Thirty-three years ago today, communist North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon and seized control of the government that was once the democratic South Vietnam.
The Fall of Saigon (in Vietnamese: Sự kiện 30 tháng 4 - or the “April 30 Incident” is also called by many Vietnamese Ngày mất nước - literally, “The Day of losing the nation”) started a decades long tragedy that impacted millions of Vietnamese and reached into other Southeast Asian nations. The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia were made possible by the communist domination of the region.
The scene in Saigon on April 30, 1975, was one of total chaos.
Several survivor told me those loyal to the U.S. and to the government of South Vietnam headed for the U.S. embassy in hopes that they could be flown out of the city. Others fled toward Saigon harbor or southward toward the Mekong in hopes of finding a ship or boat out. Thus the hemorrhage of people, the “Boat People,” began. The flow of people from Vietnam’s shores and into the sea would last for more than 15 years and many were lost at sea or abused by pirates along the way.
Side streets of Saigon were barricaded to slow the advance of communist forces. But this also made it very difficult for the people of Saigon to navigate toward the U.S. embassy or any other location.
Many of the people caught in that cauldren of Saigon on April 30, 1975, would earn new names within the next thirty days. Many became “refugees” and all those who served in the armed forces of Soth Vietnam or were loyal to South Vietnam or the Americans would find themselves torn away from their families and sent to “re-education” by early June 1975. Re-education lasted only 5 years for some — but we have spoken to several who had terms as long as 17 years.
April 30, 1975 is a sad day in the history of Vietnam and all Southeast Asia. What followed from that day for many was flight, torture or death. The lucky ones survive today and can tell the tale. But as one Vietnamese American man told me, “Not happy. Not lucky.”
This well-known photo taken by Hubert van Es shows South Vietnamese civilians scrambling to board a CIA Air America helicopter during the U.S. evacuation of Saigon.
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