As we approach the 39th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, it seems appropriate to re-publish this account. Saigon was captured by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong) on April 30, 1975.
History is what people born after 1970 call Vietnam, but for many of the 2.7 million service
men and women, the million or more civilian support staff, and the protesters who battled policy, the war lives. It lives in war stories told with pride, or buried deep in souls and in walled-off psyches protecting their bearers. Arguably the Vietnam War began on September 27, 1950 when the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Indochina (MAAG) was established in Saigon to aid the French Military. It ended several years after President Nixon cut off direct funding during a process he called “Vietnamization” when, in April 1975, Saigon fell to the communists.
Twenty-five years is plenty of time for people to form strong, trust-based relationships. The time frame of reference bridges several generations, if one defines a generation as a group of people born into and shaped by a particular span of time (events, trends and developments). The Vietnam War significantly contracted the reach between generations. Some Vietnamese and American, men and women, soldiers and civilians, who lived, loved, fought and worked in Vietnam developed, treasured and strove to honor the vital social contracts that punctuated the long and ugly Vietnam War with small sanctuaries of beauty and peace.
Consider for a moment those last few days before the fall of Saigon. Imagine your friends, colleagues, relatives who, in the grip of the Communists, will be tortured then killed all because they know or work for you. Back in the day, the Communists had a deserved reputation for brutality. According to Olive Drab “In total, from 1957 to 1973, the Viet Cong assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The VC death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, civil engineers, and schoolteachers. For the Communist forces, atrocities were a matter of policy and were not hidden or punished.” For those already screaming the U.S. also committed atrocities, the answer is yes, but not as a matter of public policy, although enforcement could have been better. For example, one perpetrator, Lt. Calley, of the My Lai massacre, on 16 March 1968, was dealt with harshly while his commanding officer, Captain Earnest Medina, walked away scot-free. But wait, there’s more!