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Inside America's Massive, Messy Evacuation From Saigon

On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended when the People’s Army of Vietnam captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam (now named Ho Chi Minh City). The Fall of Saigon forty years ago today was preceded by a frantic week of mass evacuation of Americans, Vietnamese who had worked for the government or the Americans, relatives, orphans, and refugees of all kinds.

One hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese left South Vietnam that April, ten times the number that the State Department had planned for. In the final phase alone, in just over 14 hours’ time, Marine helicopters lifted out almost 8,000 U.S. military personnel, South Vietnamese, and their dependents—about 5,600 from Tan Son Nhut airport, another 2,206 from the roof and courtyard of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, and dozens more from other locations.

That’s a lot of people, but those numbers were dwarfed by those who wanted to leave but couldn’t. U.S. officials argued over whether Vietnamese dependents of Americans would be included in the evacuation, because they would refuse to leave without their families. Meanwhile, millions of at-risk South Vietnamese citizens scrambled to arrange any way out they could. By waiting until the last minute, the evacuation became a move of desperation. Read an account of that final week at New Republic. -via Digg

(Image credit: Dirck Halstead/U.S. Marine Corps)

See also:

Journalists from Time magazine share their memories of the Fall of Saigon (with video).

Chopper pilots recall the evacuation (with video).

Thoughts on the anniversary from Vietnam today.


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