have created significant impact in many areas when it comes to national development. When we take a look at the economy of the country, education, religion, Social Science and Technology we can see that I.C.Ts have contributed a lot in improving these areas. You might tend to wonder how but as you read along you will understand and see the importance of I.C.Ts in developing countries (Johnson, 2008).

I.C.Ts refer to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications. It is similar to information technology (I.T), but focuses primarily on communication technologies. This includes the internet, wireless networks, cell phones, and other communication mediums (Marke, 2003).

I.C.Ts are concerned mainly with information management that is, acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics based communication of computer and telecommunication as its main fields (Julliet, 2001).

The Role of ICTs in Organisations

If any organization like the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Sierra Leone is to grow and develop then there must be effective and efficient communication in the organisation. Information whether it is pictorial, textual, written or vocal form through which an information is communication from top to bottom or the reviser for the effective running of the organization the use of I. C. T. is very important because it makes it very easy through the use of cell phone, computers and other devices that we use to communicate information is due to the fact that we have what we call I. C. Ts. (Johnson 2008).

• Through I. C.Ts. technology user can have easy access to information through an e-mail through by this it save the time of the staff just through by visiting his/her e-mail address he/she will know about the latest development in Criminal Investigation Department, without going to his/her or boss for information;

• I. C. Ts. have played very vital role in social media activities and the use of internet over the years and it is still making positive impact in our society today. Without I.C.Ts;

• I.C.Ts. have made it possible for a person in one country to order goods from another country, electronically from a second and pay for it electronically in a third.
I. C.Ts. Have changed the world industrial revolution forms from the mine tenth century and this change is permanent, because it creates new economic activities, new relations of production, new political forces, new job, and new outlook of life;
• I.C.Ts. have plays great role in the health sector of Criminal Investigation

Department by improving on healthcare awareness delivery and public awareness on important health issue. Through I. C. Ts. one can will be able to have access to medical information and trained specialists can reduce suffering and saves lives (Peter, 2005).

Historical background of the (C. I.D) in Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone Police Force is the brainchild of the British government. Its inception dates as far back as to 1808 when Freetown was declared a British Crown Colony. In the absence of a formal organized body to keep the peace, some retired British Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates were appointed by Magistrates to come to Sierra Leone to maintain law and order. Between 1863-1888 the then Police Force had metamorphosed in order to address the ugly incidents, which were rearing their heads especially during the 1881 Koya and 1888 Sherbro disturbances. These disturbances led to the development of police along the frontier. In 1889, therefore, the police was divided- military and frontier duties were taken over by the Frontier Police white Civilian duties were left with the Frontier Police subsequently became known as the Court Messenger Force, and were made responsible for the colony.

On the 27th October 1894, in the Royal Gazette of that date, the civil police in the colony were given the designation “The Sierra Leone Police Force” – (S. L.P.F) which has remained unchanged to this day. Captain V.F. Laphan was seconded from the Army to control the police force, with the rank of superintendent and Mr. Brooks, a metropolitan police officer, was appointed inspector of police. In 1909 superintendent Brooks was appointed the first commissioner of police.

No real significant strides took place in the force, until, Mr. C. H. Ward, (O.B.E.) Superintendent of Police from Nigerian, took over command of the force as Commissioner of Police form Captain P. T. Brodie, in 1943. The strength of the force was 300, including two (2) expatriates, the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner and Africans filled the rest the other ranks. The serious civil disturbances led to the quick introduction of the Riot Squad which was subsequently trained to contain further riots. Mr. Ward raised the strength to 600 and this created a welcome and overdue increase in promotion chances. For the first time Africans were promoted to the rank of Assistant superintendent of Police (A. S. P) and a fleet of vehicles comprising cars, lorries, motor cycle and bicycles was later obtained.

He started the proper training school at Port Loko in 1944, which was later transferred to the naval camp at hasting where it stands to this day. He also started local communications between police departments and eventually replace this by a police wireless communication system which today cover the whole country. Mr. Ward was succeeded by J. P. I. Forde who raised the strength to 1,000, sent the first African sub-inspector to train a Henden which continued thenceforth. He introduced the first proper FORCE STANDING ORDERS (F. S. O.) the police FEDERATION and POLICE COUNICIL. In 1952 Mr. W. G. Syer took over and wasted no time in taking policing to the provinces which resulted in its expansion. He affiliated the police force to International Police Organization (INTERPOL) and disbanded the Riot Squad, there by introducing a system in which every police officer was taught not duties no matter what section of the force he may be attached to.

Between 1963-1969 Mr. L. W. Leigh became the first Sierra Leonean Commissioner of Police and under his leadership a police Act was established in 1964 which was meant to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the Sierra Leone police force that is, the protection of life and property, the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension of offenders between 1969-1972, Mr. Jenkins M.E.G Smith became the second Sierra Leone commissioner of police who led the force through Republic in 1971.

The uniform at this time consisted of grey shorts and grey jacket with black shoes and cummerbund. Section 174 of the Sierra Leone Constitution of 1978 changed the traditional role of the force by the appointment of the ten Commissioners of Police, Mr. P. C. Kaetu Smith [1973- 1979] as one of the seven (7) appointed members of parliament by the Executive president, thus politicizing the role of the police force.

Between 1981- 1984, Honorable C Kaetu Smith was succeeded by Hon. J. A. Grant. In 1986, Hon. P. M. Johnson becomes the first inspector – General of police. On the 1st of January, 1987, the force was re- divisionalized into police divisions each division being represented by letters, ranging from “A” to “N” and each division commanded by a chief police officer [C. P. O]. These were further sub-divided into police Districts and placed under the command of the officer commanding districts [o/c] who may be a Deputy Superintendent of police or Assistant Superintendent of Police (A.S.P.).

In 1987 Hon. James Bambay Kamara succeeded by Mr. P.M. Johnson. In December, 1991, in a bid to redeem the good image of the Sierra Leone Police Force which had seriously dented by politics, the British Government sent Mr. Keith Lewis, a retired British Superintendent of Police to restructure the force. A series of police courses were then introduced into the curriculum in order to enhance the force in policing a modern democratic society training courses like the Junior and Senior Management Courses Trainers course, criminal investigation Department course known as the Yorkshire Course was introduced which went a long way to restructure the police.

The democratically elected Government of Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabba in 1996 solicited the services of the British Government to help further restructure the Sierra Leone Police Force. The British Government responded by sending a team known as the Commonwealth Police Development Task Force. which was headed by the Inspector-General of police, Mr. Kieth Biddle.Under the dynamic leadership of the British born Inspector- General of police, the Sierra Leone police force is gradually regained the confidence of the public through the change management under the new restructured program, so that the force can become “Force For Good’ which is its known for today. (Sierra Leone Police Prospectus 2014).

Activities of Criminal Investigation Department (CID)

The following are the activities untaken by CID of the Sierra Leone Police:


Crimes scene investigators are charged with the responsibility of formally documenting the crime scene. This documentation is usually permanent and constitutes the official record of the investigation. It can be forwarded to officers and law enforcement agencies for further use and investigation. Documentation includes photograph, diagrams and sketches, and written notes. At this point, the crimes scene investigation usually make some sort of initial interpretation of the evidence at hand and document the actions taken by the investigators at the actions taken by the investigators at the scene Effective documentation allows for an accurate re-party, such as a forensics team.

Legal Duties

The investigator must carry out a number of legal duties in relation to previous work. Based on their investigation, crime scene investigators help lawyers and other legal officials prepare criminal proceedings. They normally meet to explain their official reports and the evidence, making sure it’s understood. Investigators also are called on to testify in court, where they are the foremost authority on what was found on the scene and what conclusions were drawn.

They must be able to explain what the evidence means and why certain conclusions seem compelling based on investigation. Crime scene investigators must also be familiar with National and state laws and with relevant case law to put the evidence in perspective.

Evidence Collection

Once the scene has been secured, surveyed and documented, the crime scene investigator leads an effort to collect relevant evidence. This process can be slow and requires a great deal of patience, as well as the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with others. An ability to properly and delicately deploy equipment is paramount here. Evidence, such as articles of clothing hair, nail clippings and fiber samples, must be collected in such a manner that its integrity is preserved. Labeled and sealed pouches maintain the integrity of the evidence as well as the chain of custody. The investigator also is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the crime scene by roping off the area, keeping witnesses from tampering with evidence and making spots where evidence was collected.


The initial search, also called scene recognition, is the first walkthrough that or crime scene investigator takes. Upon the first examination, the crime scene investigator develops a strategy to approach the scene and apprehend evidence. This can include factors such as what directing to go in, prioritizing evidence that might disappear or be harmed; and determining what equipment and resources are necessary to effectively take stock of the situation. The crime scene investigator can assemble and lead the team to investigate the scene and collect evidence. Murder scenes, for example, may require investigators to collect blood and tissue samples, fingerprint, shoe casings. A robbery may require fingerprints, from points of entry and other surfaces the burglar may have touched.

Examples of ICTs used by the C I D

In modern times, policing has been done with the use of technological items to enable them carryout their activities with the ease and for effective and efficient service delivery. ICTs. refer to technologies that provide access to information, through telecommunication which is similar to information technology (I T), but here focus is primarily on communication technologies. This includes the internet, wireless networks, cell phones and other communication media The following information communication technologies are used by the CID of the Sierra Leone police

• Closed-Circuit television (CCTV): to monitor events/ happenings within their areas of responsibilities and to be used as pictorial/ visual evidence in court and for records purposes.

• Digital Cameras: these are used to take snap shots of enable effective and efficient investigations with real evidence to be tendered in court as evidence.

• Drivers: these are used to save/keep useful information about an investigation such as progress reports, abstract reports, summary of evidence, and proceedings/rulings about a matter.

• Photo Copiers: they are primarily used to duplicate reports and other documents to be distributed to various authorities concerned for their personal directives and necessary action.

• Scanners: these are most common now as a result of terrorist threats and can be used for humans, cars and for baggage’s in order to detect / prevent crime and the fear of crime and to restore confidence in the populace. It can be used to detect any offensive objects/ weapons and to prevent any mishap.

• Computers: are now commonly used to investigate criminal worldwide. With the help of computers, the Interpol can track criminals from every continent and the various police headquarters can liaise with each other to get the desired outcome. Also, could computing has been so much influential investigations in order to locate the where about of criminals and to track their acts/actions and accomplices.

Problems associated with the use of ICTs and information delivery of the CID in the Sierra Leone Police.

• Power Challenges: Lack of consistent and affordable electricity is the greatest challenge in designing a computing infrastructure for criminal information (or any other application that matter). The vast majority of criminal investigation facilities in the criminal investigation department have no main power and, where available, such power is usually extremely unreliable or so unstable that it poses a threat to unprotected electronic equipment.

• Environmental Challenges: The physical environment in Sierra Leone and in most other areas in the country is characterized by some combination of heat, dust and humidity, each of which is a problem for standard computers. High speed Central Processing Units generate enormous amounts of heat that, if not properly dissipated, reduces performance or can render these systems in operable. Dust threatens sensitive electronics by shorting circuits and impeding airflow and heat dissipation. Humidity leads to condensation corrosion and even mold, all of which can cause electrical problems and possibly shorten equipment lifespan.

• Connectivity Challenges: Lack of affordable connectivity and bandwidth in the primary obstacle to several of the most promising criminal investigation applications in the CID, including training initiatives and other real- time support Lack of connectivity also complicates more basic efforts to collect and analyse criminal information.


It is increasingly clear that information is the life blood of the CID system. Accurate, timely and accessible crime information strengthens literally every part of the system, from policy making, to logistic and training. In contrast, inefficient crime information systems suffer from an information anemia that weakens the system.

Sadly, all too many crime systems in the developing world still suffer from the equivalent information shock, a system threaten condition characterized by the inability to generate access or act on even the most essential crime information. Success or failure of ICTs deployment in Criminal Investigation Department depends on access to affordable, integrated solutions that are both sustainable in low resource setting and adaptable to local condition invented is actively developing and deploying such system specially to address this need. It is therefore quite necessary to note that ICTs play a critical and crucial role in enhancing the successful provision, management and delivery of information in combating crimes.

Vietnam – The Land That Time Forgot, But I Haven’t

“And dimly she realized one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is really only the mechanism of the reassumed habit. Slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise, which slowly deepens its terrible ache, ’till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.” Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence (circa 1925)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) The Hidden Scars That Never Heal

Great Britain’s Prince Harry recently disclosed his personal difficulties in dealing with the loss of his mother, Princess Diana. In National Geographic Magazine, Cory Richards writes about lifelong debilitating symptoms like his panic attack after summiting Mt. Everest. In my own life, while learning to accept what is, writing about a traumatic experience allows me to look at it objectively. It’s just a story.

There is treatment but no cure for PTSD. It has become the acronym for delayed reaction to everything from combat and rape to school shootings and terrorism. Severe anxiety and panic attacks began to manifest several months after I left Vietnam. While waiting at an airport, suddenly I began hyperventilating. A man came over with a paper bag. “I’m a doctor,” he said. “Keep your head down and breath into this.” A similar episode occurred while having my hair cut at the hairdresser. They had to call an ambulance.

From My Vietnam Diary – 1967-1969

While I was landing at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon, “The Happy Time” was playing on Broadway with lighting design by my cousin Jean. Critics praised Jean’s ground-breaking lighting techniques, but the show ran only six months. “Hey Jude” was at the top of the charts, and the Beatles were in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They learned something profound from the master, but their trip ended badly. My State Department assignment to Vietnam began with all good intentions, but was not a happy time.

Well-known to most conflict photographers are the words of iconic WWII photojournalist, Robert Capa. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” The New York Times recently ran a story about French combat photographer Catherine Leroy whose photographs of the Vietnam War are historic examples of Capa’s assertion.

Here’s what Capa did not say: Though many war correspondents and photographers eventually burn out, when you witness a traumatic event through the lens of a camera you are a recording device that distances you emotionally. But when you are an ill-prepared noncombatant, you are a victim.

A Room With A View – The 1968 Tet Offensive

When I arrived in Saigon in mid-1967, the war between north and south Vietnam was escalating. The lack of available housing required me and thousands of government civilians and journalists to live in hotels. My hotel was in a pleasant neighborhood across the street from the former Independence Palace, home of then president Ngo Dinh Diem. I began the first few months with language lessons on lunch breaks, and tennis and swimming at the Cercle Sportif, a club for expatriates, residual French and well-heeled South Vietnamese. But in one of the great inexplicable mysteries of karma, for the third time in my foreign service life, I found myself living next door to the wrong guy.

At two in the morning on January 31, 1968 an explosion rocked president Diem’s Palace, shattering my large seventh floor hotel window-and my false sense of security. When I peeked down into the street I saw small wiry shapes in black pajamas attaching more plastique explosives to the palace gates. After a second explosion, a Jeep with American GIs roared down the street to confront them; the black pajamas blew that up too. As in a Marc Chagall painting, the figures seemed to float upward in slow-motion, before gravity pulled them down into a haphazard assortment of body parts. The floor of my hotel room was covered in broken glass, bullet holes from small arms fire punctured the walls. I had minor scratches on my arms and face. Earsplitting explosions and gunfire continued throughout the terrifying night.

After the initial coordinated attack on the city, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces soon ran out of reinforcements and eventually withdrew. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, the Americans retrieved their dead. Enemy corpses remained in the streets for days.

Tet, The Asian Lunar New Year – The Year of The Monkey

Within two days our hotel had run out of food. Early on the third day some of us tried to get to a nearby American Officers’ mess. Crouching with our heads down, we entered a street littered with bodies. A few days ago that same street and marketplace was alive with people strolling, laughing and celebrating the new year with their kids. Now the air was smoky gray and reeked of decaying bodies. North Vietnamese regulars lay in their green uniforms, the Vietcong guerrillas in black or dark blue pajama type clothes. When I stepped over the stiffened body of a young Vietcong fighter, I nearly lost it.

In the final moments of his life, he had raised his right arm with a clenched fist, an expression of defiance on his distorted face. Like a citizen of Pompeii caught in the eruption of Vesuvius, he was frozen in time and my memory. His brains had dried on the pavement leaving a stain even the monsoons could not wash away. I could never walk on that side of the street again. It was “Apocalypse Now” before Hollywood ever made that movie. It was Tet, the Asian lunar New Year, the Year of The Monkey. It was the beginning of the inexorable end for America in Vietnam.

No Rules In “Disneyland East

Weeks later, after the clean-up, the tree lined streets of the sultry city retained their French colonial appearance. Outdoor cafes on leafy streets once again resounded with the laughter of young South Vietnamese men whose politically privileged parents kept them out of the war. Visitors continued to enjoy their aperitifs on the river’s idyllic floating restaurants. The sidewalks of TuDo Street teemed with merchants chanting their mantra: “Hey GI, for you I sell special-cheap, cheap!” But every day that followed Tet, more ragged refugees and orphans poured into the city. More slick drug dealers prospered. More young GI’s on R&R were no longer young. Never mind that the goods sold on the street were stolen from the American Commissary and PX. More often than not, American products were pilfered right off the loading docks at riverside.

Those who were not fighting the war were prospering from it. The resilient city went about its daily commerce while millions of Vietnamese on both sides died, and 58,220 American body bags came home, including eight nurses. U.S. Government contractor employees strutted around town with guns in their holsters. One night at a party in a friend’s private house, one of those “Saigon Cowboys” drove his motorcycle up the marble staircase and right into the host’s living room. This bizarre environment became known as “Disneyland East.” Drugs were ubiquitous and anything could be had for a price. The GIs bought sex from Miss Saigon. The South Vietnamese bought time. The Vietcong could not be bought.

Collateral Damage

I often rode to work in one of our minivans or took a pedicab. A consummate New Yorker, I find walking is the best way to know a city. When on foot we were advised not to take the same route every day. I used to pass by an orphanage jammed with infants swinging from the ceiling in tiny urine-soaked hammocks, buzzing with flies. While the doors remained wide open to the street, I never heard a peep from inside. Traumatized babies don’t wail and cry. They just die quietly. Random mortar and rocket attacks rained down on the market place, schools, private dwellings and the roof of my hotel. Mortars thump. Rockets whoosh. Off in the distance the constant rumble of our own B-52 bombers.

I studied Vietnamese on my lunch hour and enjoyed the Cercle Sportif for tennis, swimming and sanity. Since Saigon was probably the only place on the planet where men greatly outnumbered women, it was no surprise I’d meet Alan there. Destiny placed us together a second time when I had to attend an inter-agency counter-insurgency class. While I was supposed to be learning how to protect myself in “unexpected circumstances,” Alan was the distraction seated in the row behind me. Tall with a light brown buzz-cut and disarming smile, he was an intelligence operative with access to parts of the country prohibited to most civilians.

Fluent in Vietnamese, French and Mandarin Chinese, nothing was impossible for Alan, including “winning the war.” Consequently, I saw a lot of the countryside from the rock hard seat of his Jeep. He was the quintessential Ernest Hemingway protagonist-the rugged self-reliant individualist who championed the ‘brave, the righteous and the beautiful.’ And like the writer himself, Alan moved among different economic classes as easily as he slipped back and forth across borders. But after the Tet Offensive my attitude about the war began to change, and the emotional stress was taking its toll. When I tried discussing it with Alan, he’d shut down. “We’re fighting a Communist takeover of the South,” he said. “We’re the good guys, remember?”

“Then why are so many young Vietnamese men lounging in cafes while ours are fighting and dying?”

Steadfast as ever, his gray eyes narrowing to slits, Alan retreated into his secret life. I was the talker, he was the clam. He believed with all his heart that America was on the side of the good. “The protesters back home were spoiled, deluded hippies,” he said. “Maybe you need to get out of country more often.” Every few months we were permitted a seat on one of the military’s R&R flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila or Tokyo. They were pleasant interludes until you had to fly back.

Up On The Roof

“On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be. And there the world below can’t bother me… “

In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive rigid nighttime curfews were imposed on the population of Saigon. When you have to be off the streets after dark, where else to go but up! From our hotel rooftop we had bird’s eye views of the city, and a place to grouse together. Throughout the city small fires continued to erupt into billowing black smoke, and the occasional crackle of small-arms fire echoed in the deserted streets. One night after work I came up to the roof thinking I was alone when I heard shouting behind me. I turned to see three South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers in their camouflage uniforms drag two young Vietcong from their hiding place inside a makeshift roof closet. The girl had long, silky black hair. The boy wore a black and white checkered scarf around his head. The soldiers accused them of smuggling grenades into the city in cookie containers, a ruse the Vietcong often used.

“Go ahead and kill us,” screamed the girl. “We’re going to beat you. We’re going to win!” The boy spat at the soldiers. They pushed the youths to their knees and shot them each in the head. I made it to my room just in time to throw up.

Phoenix Rising, Like a Helicopter

One clear evening a few star gazers like me were on the roof to watch a lunar eclipse. In the celestial silence of that night, as the earth’s shadow began its slow crawl across the indifferent face of the moon, a Huey helicopter gunship slowly lowered itself to eye level. I stared straight into the face of the pilot. He hovered for a few seconds, waved and proceeded to fire his guns on the street below. While the moon disappeared behind the shadow of the earth, the gunship roared off in a trail of red tracer bullets that lit up the sky like the fourth of July.

I always felt safer when Alan was around. When he was away on assignment he often returned filthy and covered with scratches. I didn’t have to ask where he’d been. I knew about the Phoenix program, a pacification strategy developed by the CIA to force the enemy to defect. Since the rules didn’t apply to Alan, he arranged for us to jump the curfew one night and join some of his friends at a local nightclub. Crowded with Vietnamese and American curfew breakers, the food was good and the orchestra hot. But after too many drinks, one of Alan’s buddies disclosed how he and two others had captured a sleeping Vietcong leader in the jungle. I was captive to what I didn’t want to hear.

“We took him up in a helicopter and told him he had to come over to our side or we would iron brand the word “traitor” on his chest. When the poor bastard refused, we threw him out the door.” Most of these young men could not live without considerable drugs and alcohol while they were off duty in Saigon. In Vietnamese mythology Phung Hoang (Phoenix) is the bird of peace and prosperity.

Orange, The Secret Agent

Watch out for this guy. He’s invisible, he’s lethal and he’s everywhere. After the unexpected intensity of the Tet Offensive, there were no illusions about safety in Saigon. In one particularly heavy attack on the city, we had to huddle in the hotel corridors, away from windows. One of my neighbors became hysterical and had to be airlifted out the next day. People who lived in private homes were shut in at night. Parties were over by seven or you stayed until the next day. Up on the roof we watched American aircraft spray a misty substance around the outskirts of the city. It got its name, Agent Orange, from the orange stripe on the container. A chemical defoliant that killed the dense foliage where Vietcong hid to fire their mortars, too late we learned the effects of it on humans. With no history of breast cancer in my family, I was diagnosed seven years after I’d left Vietnam.

Out of The Frying Pan, Into Can Tho

When Alan was temporarily assigned to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, I lived in a constant state of anxiety. One day he called to assure me it was safe to visit, and he reserved a space for me on the CIA’s Air America.

Flying into the provincial capital at dusk I was struck by the natural beauty of the landscape. In that heartbeat of a moment, the setting sun shimmered on the Mekong River and the symmetrically planted rice paddies. Silhouetted against the horizon, a man with a conical straw hat was riding on his slow moving water buffalo-as his ancestors had for centuries. By night he was probably Vietcong. But in that fleeting crimson twilight he was a farmer returning home to his family. Relieved to be getting out of Saigon for a long weekend, I soon learned that nights in the Delta belonged to the enemy.

Delta Nights In Realtime

Upbeat and happy, Alan greeted me at Can Tho’s small airport and we went directly to a party in progress at the nearby Base camp. A tape recorder was blasting “Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay” while a noisy crowd drowned out the war at the bar. The following evening Alan invited some of his friends to his small but comfortable two-story house. We set up tables for poker and rummy and I helped two nurses bring iced tea and sandwiches from the fridge. For several hours we were in our own peaceful world-until distant explosions shattered the reverie. A phone call from the Base confirmed a “spotter” plane had seen squads of Vietcong blow up the airport and were headed our way.

It all happened so fast-from fun and games to breaking open crates of grenades and weapons stored in a kitchen closet. We were back in realtime Vietnam. Everyone raced up the stairs to the roof. The plan was to toss the grenades down on the enemy when they crossed the small foot bridge that led to our street. Alan handed me a revolver. “If they get into the house, use this,” he shouted. “Shoot the bastards!”

While Alan was demonstrating how to hold the gun, aim it and squeeze the trigger, his voice receded into a hollow echo. I found myself watching the scene as an observer, not a participant. I saw everyone moving in slow motion like that water buffalo. When we heard shouting and gunfire in the street below, it was our own GIs from the Base arriving with Jeeps and trucks.

“Hail Mary”

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. Maureen, a triage nurse, grabbed me by the shoulders and calmly said: “Do exactly as I do. Follow me down the stairs and don’t stop for anything. Our guys will cover us. Remember. Don’t stop!” I wondered how many times she had done this. Maureen was a heavy smoker and I heard her breathing between her prayers as we fled down the stairs to the street. “Hail Mary full grace (gasp). Hail Mary full of grace (gasp).”

We piled into the waiting vehicles and raced to the nearby Base. In that terrifying night I never saw our attackers, but I heard them shouting obscenities and threats in English. “You American Chi (women), when we get you, you wish you dead.” The attack lasted through the night. In my early (atypical) childhood I’d been taught to not cry. I was supposed to tough it out, no matter what. The consequences would follow me the rest of my life. While huddled in the bunker with Alan, he told me he was proud of how brave I was. I remember saying, “No. I’m not brave. I’m scared to death and good at hiding it.” But hiding it is not good. By sunrise our attackers had evaporated into their idyllic green rice paddies, and I returned to Saigon-shaken and severely troubled.

Strange Interlude: PTSD or NDE on R&R

One weekend Alan drove us to Vung Tau, a beautiful beach resort about 75 miles from Saigon on the South China Sea. The French used to call it Cap St. Jacques. It was an in-country R&R destination for our troops. The day we arrived the beach was deserted and there was no one in the water. I couldn’t wait to go for a swim. Alan was tired and remained at the water’s edge. The undertow was very strong. Before I realized I was too far out, I couldn’t get back. The more I struggled the more tired I became. In my panic I forgot the rules: “swim parallel to the shore, not toward it.” I waved to Alan but he misunderstood my signals and simply waved back. By then I was exhausted and had swallowed enough water to drown a fish. In that split second I felt myself surrender to death. I stopped struggling and went under. I was aware of being submerged, disconnected from everything and calmly looking up at bright light. I saw two beautiful male faces smiling down at me from over the side of a little boat. The next thing I remember, I’m on the beach with Alan pumping water from my lungs. When I asked him what happened to the guys who rescued me, he said: “What guys? I swam out and dragged you in.” PTSD or NDE (near death experience), I never forgot that R&R.

Passing For Normal and The Five O’clock Follies

In the increasingly overcrowded city, a corrupt and incompetent regime hoped for the best while preparing to run from the worst. It would be another seven years, but Ho Chi Minh and his northern Communist forces were coming, and the Saigon generals knew it. While secretly moving their bank accounts, they prepared their families for eventual evacuation. When that day finally came, they would shove their closest friend aside to get on the last American flight out.

Late afternoons saw the journalists who were not risking their lives with the troops, filing their stories from press releases handed out by the Saigon Government. It was called “the five o’clock follies.”

Paradoxically, life in diplomatic circles continued its illusion of normal. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker gave his normal Christmas parties, joined by his soon to be wife Carol Laise, our Ambassador to Nepal at that time. While the killing fields were not far from the champagne and caviar, both Ambassadors were their normal charming selves. Foreign service people tend to chat about where they’ve been and where they might be going-never where they are. But a war zone makes you very present because the present moment is all you have. It is only when you leave the area and settle into a more conventional life that the awful effects begin to manifest, as they did with me.

Panic attacks in public places; the need to keep moving from one place to another, from one failed relationship to the next. When you give it a name like PTSD you can put it in a box.

Art Among The Ruins

Woven into the chaotic tapestry of war was the human desire for artistic expression, something to which soldiers on a battlefield have no access. Within our nightly cloistered environment and on weekends and holidays, a dozen of us decided to work toward an art show in three different mediums: painting, sculpture and crafts. One or two had real talent. The rest of us muddled through like children in a sand box. Since I enjoy working with my hands, I found a number of small wooden boxes to which I epoxied colorful collages (thanks to old American magazines). I applied multiple coats of lacquer, sanded down each layer to a smooth surface, then lined the insides with felt. Nothing like those beautiful Japanese lacquered gems, but they made nice gifts for jewelry and letters. After several months, we were ready for an exhibit in the lobby of a sandbagged USAID building. It didn’t matter what you did or how well you did it. Creativity was the right side of normal. It drew a large crowd and the proceeds went to orphanages.

The Family That Played Together

After Tet the crowded Chinese section of Cholon had become off limits to U.S. Government civilians. It was on the west bank of the river, where the black market flourished and the Vietcong easily blended in. But Cholon had great restaurants and my friend Kim Ba lived there. So we went anyway. Kim and four other Vietnamese on my staff were beautiful young women, bilingual, extremely efficient at their jobs and a joy to be with. Kim’s mother, Madame Ba made the best Dim Sum and she always had the local “Ba Muoi Ba” Beer 33 on hand. Along with Kim’s uncle Ly Tong, they tried to teach me Mahjhong. With his language skills Alan caught on to the game easily, while I muddled through and we all laughed a lot. Ly Tong was a history teacher who often spoke of teaching in America and “dining at McDonald’s.” Whenever he mentioned the name of the restaurant, a gaggle of kids raced through the house chanting, “McDonald’s, McDonald’s.” They didn’t even know what a hamburger was.

Kim’s Buddhism and her unflinching spirit helped her cope with the loss of her fiancé, a Vietnamese Army officer who was killed in the battle of Hue during Tet. Yet nothing could alter the fate of those who had put their lives in our hands. When we hugged and said goodbye for the last time, Kim pulled a gold ring with a jade stone from her finger and placed it in my hand. Squeezing my fingers tight over the little ring, she said: “Don’t forget us. Please don’t forget us.” I never have.

After The Fall and Out of The Box

By the fall of Saigon in 1975 Graham Martin had replaced Ellsworth Bunker as our last American Ambassador to South Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). Those Vietnamese who had worked for us were destined for death sentences or so-called “repatriation.” Those lucky to get out were scattered across the U.S., many in refugee camps we set up for them. By then I was assigned to Washington to write and produce educational documentaries. When I searched for Kim and her family I found a name that matched Madam Ba on a list of hundreds sent to Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. I went there with my camera crew, certain we would record a happy reunion – only to find it was a different family.

I believe we all live the life we’re meant to live, and mine simply could not have happened any other way. Of the countless miles I’ve traveled in my life, the journey within is the most compelling, and meditation has been helpful. Medication temporarily numbs you, and I needed it for many years. Today I’m med free and able to open some of my boxes and write about the contents. Besides Kim’s ring, the one tangible memento I brought with me from Vietnam is a large enameled ceramic elephant I had won in Ambassador Bunker’s Christmas grab bag. A reminder of absent friends, he’s fifty years old now, and hasn’t aged a day.

For privacy, certain names have been changed