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The Collapse of South Vietnam 1975

Updated on June 28, 2011

Eyewitness accounts recall how the streets of Saigon were like a controlled panic, interlaced with total chaos and frenzy. Police and military police were adding to the chaos with firing their weapons making all in the area suddenly jump in fear, fear that the NVA were barreling down the street. The sound of shots crackling increased angst on those by having to fall to the ground in self protection. It was a gut reaction. Saigon was totally on edge, much like Berlin in 1945. Store owners closed their shops, took the money and ran to the US embassy.

It was shortly after0400 hrs.when scores of rockets fell on Tan Son Nhut airport, followed by a barrage of heavy artillery. The waiting was over. The pandemonium of panic increased amongst its population ten-fold. Cars, bikes and motorcycles made it even more dangerous. All fleeing civilians fled to the US embassy gates for rescue from the approaching communist monster. Incoming mortar rounds now dotted the suburbs from the enemy.Explosions were frequent. For the NVA troops, like the civilians, most were ordered to seize the US embassy.

At 0600 hrs., there was a meeting between Ambassador Martin and his top officials where the disaster was acknowledged. All of them, except Martin, agreed that they should start the evacuation immediately. This was Operation Frequent Wind.

Saigon was in the midst of looters from its own citizens, a fleet of cars and trucks would quickly discharge their cargo looted from the Saigon US Army commissary. There was no time to sell the stuff because enemy soldiers were near. There was no point in carrying it either, still, some grabbed items while on the run. Some of the soldiers from the 18th ARVN Division,which had fought well at Xuan Loc, also arrived in Saigon.Gun battles ensued. When they were not fighting the enemy, some members robbed their own people and foreigners at gunpoint. They were angry and had been sacrificing for nothing. Outside of the US embassy was a horrific scene, now captured many times in various films since. The iron gates separated life and death for many. They would only open for the "rich and famous" of Saigon. Oddly, akin to scenes in Hitler’s bunker in April 1945, the some Americans in the embassy were partying. Obviously, they were happy of leaving Vietnam. Others were frantically destroying documents.From the incinerator on the embassy roof, 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills floated majestically on the frantic crowd that could not believe their eyes. The situation became uncontrollable. More than five million dollars were burned.

By 0230, on April 30, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger phoned Ambassador Martin and told him to end the evacuation at 0345. At 0415, the US Ambassador fled by helicopter. The 7000 Americans had been safely lifted out of Saigon.


At0700, NVA tanks busted through the embassy gates in victorious fashion. Their jubilant crews did not fire a single shot. They simple asked for directions, "Please direct us to the Presidential Palace. We don't know Saigon, we haven't been here for some time."

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