Frederick Gulden, an architect dubbed "the last American in Vietnam" when stranded in the country for 15 months after the U.S. military withdrew, died of complications from esophageal cancer April 4 at George Washington University Hospital. He was 86 and lived in Alexandria, Va.
Gulden had established a Saigon office for the architectural firm DeLeuw Cather International in 1972, after two years with the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 1975, the 53-year-old architect, who had been designing an ammunition dump for the South Vietnamese government, got word that the government's collapse was imminent. On April 18, he went to Bangkok, Thailand, to persuade higher-level people in his company to close the Saigon office. He returned to Saigon four days later to try to evacuate the firm's Vietnamese employees.
On the advice of U.S. officials, he put most of the employees on barges to be evacuated by river. He and several others were to be flown out, but when he arrived at the American Embassy on April 30, the last flight had just left. A British television correspondent found him on the roof with 200 Vietnamese and asked why he was still there.
"I think I'm the last American in Vietnam," he said, according to a 1987 interview in Veteran, a monthly magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
He wasn't, but he was among the last. About 60 U.S. civilians remained, including journalists, social workers and American men married to Vietnamese women. A dozen were allowed to leave during the summer of 1975, but on Aug. 15 the exits stopped after the United States voted against the entry of Vietnam into the United Nations. For the next year, 49 Americans and their dependents were stuck.
"I lived in a penthouse apartment and was never harassed in any way," Gulden told a Washington Post reporter on Aug. 2, 1976, when he was unexpectedly released. Two other Americans had been held in prison during that period.
Frederick Neil Gulden was born in Minneapolis on Nov. 6, 1922, and served in the Army in the United States during World War II. After the war, he graduated from the University of Illinois. He worked for a variety of architectural firms and for the U.S. government on projects in Pakistan, Thailand and Egypt. He retired in 1986.
Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Sherifa Gulden.
Sullivan writes for the Washington Post.