Thoughts on the 45th Anniversary Of the Fall of Saigon
Thoughts on the 45th Anniversary
Of the Fall of Saigon
President, American Veterans Center
I am a Vietnam Veteran and am proud to have served my country.
The remembrance of the fall of South Vietnam 45 years ago however brings back feelings of real bitterness. Nothing connected to my service, though. I served as a junior officer on a destroyer from 1968 to 1971 and much of that time was spent doing naval gunfire support offshore of South Vietnam and plane guard duty with aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Nothing particularly special or dangerous. I got a glimpse, however, of the way in which the US was failing to wage the war in a way to win it.
I came to appreciate the craven and dishonest way in which the Johnson Administration senior civilian leadership and the president himself, pursued a goal of not losing a war on their watch, while lacking the courage to pursue a winning strategy and explain it to the American people. Equally disturbing was the way the senior military leadership (who had a strategy to win) allowed themselves to be bribed or cowed into silence by Robert McNamara and his ilk.
In 1971 I was discharged from the Navy and in 1974 found myself in a job as political director of the American Conservative Union in Washington, D. C. That fall at the invitation of the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington I put together a group of Congressional aides and journalists to investigate the situation in South Vietnam, We spent 10 days in the country traveling by van, helicopter boat and on foot, allowed to see whatever we asked to see and to talk with whomever we wished to speak. What we saw was shocking. Nixon had been forced out of office and aid to South Vietnam had been frozen. At military installations allove the country hundreds of planes, tanks, helicopters, and other military equipment sat idle because of lack of parts. Morale was poor and an atmosphere of foreboding hovered over the country like a pall.
Upon return I wrote a report concluding that South Vietnam faced an imminent, invasion from the North and that without massive US intervention and support, South Vietnam would soon be lost. ACU formed the “Emergency Committee to Save South Vietnam, a bi-partisan effort led by Frank Trager and John Chamberlain. We raised enough money to take out ads in the Washington Post and the New York Times, organized a boiler room operation in our small offices where volunteers came and went at all hours of the day and night, making signs, writing press releases and organizing rallies. It was all for naught. In April of 1965 the North Vietnamese launched a massive invasion. The superb, battle-tested South Vietnames troops in the northern sector of the country retreated to more defensible positions, causing a panicked response from tens of thousands of the local population who fled headlong toward the coast, completely bogging down the ARVN troops and causing a chain reaction collapse of the South Vietnames military, resulting at the end of April in the fall of Saigon.
The night before the capital fell, South Vietnamese ambassador Phong invited the members of our committee to dinner at his residence. Much alcohol was consumed and many tears were shed. One of our members, retired Admiral John McCais, all of five feet tall and waving a cigar about a foot long gave an impassioned toast in that tell-tale gruff voice of his, telling the Ambassador not to lose heart. “Some day,” he sai, “South Vietnam would be free.”
God willing, that will happen. What can never be erased, however, is the stain on the record of the United States caused by the betrayal of South Vietnam. The tragedy of that war, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the wounding of hundreds of thousands more and the enslavement of millions is one of the calamities of American history, the effects of which are with us still.