Victory for North Vietnam (1973–75)
Victory for North Vietnam (1973–75)
When the last U.S. troops left Vietnam in 1973, President Nguyen Van Thieu (1923– ) and his South Vietnamese government expressed deep unhappiness with the withdrawal. After all, the Communist government of North Vietnam was still trying to take control of the country. Thieu could only hope that continued U.S. economic aid and the threat of American military power would enable South Vietnam to withstand any military aggression by the North.
These hopes rapidly unraveled, however. The U.S. Congress made major cuts in American economic assistance to South Vietnam. Around this same period, the Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon (1913–1994; president 1969–1974)—who had vowed to defend the South from northern aggression—to resign from office. Finally, South Vietnam's economy and military suffered a series of setbacks that made the Thieu government even more vulnerable.
In early 1975, North Vietnam launched a major military offensive into the South in hopes of winning the war once and for all. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) expected the invasion to be a bloody and costly one. But the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) collapsed, triggering a wave of panic and chaos across much of the country. North Vietnam's forces rolled across the countryside unopposed, capturing city after city. In late April they captured South Vietnam's capital city, Saigon. The fall of Saigon marked the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of a new era in Vietnam under a single Communist government.
Nixon's final months
In 1973, the United States and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Treaty, which provided for the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. forces from Vietnam. In the months following the signing of the treaty, however, both South Vietnam and North Vietnam kept fighting in violation of the ceasefire agreement. These violations concerned U.S. officials. But the continuing hostilities did not prevent American lawmakers from taking a series of steps designed to ensure that the United States would never again become entangled in Vietnam. For example, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Case-Church Amendment, which explicitly prohibited future U.S. military involvement in Indochina. In November 1973, Congress passed the so-called War Powers Act. This legislation put new limits on the president's powers to commit U.S. troops to military operations without congressional approval.
President Nixon opposed congressional efforts to limit his military authority. But by late 1973, he did not have the political power to stop Congress. His administration had become consumed by investigations into the "Watergate" scandal, a June 1972 burglary of the Democratic Party's presidential campaign headquarters at Washington, D.C.'s Watergate Hotel. This illegal break-in had been staged by operatives associated with Nixon's presidential campaign in order to gather secret campaign information. As the investigation into the burglary unfolded, it became clear that members of the Nixon administration—and possibly the president himself— had tried to cover up the burglary. The investigation also showed that Republican agents had engaged in a wide range of illegal activities against Democrats and other political oppo nents for several years.
By early 1974, Nixon's presidency was in serious trou ble. Several of his key aides were indicted (brought up on legal charges) for crimes associated with the Watergate cover-up. In addition, the scandal made him very unpopular with the majority of the American public. Sensing his weakness, mem bers of the Democratic Party kept heavy political pressure on him. Some of Nixon's fellow Republicans, meanwhile, became reluctant to defend him. They worried that supporting the president might hurt them with voters.
In July 1974, the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee moved to impeach Nixon. The U.S. Constitution says that all federal officials can be impeached (brought up on legal charges) and removed from elected office if they are found guilty of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The House of Representatives brings the charges and acts as prosecutors in an impeachment trial. The Judiciary Committee introduced three articles of impeachment against Nixon, accusing him of obstructing justice, abusing presidential power, and refusing to obey subpoenas (legal directives to appear in court and provide testimony).
On August 5, Nixon released audiotapes showing that he had participated in the Watergate cover-up as early as June 1972. This revelation stunned both the American public and Congress, which moved ahead with its plan to put the president on trial. Convinced that he would be convicted and forcibly removed from office, Nixon decided to resign instead. He made his resignation announcement on August 8, 1974, and left office the next day. Vice President Gerald R. Ford (1913–; president 1974–1977) was promptly sworn in to succeed Nixon. One month later, Ford pardoned (officially forgave) Nixon for all federal crimes he may have committed during his presidency.
Growing problems in South Vietnam
President Thieu was disturbed by Nixon's resignation. After all, Nixon had promised South Vietnam continued American protection from North Vietnam. But Thieu believed that the United States would continue to honor its commitments in South Vietnam, no matter who was president.
In the meantime, Thieu ordered a series of major ground and air attacks against areas of South Vietnam controlled by the Communists. The 1973 Peace Accords signed by the United States and North Vietnam stated that the Communists would be allowed to participate in the formation of a new government in the South. But Thieu believed that he would not have to give the Communists a role in his government if he could regain control of Communist-held areas in South Vietnam.
These offensive operations failed to dislodge captured areas from NVA control. In fact, North Vietnamese forces responded with a series of counterattacks that enabled them to increase the amount of territory under their control. These military clashes disrupted food production and economic activity throughout South Vietnam. At the same time, rising world oil prices and the disappearance of free-spending U.S. military personnel crippled many South Vietnamese businesses. By mid-1974, the South Vietnamese economy was in a shambles, burdened by massive unemployment, terrible inflation (increases in the price of goods and services), and widespread corruption. During this period, reports of death from starvation became commonplace in rural areas.
U.S. financial support drops
South Vietnam was also hurt during this time by a dramatic drop in U.S. economic aid. Congress was sick and tired of pouring money into Vietnam. Many legislators agreed with Senator Edward Kennedy (1932–), who stated that it was time to end America's "endless support for an endless war." In addition, lawmakers knew that the American public wanted to put the war behind them. With these factors in mind, legislators cut financial assistance to South Vietnam from $2.3 billion in 1973 to $1 billion in 1974. In September 1974, Congress voted to cut military aid to South Vietnam for 1975 to $700 million, half of which would be consumed by shipping costs.
Some officials strongly objected to these cutbacks. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (1929–), for example, called the cuts a "failure of a moral commitment" to the South Vietnamese people. But these arguments were not enough to convince Congress to change its mind.
Combined with South Vietnam's other economic troubles, these cuts took a tremendous toll on the nation's military. Shortages of supplies, nonpayment of soldier salaries, bribery, and corruption became even bigger problems than they had been before. Some South Vietnamese pilots even refused to provide air support for military operations if they were not given bribery payments. In addition, the U.S. aid cutbacks had a negative impact on morale. Many South Vietnamese interpreted the cuts as a sign that their longtime ally was on the verge of abandoning them completely. This feeling became even stronger in January 1975, when President Ford stated that he could not imagine any circumstances under which the United States would reenter the war.
North Vietnam plans a new invasion
By late 1974, most of North Vietnam's leadership believed that the United States would not return to Vietnam. They thought that America's Vietnam War experience had created such deep unhappiness, frustration, and anger that its people would never allow U.S. forces to take part in the war again. With this in mind, the North made plans for another full-scale invasion of the South.
On two previous occasions, the 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1972 Easter Offensive, North Vietnam had launched massive offensives that failed (see Chapter 7, "The Tet Offensive (1968)" and Chapter 13, "America Withdraws from Vietnam (1971–1973)"). But the Communists believed that this invasion would have a different result. First, South Vietnam's military forces were scattered all across the country rather than concentrated in strong defensive areas. This flawed distribution of forces would make it easier for NVA troops to mount effective attacks. Even more importantly, northern leaders felt that South Vietnam would not be able to turn back the invasion without the benefit of U.S. air strikes. In this way, North Vietnam's hopes for a successful offensive rested on its belief that the United States would not respond to the attack with a new bombing campaign.
The capture of Phuoc Long
In December 1974, NVA forces launched an attack on Phuoc Long, a remote city located near the Cambodian border. The Communist forces quickly smashed the city's defenses, killing thousands of South Vietnamese troops in the process. By January 6, the NVA had captured the city and executed a number of provincial and village officials associated with the South Vietnamese government. North Vietnam then settled in to wait for the American response to the attack.
But the United States decided not to punish the attack with air strikes. At this point, North Vietnam's General Secretary Le Duan and other Communist leaders became even more confident that America had no intention of re-entering the war in any capacity. "When Phuoc Long fell in early 1975 it was not important militarily, but it was terribly important as a symbol of America's refusal to carry out this 'massive and brutal retaliation' that Nixon had promised Thieu," said CIA official Thomas Polgar in Tears Before the Rain. Vietnam historian Harry G. Summers, Jr. confirmed that the U.S. reaction to the attack on Phuoc Long sent a clear signal to the North. "The United States limited its response to diplomatic notes," Summers writes in Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. "North Vietnam had received the green light for the conquest of South Vietnam."
The attack on Ban Me Thuot
In March 1975, North Vietnam launched its third major invasion of the Vietnam War. The first target of the invading forces, led by General Van Tien Dung, was the central Vietnam city of Ban Me Thuot. Using overwhelming military power, the NVA captured the city on March 11, only one day after they began their assault.
President Thieu responded to the loss of Ban Me Thuot by abandoning South Vietnam's northern provinces and Central Highlands to the invaders. He ordered the withdrawal of all South Vietnamese troops to defensive positions in the Southern provinces. Thieu hoped that by concentrating his forces in the southern provinces, he could keep Saigon and other important cities out of Communist hands. His withdrawal order, however, proved disastrous for South Vietnam and its people.
"In the attack in Ban Me Thuot we surprised the South Vietnamese," recalled NVA Major General Tran Cong Man in Tears Before the Rain. "On the other hand, the South Vietnamese troops surprised us, too, because they became so disorganized so quickly . . . . We had expected a very intense and long battle with the South around Ban Me Thuot. But the way Mr. Thieu responded to the attack was not even within our imagination. In fact, his response created a great question in our minds as to whether or not this was a trap, a brilliant tactic to lure us in . . . . But when Thieu withdrew his troops from Pleiku [another city in central South Vietnam], we realized suddenly that there was no trap, and there was no plan, and the South was not up to fighting anymore. That is when we decided to chase them as fast as we could."
The "Convoy of Tears"
Thieu's withdrawal order created chaos. South Vietnamese military units completely fell apart as soldiers scrambled to gather family members—who were permitted to live near where they were stationed—for the flight to the safety of the south. The soldiers and their families were joined by hundreds of thousands of other South Vietnamese who feared the oncoming Communists. As the fleeing soldiers and refugees converged on the roads leading southward, the retreat turned into a miserable experience for everyone involved. Artillery shells roared into the columns of fleeing people, killing dozens of soldiers, women, and children with each blast. Starvation and illness claimed many other lives.
Still, the grim parade of refugees, which came to be known as the "Convoy of Tears," continued southward. "Survivors [of the Convoy of Tears] told of old people and babies crushed and left to die as military vehicles bulldozed through the slowly trudging civilians, who still clutched at cartloads of lifetime possessions," writes Michael Maclear in The Ten Thousand Day War. "In the stampede countless lost children died from the shells and from hunger. Only one in four of the vast human convoy reached the coast, with most of the civilians having fallen behind to await capture."
As his nation crumbled around him, Thieu appealed to the United States for help in turning back the invasion. But America refused to take any steps that might suck it back into the conflict. Congress even rejected President Ford's emergency request for $300 million in additional military aid for South Vietnam. "The legislators' vote seems to have reflected the wishes of the American people," writes George C. Herring in America's Longest War. "A few diehards [firm supporters of South Vietnam] issued one last appeal to honor the nation's commitments and defend the cause of freedom, and some Americans raised the specter [possibility] of a bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese would be slaughtered by the Communist conquerors. For the most part, however, such appeals fell on deaf ears. Weary of the seemingly endless involvement in Vietnam and pinched by an economic recession at home, Americans were not in a generous mood."
Northern forces continue their advance
By the end of March, cities all across the northern and central provinces of South Vietnam had fallen to the advancing Communist forces. On March 19, the North Vietnamese captured Quang Tri City. On March 25, the city of Hue was abandoned, its frightened population adding to the Convoy of Tears. Many of these refugees fled to Da Nang on the South China Sea in hopes of gaining passage on a southbound ship or plane. This flood of refugees swelled the coastal city's population to two million and triggered a complete breakdown in civil order. "People moved about frantically in search of relief and escape," recalls ARVN General Cao Van Vien. "The chaos and disorder were indescribable. Hunger, looting and crime were widespread."
This frightening environment became even worse when the advancing NVA troops began lobbing artillery shells into the city. These blasts increased the panic of the tens of thousands of refugees who swarmed the city's harbor and airport. An estimated 50,000 refugees and ARVN soldiers eventually managed to escape Da Nang by boat or plane, but most of the city's warscarred population were not so fortunate. They remained in the city when it fell to the Communists on March 30.
As NVA forces rolled across South Vietnam, U.S. President Ford made another attempt to secure emergency military aid from Congress. He urged American lawmakers to give the South Vietnamese a chance to succeed rather than "doom them to lingering death." But U.S. lawmakers remained opposed to such actions. "Congressmen responded heatedly that the South Vietnamese had abandoned more equipment in the northern provinces than could be purchased with the additional funds, and they argued that no amount of money could save an army that refused to fight," states Herring. Congress eventually approved a modest economic aid package for the South. But those funds were limited to operations for general humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of American reporters, business employees, and diplomatic personnel remaining in Vietnam.
The Battle of Xuan Loc
After capturing Hue and Da Nang, NVA forces continued to move southward. The complete collapse of South Vietnam's military enabled the Communists to capture dozens of towns and villages and huge sections of countryside with each passing day. On April 9, North Vietnam's invasion temporarily stalled at Xuan Loc, a city located about forty miles northeast of Saigon. In this town, a valiant force of South Vietnamese troops mounted a desperate defense. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, they managed to halt the Communist advance for almost two weeks. On April 22, however, Xuan Loc finally fell to the NVA forces. The Communists then set their sights on Saigon, South Vietnam's capital.
The fall of Saigon
As North Vietnam's military machine continued its steady advance, President Thieu finally realized that the United States was not going to send ground troops or air strikes to rescue his country. Thieu resigned on April 21 after delivering a tearful speech in which he blamed America for South Vietnam's collapse. "The United States has not respected its promises," he said. "It is inhumane. It is not trustworthy. It is irresponsible." Thieu turned the government over to Vice President Tran Van Huong, then fled the country.
By April 27, Saigon was completely surrounded by North Vietnamese forces. A day later, Tran Van Huong resigned the presidency and was succeeded by General Duong Van Minh. "It was commonly—and incorrectly, it turned out— believed that Minh would be acceptable to the North Vietnamese and that he alone of all the political figures in the South could arrive at a negotiated settlement with the advancing North Vietnamese Army," writes Larry Engelmann in Tears Before the Rain. "But that, too, proved to be an illusion. Minh found that there was no one willing to make an agreement with him. He had nothing to offer the advancing divisions of the North but surrender. His most important act in his brief tenure as President was to make an unconditional surrender to the North Vietnamese."
On the morning of April 29, the United States belat edly launched a helicopter evacuation of American and Viet namese civilians and military personnel who remained in Saigon to U.S. Navy ships waiting offshore. In addition, the vessels plucked thousands of desperate Vietnamese refugees out of the waters of the South China Sea, where they had fled on patrol boats, freighters, fishing trawlers, and other boats. Indeed, the evacuation took place in an environment of rising panic and chaos, as tens of thousands of South Vietnamese looked for some way to escape the Communist tanks and troops moving just outside the city's outskirts. They feared that North Vietnam's forces would go on a murderous rampage when they entered the city. The operation finally ended in the early morning hours of April 30, a few hours before North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the city streets and the Saigon government formally surrendered.
The evacuation succeeded in rescuing thousands of American citizens and South Vietnamese families. But millions of frightened South Vietnamese were left behind, including approximately 420 men and women who had time and again been promised a place on one of the evacuation helicopters. These South Vietnamese ranged from Saigon government offi cials to secretaries, housekeepers, and administrators who had served U.S. officers and embassy personnel in Saigon. They waited on the embassy roof for hours, scanning the horizon anxiously for the American helicopters that would deliver them to safety. But the helicopters never returned.
North Vietnam's capture of Saigon—which the Com munists renamed Ho Chi Minh City—ended the Vietnam War. The North's dream of defeating the South Vietnamese govern ment and its American allies and establishing a single, unified country under Communist rule had finally come true.
Determined to unify the war-torn nation, the Com munists did not engage in widespread slaughter of the city's residents, as many South Vietnamese and Americans had feared they would. But they did establish ruthless control over the South Vietnamese people. They imprisoned thousands of people who they viewed as enemies of the new Communist state. The government also sent tens of thousands of former South Vietnamese citizens to "re-education camps," where they endured harsh labor and countless hours of instruction in Communist philosophy. Finally, Vietnam's leadership imposed a strict system of socialism on the newly unified country. Under socialism, the government assumes control over all aspects of a society's economic and political life, and places restrictions on personal freedoms.
Cambodia falls to Khmer Rouge
As North Vietnam's Communist troops seized control of South Vietnam in April, Communist forces also registered decisive victories in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Cambo dia's long civil war ended on April 17, when the government formally surrendered to the Communist Khmer Rouge guerrills. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot (1928–1998), immediately instituted an almost unbelievably cruel and ruthless reign of terror that nearly destroyed Cambodia and its people.
Upon taking over, the Khmer Rouge renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea and reset the calendar at "Year Zero" to symbolize the beginning of a new era in the nation's history. They then forced all Cambodians out of cities and towns to labor in rural work camps under terrible conditions. The Khmer Rouge government also launched a policy to execute all educated people within the nation's borders. Soldiers subsequently tortured and murdered tens of thousands of teachers, doctors, engineers, government officials, police officers and anyone else who they viewed as a possible threat. The murderous policies of the Khmer Rouge created a tremendous flood of terrified refugees and resulted in the deaths of an estimated one million Cambodians (one-seventh of the entire country's population) by execution, starvation, or disease by 1978.
Communist triumph in Laos
A new Communist government also came to power in 1975 in Laos. The Pathet Lao Communists gained control of the central government on August 23, 1975. In December, the Lao monarchy that had ruled Laos for 600 years was formally abolished, replaced by the People's Democratic Republic of Laos. During this time, the Pathet Lao launched a ruthless campaign to kill perceived enemies of their Communist rule. As in Cambodia, the main targets of this campaign were teachers, engineers, and other educated people. Fearing for their lives, an estimated 350,000 Laotians (10 percent of the country's population) fled the country. Many settled in refugee camps in Thailand, but an estimated 150,000 eventually resettled in the United States, where they tried to build new lives for themselves.
Butler, David. The Fall of Saigon: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.
Dung, Van Tien. Our Great Spring Victory: An Account of the Liberation ofSouth Vietnam. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
Ford, Gerald R. A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.
Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942–1992. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Herring, George C. America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam,1950–1975. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.
Hosmer, Stephen T., et al., eds. The Fall of South Vietnam: Statements byVietnamese Military and Civilian Leaders. Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1978.
Isaacs, Arnold R. Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945–1975. New York: Avon, 1981.
MacPherson, Myra. Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation. New York: Doubleday, 1984.
Snepp, Frank. Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End. New York: Random House, 1977.
Summers, Harry G., Jr. "Final Days of South Vietnam," in American History (April 1995).
Summers, Harry G., Jr. Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Vickery, Michael. Cambodia, 1975–1982. South End Press, 1984.
Wiesner, Louis A. Victims and Survivors: Displaced Persons and Other WarVictims in Vietnam, 1954–1975. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Words to Know
ARVN The South Vietnamese army, officially known as the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam. The ARVN fought on the same side as U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
Cambodia A southeast Asian nation located on the western border of South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia experienced its own civil war between its pro-U.S. government and Communist rebels known as the Khmer Rouge.
Communism A political system in which the government controls all resources and means of producing wealth. By eliminating private property, this system is designed to create an equal society with no social classes. However, Communist governments in practice often limit personal freedom and individual rights.
Hanoi The capital city of Communist North Vietnam. Also an unofficial shorthand way of referring to the North Vietnamese government.
Khmer Rouge Communist-led rebel forces that fought for control of Cambodia during the Vietnam War years. The Khmer Rouge overthrew the U.S.backed government of Lon Nol in 1975.
Laos A Southeast Asian nation located on the western border of North Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Laos experienced its own civil war between U.S.backed forces and Communist rebels known as the Pathet Lao.
North Vietnam The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War (1946–54), divided the nation of Vietnam into two sections. The northern section, which was led by a Communist government under Ho Chi Minh, was officially known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, but was usually called North Vietnam.
NVA The North Vietnamese Army, which assisted the Viet Cong guerilla fighters in trying to conquer South Vietnam. These forces opposed the United States in the Vietnam War.
Offensive A sudden, aggressive attack by one side during a war.
Saigon The capital city of U.S.-supported South Vietnam. Also an unofficial shorthand way of referring to the South Vietnamese government.
South Vietnam Created under the Geneva Accords of 1954, the southern section of Vietnam was known as the Republic of South Vietnam. It was led by a U.S.supported government.
Watergate A political scandal that forced U.S. President Richard Nixon to resign from office in 1974.
People to Know
Nguyen Van Thieu (1923–) President of South Vietnam, 1967–1973.
Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) Elected as the 37th president of the United States in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War. Resigned from office during the Watergate scandal in 1974.
Pol Pot (1928–1998) Head of the Communist-led Khmer Rouge forces that took control of Cambodia in 1976. As prime minister of Cambodia from 1976 to 1979, he oversaw a violent transformation of society that resulted in the deaths of up to two million citizens.
A South Vietnamese Soldier Recalls the Capture of Da Nang
Pham Van Xinh was a security officer with the South Vietnamese military in 1975, when North Vietnam launched its final invasion of the South. In Larry Engelmann's Tears Before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam, he recalls what it was like when the Communists assumed control of Da Nang:
I was in Danang when it fell to the Communists . . . . We had been stationed at Tam Ky, then we were ordered to go to Danang. But when we got off our ship in Danang, we found that our commanding officers had taken another ship and had gone south. We had been abandoned. We didn't know what we were supposed to do or where we were supposed to go. We were like a snake without a head.
Some of the men got on refugee ships going south. I did not. I was afraid because I knew about the Hue massacre of 1968, when the Communists had killed thousands of Vietnamese. We thought they would do that again, we thought they would kill all of the soldiers first. So we threw away our uniforms and put on civilian clothes.
When the Communists arrived in Danang, at first they did not do anything terrible. Nobody was arrested at first and nobody was sent to a prison camp. But then, after a couple of days, we discovered that the Communists had lists of people who had cooperated with the Americans. Those people were called traitors, and the Communists said they were very dangerous. I don't know how many names were on the lists, but I did see many people arrested. Those who were on a special list were shot right away, right there in the street. The Communists said that those people did not deserve to live. It was not like an execution, really. It was more like a murder in the street. They did not even lead them away as they did in Hue. They just killed them where they found them.
A North Vietnamese Commander Recalls the Fall of Saigon
Van Tien Dung was commander in chief of North Vietnam's military in 1975, when the North successfully invaded South Vietnam to end the war. In the following excerpt from his book Our Great Spring Victory: An Account of the Liberation of South Vietnam, he gives his version of events in the last hours before Saigon fell to his army:
The American evacuation was carried out from the tops of thirteen tall buildings chosen as landing pads for their helicopters. The number of these landing pads shrank gradually as tongues of fire from our advancing troops came closer. At the American embassy, the boarding point for the evacuation copters was a scene of monumental confusion, with the Americans' flunkies fighting their way in, smashing doors, climbing walls, climbing each other's backs, tussling, brawling, and trampling each other as they sought to flee .... [When U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin] left the embassy for the East Sea, it signaled the shameful defeat of U.S. imperialism [the act of extending political power over another country] after thirty years of intervention and military adventures in Vietnam . . . . They mobilized as many as 6 million American soldiers in rotation, dropped over 10 million tons of bombs, and spent over $300 billion, but in the end the U.S. ambassador had to crawl up to the helicopter pad looking for a way to flee . . . .
[North Vietnamese forces then captured several important locations in the city, including Saigon's military headquarters and the radio station.] As we looked at the combat operations map, the five wings of our troops seemed like five lotuses blossoming out from our five major objectives . . . . The Second Army Corps seized "Independence Palace," the place where the quisling leaders [traitors under the control of foreigners], those hirelings of the United States, had sold our independence, traded in human blood, and carried on their smuggling. Our soldiers immediately rushed upstairs to the place where the quisling cabinet was meeting, and arrested the whole central leadership of the Saigon administration, including their president, right on the spot. Our soldiers'vigorous actions and firm declarations revealed the spirit of a victorious army. By 11:30 A.M. on April 30 the revolutionary flag flew from "Independence Palace"; this became the meeting point for all the wings of liberating troops.
At the front headquarters, we turned on our radios to listen. The voice of the quisling president called on his troops to put down their weapons and surrender unconditionally to our troops. Saigon was completely liberated! Total victory! We were completely victorious! All of us at headquarters jumped up and shouted, embraced and carried each other around on our shoulders. The sound of applause, laughter, and happy, noisy, chattering speech was as festive as if spring had just burst upon us. It was an indescribably joyous scene. Le Duc Tho and Pham Hung embraced me and all the cadres [core groups of leaders] and fighters present. We were all so happy we were choked with emotion . . . . This historic and sacred, intoxicating and completely satisfying moment was one that comes once in a generation, once in many generations. Our generation had known many victorious mornings, but there had been no morning so fresh and beautiful, so radiant, so clear and cool, so sweet-scented as this morning of total victory, a morning which made babes older than their years and made old men young again.