UPDATE: It’s been a few years since I penned this and we now approach another anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Sadly, American leaders repeated this shameful action in 2011 as once again, our Military was forced to abandon a struggling ally in the Middle East with the same result, despots and radicals overrunning the region, murdering innocent people by the droves and increasing unrest in the region. Little wonder other nations look upon America as a “paper tiger” and weak nation.
Few people today realize that April 30 is a day of remembrance for a minority within our country. A Minority of aging Military Veterans as well as new citizens fortunate enough to have made it to our country after escaping the bonds of Communism that remember, but not celebrate.
April 30, 1975 I was still in the United States Army, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after three years in Germany and 18 months prior to that in the Central Highlands of South Viet Nam, where American Troops were fighting for the freedoms of the South Vietnamese People.
Prior to the 1973 pull-out, Americans were treated to nightly news broadcasts of our involvement there, which somehow frequently placed American Troops in the worst light while ignoring the enemy we were fighting, the Communist North Vietnamese.
On the streets of America, war protestors had fallen silent as American Troops had left the struggling ally earlier in 1973 after an agreement was reached between America and the Communist Forces of North Viet Nam in the so-called Paris Peace Accords and political leaders strong armed the government of South Viet Nam into accepting it against their will.
In South Viet Nam though, the picture was far from quiet as North Vietnamese Communist Tanks began rolling into the Capital City of Saigon, having seen that America would not live up to the agreement reached in the Paris Peace Accords to reengage the Communists should they violate the agreement, thanks in large part to the Case-Church Amendment and weakness of our own government.
Lauren Zanolli of George Mason University’s History News Network wrote in November 2006,
“Historians have directly attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid. Without the necessary funds, South Vietnam found it logistically and financially impossible to defeat the North Vietnamese army. Moreover, the withdrawal of aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin an effective military offensive against South Vietnam. Given the monetary and military investment in Vietnam, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage compared the American withdrawal to ‘a pregnant lady, abandoned by her lover to face her fate.’ Historian Lewis Fanning went so far as to say that ‘it was not the Hanoi communists who won the war, but rather the American Congress that lost it’.”
As I previously said, I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina that evening, sitting on my gear in the Company Area awaiting orders that never came. Orders to redeploy to South Viet Nam to render assistance to keep those people free as was agreed upon in those Peace Accords. Instead, we stood down and I went home to watch the shameful events unfolding on TV as desperate South Vietnamese tried in vain to board the few helicopters ferrying personnel out Saigon.
I watched South Vietnamese helicopters landing on the deck of the USS Midway or ditched alongside of her. Most of those that landed on the Midways deck were to be pushed overboard, lost forever to the depths of the South China Sea. Those not lucky enough to escape Vietnam fell under the clutches of a brutal regime of Communists, many dying trying to escape years later in what became known as the Boat People. Untold numbers simply disappeared in “re-education camps” where they were sent after liberation by the Communists.
Others, who had supported the Communists, became disillusioned and after their own escapes spoke out against the “Liberators,” as did DOAN VAN TOAI and Col. Bui Tin, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese Army who received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
Perhaps this is why after the Citizens Support Rob McKenna rally held in Olympia, Washington, Saturday March 27, 2010, I felt compelled to extend my hand to Col. Pham Huy Sanh Sr. (Ret), Executive Board Chairman of the Republic Of South Viet Nam Armed Forces Veterans Confederation of Washington State who was also present and to thank him and offer my apologies for America’s abandonment of them 35 years ago.
Maybe that is why the sight of two aging Veterans of the same conflict, who supported freedom so many years ago, drew others to us as we spoke. On the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Col Sanh said,
“We consider April 30 like our Holocaust day. It’s a day of sorrow for all the people we left behind.”
Remembering back, it is a sad day. We lost over 58,000 brave Americans, 13 just from my unit while I was there. We not only abandoned the South Vietnamese people when they needed us most, we abandoned the sacrifice made by so many young Americans who never lived to see the shameful way we just turned our backs on the people of South Viet Nam. We turned our backs on the estimated quarter of a million South Vietnamese Military who gave their lives during the struggle. Worst of all, we turned our backs on America’s legacy as the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world and the one they could count on when threatened by tyrants.
UPDATE Feb. 21, 2016: Vietnamese-American still marvels at flying helicopter to freedom in 1975
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