Moral Dilemma (03:59)
In April 1975, Army Captain Stuart Herrington evacuated South Vietnamese officers and their families from Saigon. Two years earlier, Nixon had agreed to a cease-fire; U.S. troops would withdraw. Henry Kissinger hoped for reconciliation between North and South Vietnam.
Saigon after the Cease-Fire (03:24)
American military and government personnel maintained infrastructure; many had Vietnamese wives and children. Ambassador Graham Martin resolved to maintain U.S. aid. President Nixon promised President Thieu the U.S. would respond if North Vietnam violated the Paris Peace Accord, but he resigned in 1974.
Fall of Da Nang (04:12)
In March 1975, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, inciting panic. President Thieu gave conflicting orders; view footage of South Vietnamese refugees crowding onto planes and ships. North Vietnam escalated conflict to test the U.S. President Ford expresses dismay in a televised statement.
North Vietnamese Takeover (04:36)
Half a million refugees fled south, followed by 160,000 North Vietnamese troops that aimed to reach Saigon by May 19. Ambassador Martin rejected evacuation suggestions, but Americans began leaving. Embassy evacuation plans excluded an estimated 200,000 endangered South Vietnamese.
Ford's Unreasonable Request (05:33)
On April 10, 1975, President Ford appealed unsuccessfully to Congress for emergency military assistance to evacuate South Vietnamese employees of the U.S. government. Ambassador Martin refused to plan an evacuation, but embassy officers mobilized an underground evacuation via cargo plane.
Can Tho (02:50)
Consul General Terry McNamara and Marine Consulate guard Steve Hasty recall being attacked by North Vietnamese forces. Supplies to South Vietnamese troops were halted, due to congressional failure to approve Ford's aid request.
Evacuation Options (04:42)
On April 18, 1975, U.S. naval ships prepared to evacuate Americans; potential routes included commercial ship, commercial plane, military plane, and military helicopter. On April 24, Special Forces Advisor Richard Armitage arrived to transport South Vietnamese naval boats from Saigon.
Ambassador Martin's Hesitation (04:16)
Approximately 5,000 Americans with Vietnamese family members remained. Martin finally bypassed immigration laws to allow them to leave—but there was still no plan for evacuating South Vietnamese. He wanted to avoid mass panic. Binh Pho tried to use contacts to leave.
Destroying Tan Son Nhut (04:02)
On April 29, 1975, North Vietnamese forces attacked the airport, cutting off plane evacuations. General Smith recommended evacuation option four. After surveying the damage, Ambassador Martin informed Henry Kissinger and President Ford that they had to evacuate.
Final Evacuation Orders (04:14)
On April 29, the American Radio broadcast an evacuation signal in Saigon. Thousands of South Vietnamese gathered outside the embassy; those with connections entered. Helicopters gathered people from rooftops throughout the city.
Preparing to Evacuate (03:37)
There were 2,800 South Vietnamese that had done business with Americans waiting to evacuate inside the embassy. Marine guards recall cutting a tree for helicopter landings, shredding classified documents, and burning U.S. currency.
Ship and Helicopter Evacuation Plans (04:02)
Armitage and Kiem Do planned to sail 32 South Vietnamese naval vessels out of North Vietnamese hands; sailors brought their families. Marine pilot Gerald Berry was to evacuate Ambassador Martin; Martin refused to leave until Vietnamese civilians were also evacuated.
Unexpected Evacuees (04:48)
The U.S.S. Kirk protected Marine Corps helicopters moving from the embassy to aircraft carriers. Smaller helicopters transporting South Vietnamese commanders and their families began landing. Crew members disarmed pilots and pushed helicopters overboard to make room for the next ones.
Evacuation Protocol (03:23)
Helicopters landed in ten minute intervals and transported 50 Americans and South Vietnamese at a time. Marines were brought in to secure the embassy walls as civilians became desperate.
Heroic Evacuation (06:44)
Miki Nguyen's father was a pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force. He flew his family in a Chinook to the U.S.S. Kirk. View footage of him dropping his passengers on the deck and abandoning the aircraft. Crew members donated food and clothing to refugees.
Fatiguing Marine Pilots (04:39)
U.S. military personnel began questioning Ambassador Martin's efforts to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible. He distributed Americans widely to maximize rescues. Embassy employees also drove people in vans to commercial boats on the Saigon River.
Presidential Order (04:22)
Captain Herrington reassured South Vietnamese people inside the embassy that they would all be evacuated, but Washington miscalculated how many helicopters were necessary. With 420 civilians left, Ambassador Martin and remaining Americans were ordered to evacuate. Berry had flown 18 hours straight.
Abandoning South Vietnamese Civilians (03:29)
Herrington describes keeping remaining refugees calm before leaving them on the last helicopter—a morally wrenching decision. The U.S.S. Kirk picked up Armitage in the middle of the ocean.
Con Son Island Rescue (02:47)
Armitage describes South Vietnamese vessels crowded with civilians. His mission was to help the ships into international waters; they decided to escort the refugees to the Philippines without permission from Washington.
"Sitting Ducks" (05:30)
After evacuation, eleven Marines remained at the embassy. Mike Sullivan describes securing the building against South Vietnamese refugees and waiting on the roof for a helicopter. They were easy targets for North Vietnamese tanks entering Saigon.
Fall of Saigon (05:08)
Journalists Jim Laurie and Neil Davis stayed to document the North Vietnamese takeover. Civilians looted the embassy and South Vietnamese soldiers stripped their uniforms. Dam Pham reflects on the futility of his friends dying for South Vietnam.
Wasted War (03:42)
The Philippines would not admit refugee boats flying under South Vietnamese flags. Kiem Do describes the emotional flag lowering ceremony. Many American veterans were distraught.
Saigon Epilogue (00:59)
Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps; many died of disease and starvation. Kiem Do reunited with his family in the Philippines. Binh Pho and Dam Pham went to re-education camps before escaping to the U.S.
Credits: Last Days in Vietnam (01:52)
Credits: Last Days in Vietnam
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