By Lesley Stahl, CBS News
You’ve heard of the brave and ingenious rescue of Jews from the Nazis by Oskar Schindler and the courageous and unlikely rescue of the American hostages from Iran depicted in the movie “Argo.” But nobody’s heard of the daring and dangerous rescue of the Vietnamese from Saigon by John Riordon. It’s a story that’s never been told before.
Family of the rescued.
It happened nearly 40 years ago at the very end of the Vietnam War, when everyone was trying to escape the Communist incursion. No one was paying attention to an unassuming American banker — who had already been evacuated — going back in to save his stranded Vietnamese colleagues and their families.
Family of the rescued.
Lesley Stahl: You got everybody?
John Riordon: Everybody.
Lesley Stahl: …everybody who worked at the bank, spouses and children?
John Riordon: Right.
There were 105 in all who John Riordan, risking his own life, rescued in the last days of the war — even now, four decades later, when they see him you know they know he’s the reason they’re alive.
Today, they’re leading prosperous lives as American citizens with children who are doctors and lawyers, and with grandchildren.
[John Riordan shakes hands w kids: Isabel, do you know my name?
Isabel: John Riordan.
John Riordan: You even know my last name! It’s even more than I know.]
John Riordan was as far from Rambo and Mission Impossible as you could get. Back in 1975, he was a young banker, handsome and unattached, working as the assistant manager of Citibank in Saigon.
Lesley Stahl: They gave you a villa.
John Riordon: They gave me a villa.
Lesley Stahl: And you lived well.
John Riordon: I lived well, yes.
He hosted barbecues at the villa for the bank’s 34 Vietnamese employees – tellers, secretaries, accountants — they were like a family, tying their future to American banking.
But that April communist tanks were barreling toward Saigon. Hundreds of thousands were leaving or trying to. Three weeks before Saigon fell, John got an order from Citibank in New York: burn everything important and get out.
John Riordon: They said, “John, we’ve chartered a 747 Pan Am that’s coming in. And we want to take all of your staff and leave the bank and get out to this plane.”
Lesley Stahl: By this point it dawns on you what would happen to those people if you didn’t get them out.
John Riordon: Some of them would be killed.
Read the full interview by Lesley Stahl from CBS News.