U.S. Evacuation and Fall of Saigon During the Vietnam War

By 1974, the North Vietnamese troops had violated the Paris Peace Accords and had renewed their attack on the south. It was clear the Republic of Vietnam would fall. In April of 1975, as North Vietnamese troops approached the southern capital of Saigon, President Ford ordered the evacuation of all Americans from the country. This video includes archival footage, a first-person account from an Iowa Marine helicopter pilot participating in the evacuation, and reflections on the era from an Iowa news reporter.

Transcript

By 1974, North Vietnamese troops had violated the Paris Peace Accords and renewed their assault on the South. It was clear the Republic of Vietnam would fall.

In April of '75, North Vietnamese troops approached the southern capitol of Saigon. President Gerald Ford ordered all U.S. troops and citizens out of the country. 

President Ford: -- "permit the movement of refugees to the area of their choice."

And on April 29th, Armed Forces Radio began playing White Christmas to signal an evacuation was underway.

(music – "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"-- )

Captain Gerald Berry was assigned to rescue U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin. The mission evolved into an 18-hour day of shuttling people to an armada of ships waiting in the South China Sea. And as Berry flew toward the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, he could see enemy tanks approaching the city.

"So I land behind the embassy and said, 'I'm here to get the Ambassador.' Because I'm thinking somebody told him I was coming to get him. Well then somebody else gets on the phone and said, 'Well, the Ambassador isn't coming.' I said, 'Really? I'm supposed to get him.' 'Well, no he's not.' So take a lift of these, so they loaded Vietnamese on."

In the early hours of April 30th, despite multiple flights with hundreds of evacuees and with time running out, Berry uttered three words that meant it was imperative for the U.S. diplomat to leave. 

"I'm not leaving the roof until the Ambassador is on board. And out of nowhere I just, I said, 'The President sends.' Two minutes later -- all this guy wanted was an order from the President to come out. That's all he needed. I could have said that at twelve in the afternoon. So he comes up, gets on, we fly out with the Ambassador and you make the call, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. That means the Ambassador is out."

"Personally I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed that we, the United States of America, is being humiliated and is leaving an area that we had come to defend and we had been defeated. Yes, we have chosen to leave but we have chosen to leave because it is no longer defendable with the resources that we have chosen to commit and the limits that we have put on our involvement in South Vietnam."


Excerpt from "Iowans Remember Vietnam," Iowa PBS, 2015