Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975
The city of Saigon fell on April 30, 1975; this ended the Vietnam War and reunified Vietnam under communist rule. The fall of the city, the capitol of South Vietnam, was chaotic, violent and frightening; it was also the occasion of a massive and widespread evacuation to remove the remaining Americans in the city, as well as a number of South Vietnamese.
On January 27, 1973, the U.S. agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from Vietnam; this was largely complete by the end of 1973. The conflict continued throughout 1974, with the U.S. cutting all American military aid in August 1974. When the U.S. withdrew, it was under ceasefire terms. North Vietnam violated that cease fire in the two years following the U.S. withdrawal and the eventual fall of the city of Saigon. The cease fire meant little, as it had been negotiated by President Nixon.
The airport at Saigon had been bombed. Planes, which would have offered a more efficient means of evacuation, were not an option. The evacuation used military helicopters. Armed Forces Radio played Bing Crosby’s White Christmas as a signal, and Americans, and those Vietnamese chosen by the Americans assembled at designated locations. Operation Frequent Wind had begun.
Helicopter pilots flew mission after mission that day, removing people; many lined up desperately hoping to leave. Choppers flew with a single pilot, and took on as many passengers as possible each trip. They picked people up from the embassy and building rooftops, many pilots flying without rest for 18 hours that day, delivering load after load to waiting aircraft carriers. A final mission the following morning picked up the 11 U.S. Marines forgotten at the U.S. Embassy the day before.
Only three hours later, the North Vietnamese took the presidential palace; Saigon was now Ho Chi Minh City.