The fall of Saigon 40 years ago

A number of my family served in Vietnam. Amazingly, they all came back alive, but were forever scarred. A few of my friends and neighbors were not so lucky.

April 30, 1975 was the fall of Saigon.  It came only two weeks after the fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 17, 1975.  Days earlier Operation Eagle Pull, the U.S. Marines helicopter evacuation of Phnom Penh, was carried out on April 12, 1975. The Fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “The fall of Phnom Penh proved to be an even greater tragedy, as it paved the way for a takeover by the ruthless Khmer Rouge, whose leader Pol Pot orchestrated the Cambodian Genocide, in which an estimated two million people died from 1975 to 1979.”

This iconic image of the last flight out of Saigon on April 30, 1975 is forever etched in my memory.

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Evacuees mount a staircase to board an American helicopter at the Pittman Building near the American Embassy in Saigon.  United Press International’s Hugh van Es /Bettman – Corbis

The helicopter flights of evacuees were flown to U.S. Navy ships waiting off the coast of Vietnam where, once the evacuees were unloaded, the helicopters not making return flights had to be pushed off the side of the ship in order to make room for incoming helicopters loaded with more evacuees.

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A damaged helicopter being pushed overboard from the warship Blue Ridge to make room for more evacuation flights. Credit Associated Press

Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter airlift in history, was a chaotic retreat after 16 years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam (1959-1975). Enemy at the gate: The history-making, chaotic evacuation of Saigon.

“By the time it was over, about 100 Marine, Air Force and Air America choppers had evacuated an estimated 7,000 Americans and South Vietnamese out of Saigon in under 24 hours.”

There are some days that I will never forget. April 30, 1975 is one of them.

One response to “The fall of Saigon 40 years ago

  1. I served two years in Viet Nam and as an Airborne Infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division, much of who I am today was forged in the mountains and valleys of northern South Viet Nam. April 30, 1975, sticks out in my memory as it does yours. As I watched the pictures on TV, I told my Wife, “Well, it’s finally over.” In my heart, though, I knew it was just the beginning of a prolonged nightmare of re-education camps, people’s courts, and the adjustment to Ho Chi Minh’s vision of communism for the people of South Viet Nam.

    I, too, remember the fall of Phnom Penh and Pol Pot’s rise to power. What I especially remember was the complete silence from the anti-war protesters and the left over the genocide that followed. All of their concern over the deaths in Viet Nam didn’t extend to the Cambodians, I guess.