CBC news ran an article about the photographer of the photo of the Saigon Evacuation, Hubert Van Es, who became famous for this photograph as it established him as “one of the great witnesses of one of the great dramas in the second half of the 20th century.” This photograph was taken on April 29, 1975. Although many believed the building in this photograph to be the U.S. Embassy, upon further research I found that Van Es had said it was actually a building that housed CIA officials and families.
During the time in which this photograph was taken, Van Es was working for the United Press, and had taken the photo from a balcony several blocks away. Buses had been sent to evacuate members of the press but Van Es, in spite of the risk, chose to stay for as long as he could. Prior to the helicopters landing on the apartment buildings, Van Es had taken many other photographs that captured the emotion of the panicked civilians which I believe helped signify the importance of his Saigon Evacuation photo. He described pictures he took of soldiers abandoning their equipment as their sole goal became finding a way to safety. There were young boys picking up these guns in a panic on the streets. The South Vietnamese were in terror, as they faced a future without the extremely valuable protection of the U.S. military. As the Saigon Evacuation picture portrays, times were drastically changing.
At first glance one may not completely understand the symbolism of the helicopter to the South Vietnamese. But this helicopter in the photograph essentially represented their last chance to safety, to avoid the terror and hardship to come. Some of the individuals more directly related to the war knew they may be imprisoned depending upon their role in the war, while others would be subject to uncertainty and control.
This first week of research has opened my eyes to the hope that the helicopters represented from the perspective of the South Vietnamese.