... with the North Vietnamese army entering the outskirts of Saigon, a remarkable evacuation of American civilians and at-risk South Vietnamese was undertaken by a small number of CIA and military helicopter pilots.With a nation tired and distracted, a Watergate weakened Presidency, and a Democrat dominated Congress seeing a chance to force the defeat they wanted for years, the nation of South Vietnam that over 58,000 American died to defend from the persistent Communist aggression that also took the lives of somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 South Vietnamese military killed in action, was left to die of neglect at the hands of their brothers.
Since the airport was under attack, it was impossible to use fixed wing aircraft to evacuate the many thousands of Vietnamese allies who would surely suffer once the North took over.
Dubbed Operation Frequent Wind, pilots from Air America and several search and rescue units began to land on rooftops all over Saigon where American civilians, alerted to the evacuation by the playing of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” over the radio, had assembled. Vietnamese who were thought to be most at risk of North Vietnamese reprisals were airlifted from the US embassy.
All told, the few dozen pilots, flying in some cases for 14 hours straight, managed to evacuate more than 7,000 people.
Those 7,000 were just the opening of what would be almost a 1,000,000 who came here (and more recently). They have become almost ideal Americans by almost every measure, and those small children who were carried in leaking boats or aircraft running on fumes ... many of them serve with us in the military.
As just an example of a great people who came here for all the right reasons and have become such a great addition to our nation, I would like to point you to Brig. Gen. Viet Luong, USA;
Forty years ago this week Luong's father, a South Vietnamese Marine major, called an urgent family meeting at their home in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. The city, his father told them, soon would fall to the North Vietnamese — the communist forces he was helping the Americans fight.Head on over to NPR and read it all - and listen to the interview.
They sat around the table — father, mother, seven sisters and Luong, then age 9.
"My sisters actually had a very strong opinion — like 'we need to stay until we find a way out as a family,' " he recalls.
His father worried they wouldn't be able to escape together. He suggested Luong, the only boy, and one of his sisters should flee the country in the hopes the family could be preserved.
"I was depressed! I didn't want to get sent to — you know, to the U.S. I didn't want to ... my dad, to go to the jungles," he says, his voice catching in his throat. "It was pretty tough, as a kid."
They were helped by an American reporter who was a friend. Luong still remembers the night he came to give the entire family official government papers that would get them into Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just north of Saigon. From there, they'd be taken out of Vietnam.
"It's like, 'OK, pack your stuff — do not talk to any of your friends, just pack some clothes,' and his driver snuck us out at night," Luong says.
Soon after the family arrived at the air base, rockets and mortars started landing.
"Yeah, it was close enough where I can hear people groaning from getting hit," he says.
The general stops for a moment, and looks down. His eyes begin to fill with tears.
"I was lying then on my stomach," he says. "We're Catholics, so I was saying my Hail Marys, you know. And uh ... and so we were scared, so my dad looked up and said 'look — don't be afraid.' He said 'you're missing out on a monumental moment in history,' right? 'You need to be able to see what's going on.' So that calmed us down for a little bit, but it was really hopeless until the Marines came in."
On April 29, 1975, the family boarded a Marine helicopter and headed out to the South China Sea. When they landed on a U.S. carrier, Luong was disoriented.
"I still remember that moment to this day, because as soon as we landed I looked at my dad and I said, uh, I said 'Dad, where are we at?' And he looked at me and he says, 'hey, we're aboard the American carrier USS Hancock.' And I say, 'well, what does that mean?' And he looked at me and he said, 'that means nothing in the world can harm you now.' "
Since my youth, we have moved a lot closer to the truth about the Vietnam War from the tightly controlled narrative of the late 70s through the mid-80s, where all we got was the pop-media smears and the Hollywood libel. It is hard to pick a pivot point, but perhaps B.G. Burkett's 1998, Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History.
Who knows - but at last in the last two decades, those who served in the Vietnam War are getting some of the truth of the good fight available for people to learn about. More now know of the victory of '72 and the shame of '75 and the 93rd and 94th Congress.
With more time, people will also see not the cliche, but the real people we abandoned in South Vietnam ... those good people who, like BG Luong, have become great Americans.
Look at what they overcame. From nothing, look at what they have accomplished. With a baseline-0 "privilege" - look what they have accomplished. Bravo Zulu to them, and they are truly a great thing of value we did get from our years of Vietnam. A people, fullbore.