It's remarkable that an uplifting story can still emerge from the Vietnam War that ended nearly four decades ago.
But CBS, 60 Minutes and Leslie Stahl managed the feat this month in a segment titled “Rescue,” a never before told account of a Saigon-based, American businessman who repeatedly risked his career and life to sneak 105 terrified Vietnamese out of South Vietnam as communist soldiers finalized their brutal takeover.
John Riordon, the hero of the story and an executive at Citibank, had followed company orders to flee Vietnam in April 1975, but while in Hong Kong he plotted ways to save his Vietnamese employees from approaching enemy thugs. Nothing worked. Not even the U.S. government would agree to help.
After being told by a boss that he'd be fired if he returned to Vietnam, Riordon took what turned out to be the last commercial flight into Saigon during that era. He huddled his associates in his villa for their safety and then produced a miracle.
During a four-day period and without any help, he daringly made 10 trips to Tan Son Nhat airport, where he got groups of his employees and their families on outgoing U.S. cargo planes by falsely claiming each person was his offspring.
Stahl asked if any military officials came close to detecting the ruse.
Riordon replied, “This one man [an official at the airport], he said, 'Haven't I seen you here before?' I said, 'No, sir. Absolutely not' . . . And then another time this man said, 'Well, you have one heck of a big family here, huh?'”
Some of those saved, people who eventually made it to the U.S. after stints in Guam or the Philippines, told Stahl they believe Riordan saved their lives.
(Citibank didn't fire him in the aftermath.)