On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, marking the end of a decades-long conflict that left millions dead.
With North Vietnamese troops approaching Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh, the U.S. scrambled to pull back its last personnel in the city. The photos below show frantic scenes as the U.S. attempted to evacuate thousands of government personnel, civilians and South Vietnamese residents.
To quote myself (based upon a listening of Michael Medved’s “3 Big Lies of the Vietnam War”):
The Vietnam anti-war/peace movement should be more properly and accurately scarlet-lettered an anti-draft movement. By the end of 1971, under Nixon, the draft ended. Major peace protests happened throughout 1968 through ’71. The largest, most intense bombing of the war occurred in Christmas of ’72 [Operation Linebacker II]. Any protests? Any peace movement marches? Not a peep. Because those protesting the war knew that they would no longer be called up to serve. Yet we’re to believe that the “peace” movement were anti-war out of altruistic good conscience on behalf of the Vietnam people. No: many were motivated by selfish interests. After the draft ended under Nixon, so too did the majority support for these idiotic marches, which only fueled more violence; not less.
It should also be noted that the candidate who ran as the peace movement candidate was McGovern (wasn’t his campaign slogan something like “Come home, America”?). Between the “Peace without honor” candidate and the “peace with honor” candidate, gee….which choice do you think America opted for? McGovern got crushed in the biggest landslide in history: Nixon carried 49 states, including McGovern’s native South Dakota. I believe there were polls conducted that showed America might have been disapproving of the war, at this point, but they wanted to win it, not lose. And I question whether or not the anti-war protesters were ever popular with the American mainstream majority. And as we discussed a bit before, Richard Nixon committed himself when he became president to the idea of “Vietnamization”, which was to train more and more South Vietnamese troops to become self-sufficient; and consequently, part of the plan was the steady troop withdrawal and intensified bombing. In ’72, when Nixon was running for re-election, and after Operation Linebacker II, he finally got the North Vietnamese onboard with the Paris Peace Accords. Part of the package included two secret agreements: one was billions of dollars in reparations, after the war. But the North did not get it, because they had broken their agreement by invading the South. The 2nd secret agreement was with the South Vietnamese. He gave them a solemn pledge, in writing, that if the North broke agreements, and invaded the South, America would get back in, and provide whatever aid the South needed; even troop support. Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, Nixon was driven from office by the Watergate scandal (Arthur loves it when I characterize it this way). When the North Vietnamese invaded the South, an unelected President in the form of Gerald Ford pleaded with Congress to enforce our agreements and honor our pledge to our South Vietnamese allies. In 1975, more than one million innocent Vietnamese fled in terror from a massive invasion by the North. Congress and the anti-war movement did nothing to alleviate the suffering.
As a constant reminder of what President Ford deemed to be his failure, he kept the U.S. Embassy (Saigon) stairs in his library. It wasn’t President Ford’s failure: It was America’s failure.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.
Luong’s job is to train the Afghan military to fight a guerrilla force, the Taliban. But he’s willing to talk about another guerrilla war, long ago.
Forty years ago this week Luong’s father, a South Vietnamese Marine major, called an urgent family meeting at their home in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. The city, his father told them, soon would fall to the North Vietnamese — the communist forces he was helping the Americans fight.
They sat around the table — father, mother, seven sisters and Luong, then age 9.
“My sisters actually had a very strong opinion — like ‘we need to stay until we find a way out as a family,’ ” he recalls.
His father worried they wouldn’t be able to escape together. He suggested Luong, the only boy, and one of his sisters should flee the country in the hopes the family could be preserved.
“I was depressed! I didn’t want to get sent to — you know, to the U.S. I didn’t want to … my dad, to go to the jungles,” he says, his voice catching in his throat. “It was pretty tough, as a kid.”
A Way Out
They were helped by an American reporter who was a friend. Luong still remembers the night he came to give the entire family official government papers that would get them into Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just north of Saigon. From there, they’d be taken out of Vietnam.
“It’s like, ‘OK, pack your stuff — do not talk to any of your friends, just pack some clothes,’ and his driver snuck us out at night,” Luong says.
Soon after the family arrived at the air base, rockets and mortars started landing.
“Yeah, it was close enough where I can hear people groaning from getting hit,” he says.
The general stops for a moment, and looks down. His eyes begin to fill with tears.
“I was lying then on my stomach,” he says. “We’re Catholics, so I was saying my Hail Marys, you know. And uh … and so we were scared, so my dad looked up and said ‘look — don’t be afraid.’ He said ‘you’re missing out on a monumental moment in history,’ right? ‘You need to be able to see what’s going on.’ So that calmed us down for a little bit, but it was really hopeless until the Marines came in.”
On April 29, 1975, the family boarded a Marine helicopter and headed out to the South China Sea. When they landed on a U.S. carrier, Luong was disoriented.
“I still remember that moment to this day, because as soon as we landed I looked at my dad and I said, uh, I said ‘Dad, where are we at?’ And he looked at me and he says, ‘hey, we’re aboard the American carrier USS Hancock.’ And I say, ‘well, what does that mean?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘that means nothing in the world can harm you now.’ ”
A Promise Kept
Luong made a decision on that carrier deck.
“People might not believe that, but, I knew right back then that I want to serve our country,” he says.
Other members of the family were not as lucky. Left behind were two uncles who would serve nearly a dozen years each in a communist re-education camp, before they would make it to the U.S.
Luong and his family spent weeks in refugee camps in the Philippines and Guam before arriving in Fort Chaffee, Ark. Eventually, they moved to California.
Luong attended the University of Southern California and joined ROTC, keeping good on the promise he made on that carrier flight deck. He would join the Army.
“My dad told me — I think half-jokingly maybe — that he was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be a Marine,” Luong says. “But he says, ‘as long as you’re gonna be an airborne guy, that’s OK, too.’ ”
Luong rose up the ranks, and is now deputy commander of the First Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
In January, he made his second deployment to Afghanistan, where he leads the training effort at the Kandahar Air Base.
Luong knows there is irony in his presence here: A boy who fled America’s longest war, only to grow up and advise foreign forces in what became America’s new longest war. Like many back home, he talks about the parallels between the fights in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
“I wouldn’t call it a quagmire,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of similarities. You know, the sanctuaries are there, the insurgency is there …. you know, the corruption’s there. But I think there’s hope, right? With [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani, I think, and with the new government, I see hope.”
He cautions the Americans here not to focus on body counts, the grim numbers that became synonymous with the Vietnam experience. He recalls a famous quote by the North Vietnamese commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.
“He was talking to one of his American counterparts after the war, and the American general told him that, ‘hey, we won every tactical engagement against you,’ ” he says. “And Giap looked at him and said, ‘it’s also irrelevant.’ ”
Luong expects a different outcome in Afghanistan. He says the Afghan army is growing better all the time.
Neither Luong nor his family ever returned to Vietnam. His father said he never would visit the country until it respected human rights. The elder Luong died in 1997, living long enough to see his son promoted to captain.
The general thinks it now might be time for him to visit Vietnam.
“I think I need to, for some closure,” he says. “I think eventually I probably need to go back and seek out my roots.”
I don’t think I ever met any Vietnamese people who were lifted out during those last, very scary days.
But I met a large number of ”boat people,” who escaped the North Vietnamese government shortly after it took power.
I really wish American blacks would ”act white” and study in school.
They might learn something.
Within one generation those boat people went from cramming three generations into small apartments to owning whole apartment buildings.
They went from digging through trash in alleys to owning shops and restaurants.
They did this while being accused of eating cats and being dirty.
They did it with very little in the way of government assistance.
Sad to say, but there are parallels between then and now.
The end of the anti-war protests coincided with the end of the draft. The end of the latest wave of anti-war protests coincided with the election of Obama. Ulterior, selfish motives? Damn right. That’s one parallel.
Kind of like our generals and others urging Obama to re-negotiate the SOFA with Iraq in order to avoid what is happening there right now. Another parallel along with Libya and Yemen. We’ll see how Afghanistan plays out.
How many times have we heard from this administration and their sheep (some of whom made that b.s. argument here on FA) about how much better Obama has been at fighting terrorism because of AQ body counts when in fact AQ and company have greatly expanded their Operational Environment on his watch? Yet another parallel.
And it’s happening all over again. Only this time the stakes are even higher because the bad guys have the capability to strike us on our homeland.
Fair point; but of course in regards to Luong and Giap’s point on cautioning against paying attention to body count, it’s how much of America became demoralized over the war- Walter Cronkite, flag-draped coffins, Tet Offensive, etc.
Similarly, those who opposed OIF from the get-go were shrilling about body count numbers as early as when it was around “400”. And every step of the way, they reminded us of the escalating numbers in blood and treasure because it was a war of choice that they chose to oppose.
And rather than hold themselves accountable for the growing body count today in wanting us out of Iraq, of course the blame for ISIS and their atrocities falls upon “blame Bush”. Not on our evacuation and Biden’s failure to renegotiate SoFA as well as President Obama’s disinterest to do so (more interested in fulfilling his campaign promise and take credit for “bringing the troops home”- yes, blame Bush for SoFA and take credit for SoFA).
“in 1995 the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Bui Tin, a former colonel who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, that included the following exchange:
Q: How did Hanoi intend to defeat the Americans?
A: By fighting a long war which would break their will to help South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh said, “We don’t need to win military victories, we only need to hit them until they give up and get out.”
Q: Was the American antiwar movement important to Hanoi’s victory?
A: It was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.
Q: Did the Politburo pay attention to these visits?
A: Those people represented the conscience of America. The conscience of America was part of its war-making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor. America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.
Q: What else?
A: We had the impression that American commanders had their hands tied by political factors. Your generals could never deploy a maximum force for greatest military effect. ”
To paraphrase General Giap, the war was not lost in the jungles of Vietnam, it was lost on the streets of Washington, D.C. Even after we pulled out, the Democrat Congress refused to honor the promises made to the South Vietnamese, denying the S. Vietnamese the arms and supplies needed to continue the opposition against Communist forces. One thing the Democrats have learned since the days of Harry Truman is how to lose wars.
Walter Cronkite, lionized by the left as a great reporter, falsely reported the Tet Offensive, which we won. And the left has promoted the Vietnamese War as Mr. Nixon’s war, although it was John Kennedy (Democrat) who first escalated the number of U,S. troops there and LBJ (Democrat) who sent tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to the Mid-East with ROEs that prevented them from stopping the Communist forces.
Does history repeat itself? Just look at Iraq.
@Wordsmith: You are spot on in your assessment as usual. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when GWOT started, OBL predicted victory because he believed we didn’t have the commitment or staying power needed to prevail and they did. He must have studied and learned from Vietnam. While time will tell if he was correct, events as of late have shown the momentum tipping in their favor. We physically retreated from Libya and Yemen. We have lost ground, both literally and figuratively, in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan as well and ISIS may very well be operating near our southern border.
As you pointed out, during Vietnam the anti-war protests were more about not being drafted, i.e. self-preservation. This time around, it’s an all volunteer military and the overwhelming majority of that force is comprised of volunteers who are center-right in their beliefs meaning this last crop of the anti-war crowd is motivated by something else. Perhaps it is BDS and their way of getting back him for “stealing” the election. Perhaps it is just a warped, naïve view of the world. Your guess is as good mine.
Many Vietnam vets strongly opposed the war. Opposition to the war wasn’t a matter of self preservation for those who had already done their service and spent a year or more in country.
Draftees were actually a minority of the 2.6 million Americans who served within the borders of Vietnam. Draftees only comprised around 25 percent. Compare that with WW 2: 66 percent of Americans serving overseas during WW 2 were draftees.
It wasn’t all about self preservation among those who never served, either. There was enormous anger among the young about a government that would grab you by the collar, shove a rifle in your hand, and send you halfway around the world to kill people you had no quarrel with, who were putting their own lives on the line to throw off over a century of foreign occupation, and who posed no threat to your own nation. Until mid-1970, you didn’t even have the right to vote for or against the people making such decisions.
The fall of Saigon was heartbreaking, but our own policies and actions set that situation up.
@another vet: You’re right in your assessment, especially lately. I don’t think GWB would have given up, but since the Dims took over, they’ve pretty much thrown in the towel. I think in BHO’s case tho, that was his intent all the time, to let the Muslims win. I’d think it would be kinda hard to be born a Muslim, grow up a muslim and participate in their mosques and not sympathize with Muslims.
And just think Greg, your Dimocrat guy (LBJ)actually killed another Dimocrat guy(JFK) just so he could get all those people killed. I think the consensus amongs most Americans that the VietNam war was just what it was, a contrived episode to make a ton of money for a bunch of Dimocrats, JFK saw that and wasn’t going to play ball so Brown and Root paid LBJ enough to make it worth while for the Dimocrats and it was ‘game on’. Dimocrats got us into WWI, WWII, Korean War and Viet Nam war, seems as if we’d learn.
@Redteam: The Dims, as you called them (and I used to be one when they had people like John Glenn and Sam Nunn in the party), have usually gotten it all wrong. Be it Wilson lying about neutrality while actively trying to get us into WWI; FDR doing the same and then caving to Stalin; LBJ getting us into a war he had no intention of winning; Clinton avoiding a war because he viewed AQ as a law enforcement issue as opposed to a national security threat, or Obama as either miscalculating or sympathizing with the radical Islamic threat, they have always gotten it wrong and left the mess for someone else to clean up. In the case of FDR, it was a fellow Dem and his VP, Truman (who in my opinion had more brains and balls than all of them put together), who had to deal with the mess.
A bit of advice. Ignore Greg. I used to engage in conversation with him but now I stopped reading his bullshit just like “this one”, “john”, and the rest of them most of whom have been banned and for good reason. There is something wrong there, drug induced or otherwise. I have no problem with Rich, Tom, or Larry. They are the type I can agree to disagree with and could sit down and have a beer with. Greg, as Pete others have pointed out more than once, has serious issues. Him and reality don’t click.
Good advice, I do ignore Greg, even tho I answer him sometime, I have absolutely no respect for any of his opinions. Those you mention have no objectives except to drone on about Dimocrat(liberals)good, Republicans bad. Ask Greg what’s ‘good’ about Hillary and he’ll answer by telling you what’s bad about a Republican. Just mindless drones.
PBS recently did a documentary on Last Days In Vietnam.
For anyone who is interested in some of the darkest days in our history, abandoning a people who simply wanted to live free of Communist rule, it is well worth the time to watch the documentary. It can be found on line where you can watch the entire film.
Watch it, and tell me that, in 40 years, we will not see a similar film on Iraq. The privileged children of the Greatest Generation, now running D.C., has shown that the United States has not only lost its greatness but its trustworthiness.
They are too busy saving us from AGW and other feel good, made up problems to be bothered with the real ones. Keep in mind that is MY generation that I’m talking about and we are for the most part, an embarrassment. I’ve actually apologized to younger people for the mess we are leaving them but stopped doing so for those who voted for and supported the current regime. Now they too can share in the blame for the mess they are going to have on their hands.