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The Fall of Saigon

The Last Airlift of Americans: Tuesday 29th April 1975

The last Americans were evacuated from Saigon on Tuesday 29th April aboard six giant marine helicopters.

The evacuation, ending two-decades of US involvement in Vietnam, came after calls in the morning from the Vietcong and the new President of South Vietnam, General Minh, for all Americans to quit the country. The evacuees were flown to US ships standing off South Vietnam.
Vietnamese rushed to join the evacuation as helicopters lifted Americans off the roof of the US Embassy in a last-ditch attempt to escape the country, ignoring a 24-hour curfew ordered on Saigon. They also rushed to Tan Son Nhut airfield, outside the city.

The last dozen Americans tossed tear gas grenades at panic-stricken civilians who had broken into the building. 100 Vietnamese huddled on the roof of the deserted U.S. Embassy as they waited for another evacuation helicopter which never came.

The Pentagon said from Washington that about 50 ships carrying 6,000 marines and more than 700 helicopters were stationed in the South China Sea off Vietnam for the operation.

A massive fleet of refugee vessels was also reported underway through the port of Vung Tau, 70 kilometres south-east of Saigon. Ships of all sizes were crowded with tens of thousands of refugees.

Communist forces were reported to have attacked the port to halt the Vietnamese refugee rush. South Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese vessels, as well as US and South Vietnamese craft, were helping the refugee exodus.

In this April 29, 1975, file photo, a helicopter lifts off from the U.S. embassy in Saigon, Vietnam, during the evacuation of authorized personnel and civilians. More than two bitter decades of war in Vietnam ended with the last days of April 1975. (AP Photo/File)

The ordinary South Vietnamese Flee

The original intention was for no Vietnamese to leave on the flights, AAP-Reuter correspondent Neil Evans reported. However, a last-minute rush saw many Vietnamese hustled aboard buses. Word was put out that the evacuation definitely was on at 11am local time and evacuees were given one hour to reach rendezvous points.

Altogether at least 2,500 people assembled amid tense and dramatic scenes throughout central Saigon. Weeping Vietnamese arrived carrying what they had hastily grabbed.

A convoy of buses each packed with about 70 people left in threes and fours, guided by fully armed marines in flak jackets and helmets.
Vietnamese army officers discarded their military clothing and wore civilian dress, and begged to be taken aboard buses.

“I travelled in a private car with a convoy shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon”, Evans reported. “At least six packed vehicles tried to burst their way through police barriers at the airport entrance and shots’ were fired in bursts over the top of the cars.”

“Vietnamese youths on motorcycles were pulling alongside foreigners in cars and offering large sums of money to be helped into the airport. Most carried nothing at all and were abandoning their machines in order to jump aboard American vehicles.”

Buses, jeeps, cars and military trucks jam a heavily travelled road leading to the government-held central coast region of South Vietnam on March 26, 1975, as thousands of civilians and soldiers began fleeing from the country’s northern and western provinces. The provinces were abandoned following an onslaught by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

High Ranking Government Officials and Military leave

Senior South Vietnamese officials continued to flee the country in the hours before the Communists attacked Tan Son Nhut the day before, halting evacuation flights for 12 hours.

Military sources said South Vietnam’s highest-ranking military officer, Joint Chief-of-Staff Chairman General Cao Văn Viên, and several other senior officers, fled the country aboard General Vien’s private C-47, a propeller-driven cargo plane. Government sources said Prime Minister Nguyễn Bá Cẩn had fled the country without formally turning over powers to his successor, Vũ Văn Mẫu.

The former President of South Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, had flown into Taiwan early on Sunday amid strict security aboard a special US military aircraft with 15 companions and 10 tonnes of baggage.

In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning Vietnamese civilian and military police swept through a camp of refugees at Tan Son Nhut airbase who were awaiting evacuation flights and arrested several military deserters fleeing government officials and draft-age youths.
When the security sweep began, some of the evacuees fled, scaling a 2.43 metre mesh wire fence topped by a metre of barbed wire, leaving shoes and pieces of clothing on the wire.

Admittance checks at the compound gates were more stringent than at any time since the airlift began 11 days previous. No Vietnamese were allowed in unless accompanied by an American citizen who was going with them on the flight.

The Vietnamese sweep came as the US Air Force stepped up evacuation flights to the highest level, carrying our 40 loads over the previous 24 hours. There were already 20,600 evacuees on the small Micronesian island of Guam in the Western Pacific, the staging area for the US. Refugee numbers would swell to 100,000.

In this April 29, 1975 file photo, mobs of Vietnamese people scale the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam, trying to get to the helicopter pickup zone, just before the end of the Vietnam War. (AP Photo/Neal Ulevich, file)

The Fall of Saigon: Wednesday 30th April 1975

The fall of Saigon came 2 hours after the last American flag was pulled down and the United States left the country it had spent almost 14 years trying to keep out of communist hands.

Thirty minutes after President Dương Văn Minh announced the surrender over Saigon Radio, 20 communist tanks loaded with soldiers and flying the red-and-blue, gold starred Vietcong flag rolled into central Saigon and into the grounds of the Presidential Palace.

Agence France Presse reported that President Minh and the South Vietnamese Prime Minister Vũ Văn Mẫu watched as soldiers leapt from a lorry with the PRG’s flag after the tanks had entered the palace. No leading figures were seen with the Vietcong troops who entered the palace. The troops had apparently been ordered to occupy the palace to ensure that power changed hands peacefully. Minutes after a Viet Cong general drove out Minh and Mau who were under arrest.

By 12.30 pm Viet Cong troops drove into central Saigon and were cheered and waved at by Saigonese. Guards were stationed about every 50 metres along the main streets in the central city, while the NLF flag was run up on the defence ministry buildings. Around 2000 troops occupied the small park in front of the presidential palace in tanks and trucks. On their helmets was written “Tien vi Saigon” “onward to Saigon”. Within hours Saigon radio announced the city would henceforth be called Ho Chi Minh City. Nobody expected the Communist North Vietnamese to arrive so quickly.

The surrender ended three decades of war in Vietnam in which well over 1,353,000 military and civilians died in North and South Vietnam, including 58,318 Americans, 5,099 South Koreans, 1,446 Chinese, 426 Australians, 351 Thai, 25 Taiwanese, 39 New Zealanders and 9 Filipinos killed in action.

Sources:

  • US citizens go: last airlifts (1975, April 30). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 1. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116344766
  • Vietnamese panic, beg for flights (1975, April 30). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 1. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116344768
  • Thieu, 15 others flee to Taiwan (1975, April 28). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 5. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116344532
  • Americans flee as Reds near (1975, April 30). Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby : 1969 – 1981), p. 7. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article251045397
  • Quiet End to War for Vietnam by Stewart Dalby. The Financial Times(London, England),Thursday, May 01, 1975; pg. [1]; Edition 26,655. Category: News. Gale Document Number:HS2304323519