Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: No. All of the gates were closed except one that was sort of an obscure gate that they kept open. They were very preoccupied themselves. They did not provide any assistance to the embassy in the way of any sort of troops or anything. We had the Marine guards there. The USIS (United States Information Service) was located in a separate building perhaps a half a dozen blocks away, and they also had a USIS library, and the Panamanian government didn't protect it, because they said it wasn't diplomatic property as far as they were concerned, and the library was burned and the USIS building and offices were ransacked. The next morning the station chief had sources that were saying that the mob was now armed and was coming back and would have arms this time. So at some point they decided to evacuate the embassy. In fact, they had already started hauling out classified. When you mentioned the troops, they did have some deuce-and-a-halfs that they had brought around to this one entrance that was being kept open to the Canal Zone.
Q: The deuce-and-a-half being a military two-and-a-half-ton truck.
McCONVILLE: We'd been loading up classified files onto that two-and-a-half-ton truck to haul them over to the Canal Zone, and the files were jam-packed with this stuff and so forth. You know, all of those exhortations to keep your classified files limited and so forth. Like most places, they weren't, and they had tried to start burning them, but every time they would get this incinerator going strong enough, the roof would start to catch on fire. They were in constant contact, of course, with Washington and the White House and so forth, who had been telling them to burn the classified. But at some point late that morning they finally made the decision - I think it was made in Washington - to evacuate the embassy. So we were all, those of us who were there, told to go home - we all had apartments or houses throughout the city of Panama; there wasn't any housing as such - and stay at home and try to be careful and avoid going outside because you didn't know what attitudes the Panamanians might have toward us.