The Fall of Saigon
On April 30, 1975, the United States completely withdrew from Saigon, leaving the city into the hands of the North Vietnamese. This withdrawal, portrayed on television and newspapers around the world, would herald in a new era of how and why war is fought. The days of welcoming the American soldier home from his courageous victory in World War II, with parades, front page news stories and big screen fanfare would now be replaced with soldiers returning home quietly, obscurely and in some case, with words of hate and disdain. Soldiers had changed. America had changed too. The innocence of the 1950’s gave way to the individualistic, detached and suspicious nature of the American people. When the fathers of Vietnam soldiers came home from war, they came home to a bright and prosperous future. When their sons came home from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, they were faced with resentment, confusion and uncertainty. Twenty-five years after the fall in Ho Chi Minh City, the new name for Saigon, the Vietnamese held lavish celebrations with soldiers weighed down with medals, youth groups waving flags and singers loudly singing patriotic songs such as “Uncle Ho Lives in the Great Victory Day”. In America, the day was marked with a memorial for the 58, 153 Americans who died in Southeast Asia. When the last American soldier left Vietnam he left the old ways of his father behind on the rooftop of the United States Embassy and brought back with him a different America. The soldier had changed, and so had his country and countrymen.
Before the forces pulled out of Saigon, General Fred Weyand told reporters that the South Vietnamese forces “are still strong and have the capability to defeat the North Vietnamese.” However, according to Edward Rasen, declassified documents of Frank Snepp, the CIA’s chief analyst in Vietnam in 1975, show that General Weyand informed then President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, that,
The current military situation is critical and the probability of a truncated South Vietnam is marginal at best. The Government of Vietnam is on the brink of defeat. Given the speed at which events are moving and for reasons of prudence, the United States should plan now for a mass evacuation of some 6,000 American citizens and tens of thousands of South Vietnamese and Third Country Nationals.
To buy time, General Weyand urged the president to ask Congress for $722 million in emergency military aid. Kissinger also told the President that, “I must say it would be popular to say we have done enough….Give only humanitarian aid, negotiate with North Vietnam to take out those who want to go and say if the North won't agree, we'll do it by force." Kissinger presented the withdrawal option, $300 million in humanitarian aid and the $722 million and then various evacuation options. Congress balked, President Ford publicly blamed Congress for not providing “adequate support” and went as far to state that the invasion of the North Vietnamese was a direct result. In the end, the fall of Saigon had become a political and face saving maneuver. In essence, they had “washed their hands” of the whole affair and were ready to put Vietnam into past history.
The American public would know nothing of this. To them, the loss of so many lives, the cost of fighting a war that they believed, and were coerced to by the media and protestors of the day, was wrong and unjust and now just pulling up stakes and leaving left a sour taste in some. To others, however, just like the unknown negotiations of the President and his inner circle, they were ready to wash their hands of the whole mess and move on to a new and hopefully brighter future. Some soldiers were left feeling as if their actions were for naught, some felt they did their duty and that was enough, and others held a silent indifference. In the end, both soldier and citizen were left with unanswered questions, unanswered motives and a myriad of emotions that would change the culture of the United States from that moment forward. When the last Marine, MGySgt John J. Valdez, climbed aboard the helicopter from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy, he left behind some of the answers to those questions. He came back to a different country than the one he was born in. The American people have never really healed the wounds of the Vietnam War. They may never heal until the last soldier of the longest war of the 20th century passes on into the next world.