The Fall of Saigon

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On April 30th, 1975, forty years ago, North Vietnam captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, now called Ho Chi Minh City, finalizing the end of a series of wars that had really started on September 22, 1940 when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded. Japanese, French, American, and South Vietnamese armies had all been defeated in turn over the next 35 years.
I remember watching this event on television. Streams of refugees struggling to get into the embassy, helicopters being pushed into the ocean from the decks of aircraft carriers to make more room for people, and communist forces entering the city. My dad was out of the service by that time, but his predictions from almost 20 years earlier that no force in the world could stop the Vietnamese people’s desire to remain one nation finally came true.
On July 11, 1995 the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam normalized relations. Vietnam is now a US Strategic partner in the region and we do a huge amount of trade. If you still have a problem with them, you probably should stop buying tennis shoes.
The Vietnam War was the first major defeat for the United States, and people saw that on television. After the stalemate of the Korean War, US military might was in doubt. Operations later (such as the invasion of Grenada and Panama) were usually overwhelming affairs to guarantee success and defeats ( Rescue of Hostages from Iran 1980 and Lebanon 1983) were felt more intensely. It was not until the 1990-1991 Gulf War that the US military regained its image, and the outpouring of patriotic emotion was very intensely felt by all of us who fought that war. The cards, letters, gifts, books, and video tapes sent by a loving nation almost overwhelmed us. Even 18 months later, an AT&T customer service person thanked me for my service.
The Vietnam War veterans did not receive that. Labeling, humiliation, and sometimes hiding their service, not to mention PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse was their reward. The War on Drugs was officially started in 1971 due to the huge number of veterans returning home as addicts. The backlash of this is an entire industry of Vietnam Apologists, blaming everyone they can (except themselves) as to why the US lost. Favorite targets are “the media” (showing what was really going on), Walter Cronkite (despite his decades of war correspondent experience), “the democrats” (despite Republican sponsorship and majority support for the Case-Church Amendment), peace protestors (damn hippies didn’t want to go), “the government” (who was leading the war). Even the official US Army report on the Vietnam War calls it a resounding victory.
One day, I hope to go to there, and see the places where my dad and his friends went. I want to visit the Vietnam Memorial and read the names of so many neighbors who came home in bags.
In Vietnam today, they still struggle with the environmental destruction that was inflicted on them. US and Vietnam teams continue to work together for find clues on the MIAs from both sides. We are friends now, as Ho Chi Minh had tried to do repeatedly with the Truman Administration back in 1945. Fear of “the commies” would lead directly to this decades long tragedy.
It deserves to be a lesson in what might have been.


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