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Long before Trump and Biden, the Winston-Salem man’s trove of classified documents made international news.

Long before Trump and Biden, the Winston-Salem man’s trove of classified documents made international news.


In light of the controversy surrounding the retention of classified documents by former government officials, SAM has heard from several readers who asked about Winston-Salem’s own such scandal, which involved a retired ambassador, a stolen Fiat , teenage car thieves and two girls on the road. to Zayre.

Here’s what SAM put together from the Gazette archives and elsewhere:

On December 22, 1977, a red 1973 Fiat was stolen from a home on North Stratford Road. The car belonged to one Graham Martin, a retired US State Department diplomat.

1975: End of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). Graham Martin was the last US ambassador to South Vietnam and was evacuated from Saigon with a stash of embassy papers that he kept after he retired and moved to Winston-Salem. The documents were stored in the trunk of a car, which was then stolen.

Getty Images, Content Exchange

Martin was born in Mars Hill and attended Wake Forest College, graduating in 1932. After graduation, he returned to Denton, where his father was a pastor, and freelanced for several publications, including the Journal.

Martin moved to Washington, DC, where he eventually took a job with the National Recovery Administration and began his career in the federal government.

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Martin worked in the Foreign Service at the US State Department and was the last ambassador to South Vietnam. He was ambassador on April 30, 1975, when the North Vietnamese army invaded South Vietnam.

When Martin left Vietnam, he took hundreds of pages of documents with him.

Those documents ended up in a trunk in that stolen Fiat.

The car was found on Christmas Day on Winston Lake Road.

When Martin was called to the scene on Christmas morning, the trunk was not among the items found, the Gazette reported in 1978. Martin told the officer who found the car that he didn’t think they would be of value to anyone but him.

Martin did not tell the officers the sensitive nature of the documents, which detailed US activities in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975.

Some, but not all, of the letters between Presidents Nixon or Ford and President Thieu are present in these files, according to the National Archives, which has an extensive online file on Martin.

I’ve seen it on Hogans Heroes

The documents begin with Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to South Vietnam during President John F. Kennedy’s administration.

Beginning in August 1963, leading to the November 1963 coup and the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam. They consist mainly of communications between Henry Cabot Lodge and Secretary of State Dean Rusk or McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, about meetings with South Vietnamese officials, intelligence reports, situational assessments and instructions from Washington, according to the archives.

On January 3, 1978, Thomas sisters Jennifer, 12, and Wendy, 9, and their daughter Lisa Welborn, 17, found a stack of letters on their way to the old Zayre store at 4215 N. Patterson Ave. On the way home, they picked up the pile of paper, which was about a foot long, and took it home, the Journal reported at the time.

The girls told a Journal reporter that they knew what Top Secret meant by reading about it and watching it on TV.

Saw him on Hogans Heroes, said Wendy Thomas.

They saw Martins name and address on the papers and tried to call him but were unable to reach him. When their mother returned home, she called the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department. The deputy who answered looked at some of the letters, then called the FBI.

The FBI responded, got the documents and went back to where they found the girls to make sure there were no more lying around.

However, the luggage was still missing.

On September 13, 1978, the Washington Post reported that the US Department of Justice was investigating Martin for withholding documents.

Martin told the Post that he had taken some letters when he left Vietnam and left them at the US Embassy in Rome. Martin was a former ambassador to Italy. Martin said he took the letters to historians who might want to write a book about the Vietnam War.

Martin told the Journal that he had contacted the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library about donating the letters, telling the reporter, “Anyone in authority in the U.S. knew I had those letters for a reason to get them to a presidential library.” , he said. I feel that American citizens have a right to the truth.

Martin said that after the fall of Saigon, there was no classification for the documents.

When asked if the top-secret documents were still considered top secret, Martin told a Journal reporter: As ambassador, I had the authority to declassify anything. (Look familiar?)

In a November 21, 1978, Journal article, the reporter cited a New York magazine article that said documents in Martins’ memoir included a highly classified CIA report, National Security Council cables revealing U.S. ties to the assassination of President (Ngo Dinh) Biem. (in 1963), and the cables about the Paris peace talks.

The magazine says former senior government officials, including Henry Kissinger, have denied Martin’s claims that he was authorized to declassify the documents and that Washington knew he had the documents.

As with the Journal, Martin told the New York reporter that as ambassador I had the authority to declassify anything.

A State Department legal official said Martin’s statement was complete bull.

During this time Martin had to have a cancerous lung removed and his health was deteriorating.

The Justice Department spent several months deciding whether to prosecute Martin for withholding the documents before deciding not to in 1979, citing his age and health.

Martin died on March 13, 1990, aged 77. His funeral was held at Davis Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University.

The question of why Martin kept the documents, other than a desire to donate them to a presidential library, remains unanswered.

In an April 30, 1995, Journal story on the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Charles Tull, an Indiana University history professor who was writing a biography of Martin, said he thought Martin kept the letters so he could was writing a book about the end of the Vietnam War as he saw it, in case Kissinger ever wrote a book critical of Martin.

Many of the documents Martin secreted from Vietnam on that chaotic April day ended up in a presidential library, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Four teenage car thieves

A student in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools knew the teenagers who had stolen Martins Fiat, unnamed FBI sources told the Journal in 1978. The student was worried about his friends and told a teacher about the documents .

The teacher did not believe the student and asked for proof. The student brought a notebook with letters and documents from the Vietnamese embassy. It included letters and documents from Nixon and Kissinger. It also included a map of US missile sites.

A school system administrator was told about the documents and called the FBI.

Agents went to an abandoned house in Bethany, where they found the rest of the documents.

The FBI source told a Journal reporter, No one but the ambassador knew what was in that trunk. There were literally dozens of notebooks. It is my theory that the car thieves dumped the file folders which the FBI found and realized that the associated notebooks were valuable, he said. A 12-year-old could have pointed out what they were and that they were valid.

Vietnam Fall of Saigon

Americans and Vietnamese run for a US Navy helicopter in Saigon during the evacuation of the city on April 29, 1975.

AP file

They had a gold mine. I mean there were hands cut off and top-secret sealed all over, he said.

The boys didn’t know what they had at first. When they found out, they tried to sell the documents to local lawyers and others.

The teenagers were arrested and, according to the FBI source, told that if they turned over all documents to the government and kept quiet, they would not be prosecuted.

They rode off into the sunset and never discussed their brush with international intrigue again.

At least that SAM could find.



Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., #100, Winston-Salem, NC 27101




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