By reading articles in Reporting Vietnam, I was able to get an understanding of how the South Vietnamese responded to the United States evacuating from Saigon. Before the evacuation thousands of Vietnamese refugees were fleeing from the Communist attacks and pressure closing in on areas around Saigon. One writer talked about watching a tide of people walk by who could not even be directed by soldiers shooting guns into the air because the Communist tanks were scarier than the South Vietnamese soldiers M16s. These Vietnamese knew that their lives would be in danger when the Communists arrived, and their fear showed.
In a past post I talked about the madness of the evacuation from the perspective of a US officer trying to direct and get people loaded, but this article gave me insight on the madness from the perspective within the crowd. One correspondent had to scratch and claw his way through the mob around the embassy trying to reach the wall, and he later said, “We were like animals.” In this madness, he was punched, offered a baby, and he promised to adopt a boy. He ended up getting the attention and help from a marine who literally pulled him over the wall into the embassy. The Vietnamese knew that their lives would be in grave danger when the Communists arrived. One Vietnamese woman had worked for the US for ten years, but went home to poison herself because she knew that even if she made it to the air base she would not be allowed on a plane.
In another article, a US Captain talked about how he was lied to at the very end of the evacuation and would have refused the order if he has known the truth. He was ashamed and when talking about the last hours he said, “You saw deceit. You saw how we let this country down to the very end.” The lie he talked about was when he was told to arrange people in groups, get them ready to leave, and to tell them that they would be evacuated. He said that even the Vietnamese firemen who helped him were left behind.
In previous posts, I talked about the general lack of clarity present in the Vietnam War, but these articles exposed flat out lies. Another US officer was extremely upset that the US lied to its own people. He also said that he will be haunted by their betrayal to the Vietnamese people for the rest of his life. Evidently the order to immediately stop the evacuation came directly from President Ford.
This article ends saying that the last helicopter left hundreds of Vietnamese waiting for the next one which never came. Some knew it was a hopeless cause, but like those in the Saigon Evacuation photograph, many believed that the US would/could not leave them behind; especially after promising them refuge.
The evacuation of Saigon was received by the Vietnamese with feelings of betrayal, grief, and fear. The Americans that got out of Saigon felt guilty because their “passport to salvation” was their big nose– as the Vietnamese called it. It was reported that the general Vietnamese belief was that Americans could not be trusted. This proved true with the evacuation which not only left so many at the hands of the Communist invasion, but when US banks closed in Saigon weeks before, they left thousands of Vietnamese unpaid.