After spending some time looking through microfilm, I found the “Saigon Evacuation” photo on the front page of the New York Times on April 30, 1975. There were many articles in this paper that helped answer some of my questions.
First of all, I had wondered where the evacuated Vietnamese were relocated to. Because only 55,000 South Vietnamese were removed over the course of a couple weeks instead of Ford’s desire for 200,000, the relocation was not as big of an issue as it was predicted. Most of these refugees came to the US eventually, but they were moved to Guam and the Philippines temporarily. 2,000 people on 74 planes landed in Thailand without asking the government permission which caused the Thai spokesman to state that they had to leave. The relocation of these refugees, as predicted, was a difficult process with many complications.
Another question this article helped answer was whether or not troops were sent to protect the evacuation and if so, how many. Evidently 1,000 combat marines were used along with air cover from the Navy and Air Force during the evacuation first at the Tan Son Nhut base and then the embassy. The evacuation started at 12:45AM, and the last American marines left at 7:52PM. 6,500 people (1,000 Americans and 5,500 South Vietnamese) were evacuated in this one day, and it appears that because of the rush and limited resources many South Vietnamese that had worked with the US had been left behind.
The new President of Vietnam surrendered in order to “avoid any unnecessary shedding of the blood of Vietnamese.” Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State, stated that all personnel were evacuated without the extreme panic that would have been present without civil order. However, South Vietnamese officers blamed this evacuation for letting fear enter their forces causing several top army and the majority of air force officers to run away. Of course, the US wants the evacuation to appear successfully planned and executed when, in fact, it was rushed due to the attack on Tan Son Nhut and from the information in my last post, it was chaotic.
Interesting enough, not all Americans left Vietnam. Multiple different news networks had US correspondents willing to skip out on the helicopter rides to safety and stay to continue their jobs. However, the Vietcong demanded that all Americans have to leave Vietnam and after taking Saigon an American reporter was yelled at to, “Go home. Go home.” The conflict in Vietnam started by the Vietminh wanting to free their country from “imperialist” countries; this was the final ‘cleansing’ of their nation.
President Ford made no comment about the surrender, but Kissinger stated that evaluating the Vietnam conflict in whole could not be properly done until later. He added that this loss would have many consequences in all parts of the world.
The defeat in Vietnam was made even more embarrassing to the US as the Communists covered Saigon in Vietcong flags. Although this surrender was deem inevitable by US officials, the blow was not lessened. This article would have informed the US citizens that the decade long struggle in Vietnam was over, and Americans would have been reminded of the condition their government left Vietnam. However, in spite of this final defeat and lack of proper withdrawal, President Ford tried to put it all behind them. He stated that it “closes a chapter in the American experience” and he pleaded Americans to look into the future instead of the past and to focus on working towards the common goals that needed to be reached. As any president would react to a sour-ending of a conflict, President Ford encouraged the people to move on.