KURT BERGSTROM --
BLACK APRIL '75
THE COLLAPSE AND FALL OF THE SOUTH
BLACK APRIL '75
THE COLLAPSE AND FALL OF THE SOUTH
The end as I could see it started on the 4th of March, with a probing offensive into the central highlands (our direct involvement started here in 1965). Being well aware of the domestic problems following the Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation, the North Vietnamese highly doubted the U.S. would respond. When we did not, this triggered the larger offensive.
South Vietnamese officers used helicopters to take their families and flee the country. This reduced morale amongst the South Vietnamese troops.
Additionally a mass exodus of South Vietnamese citizens flooded the roadways and distracted troops as they tried to seek out their families and take them to safety. (Most ARVN units lived in the areas they were assigned & fought, their families being fairly nearby). On the 18th of March, (The Convoy of Tears), the Republic of Vietnam announces the evacuation of three highland provinces. Names where fearsome battles had been fought years before like Ban Me Thuot, Cheo Reo, A Shau, Pleiku, Kontum and Dalat (site of the ARVN’s military academy), fall. The ARVN suffer ruinous losses, the 22nd and 23rd Infantry Divisions are destroyed.
I’m called back, from Okinawa, while recovering from a broken rib, (where at that time America was dismantling the 1st Special Forces Group, we’d only just returned the Ryukyu’s to Japan). The Montagnard tribes and other aboriginal groups who had wholeheartedly supported the Americans are left to their fate, as a quarter-to-half a million civilians attempt to get to the coastal provinces in “The Convoy of Tears”. Route 7 is lined with piles of corpses, perhaps 50,000 died. The northern liberators again slaughtered women and children in stalled columns fleeing the Central Highlands on Highway 21, another “Trail of Tears,” where as many as half die. The 22nd & 23rd infantry divisions remnants are evacuated from coastal enclaves, like Tuy Hoa, after gallantly fighting to hold the passes to the coast.
The pace of collapse quickens as The NVA capitalizes on these operational successes. The northern provinces, Quang Tri and Hue, the populace attempts to evacuate. Tam Ky a large provincial capital falls, and then Da Nang falls on 30 MAR 75 with a tremendous bloodletting.
Thousands manage to
get away in a horrendous collapse of order on the beaches, just days after the Highlands debacle.
In rapid succession Qui Nhon a large industrial city, the huge naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, & the Special Forces base at Nha Trang are lost from 31MAR75 to 3APR75.
Almost 2/3rds of the country is now lost.
The embassy staff has us park all the limo’s accredited over in the infield of the horse race track in Cholon, leaving the keys in the ignitions. Cholon- was ‘ChinaTown’ with half the nation’s ethnic Chinese minority. Cholon has its own problems after the fall with hard crackdowns on “bourgeois elements” and “capitalists”. In 1978 Vietnam expels 745,000 ethnic Chinese from the country, they are not allowed personal property, nor are they remunerated for property left behind, one of the events precipitating the Sino-Vietnam War of ’79, of which Americans know little or nothing.
We leave warehouses full of war materials & PX goods, I know of a CIA depot of ‘spook’ type weapons (sanitized, special sniping rifles etc.) & gear that comes back to haunt us from the mideast, and elsewhere, later. It wasn’t the only one. There were at least 3 more that I knew of, in Saigon, and one each in Nha Trang & My Tho.
Expensive carpets, tapestries, real silverware and fine china are left in piles on the ground floor of the embassy, (your tax dollars at work), as the country falls faster than the ‘experts’ predict. I watch bales of money being burned along with classified documents. The last Marines did haul down the flag.
Operation ‘Frequent Wind’ (designed for the evacuation of the embassy, the remaining Americans, and Vietnamese under threat), is activated far too late, with the playing of ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ over Armed Forces Radio Network. There was no time to evacuate the Vietnamese who needed to go, never-mind anything else.
From Tan Son Nhut & Bien Hoa airbases, American C-130's designed to carry 60 troops, take off loaded with up to 240 refugees. C-141's with up to 316. This goes on until the bases are in range and come under rocket attack. From then on, it’s CH-53’s & UH-1’s only from rooftops & the embassy compound. Former Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky (and family), fly’s out to the fleet in his personal chopper, lands on the carrier Midway, where the Marine security detachment disarms him of his pearl handled 45’s and he’s granted asylum as a political refugee. Former President Nguyen Van Thieu has already left days before for Taiwan on a DC6., rumored to also be carrying the country's gold reserves....
The 5 carriers of the 7th fleet dump millions of dollars worth of aircraft overboard to make room in the hangars for the thousands of fleeing refugees. All my personal effects & gear were left, i had my web-gear, weapons & the uniform on my back. I land on the Blue Ridge, for a quick debrief with some ‘spook’ assets. I’m chopper'ed shortly after to the carrier Hancock. The Marines on the Hancock graciously lend me a couple sets of their fatigues, & drawers, (they don’t get much space at all for their stuff on a ‘float’), for the trip to Subic. Got a lot of good natured ribbing as a dogface living with jarheads. 8^)
Only bright spot during a spectacularly nightmare-ish time.
All Active Military went to 'debrief' one-at-a-time, on the way to Subic Bay, with the legend, COL Harry Summers, who wrote a book about it. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War.
What a sorry armada it was making their way to Subic (where Ferdinand Marcos insists that only 2500 refugees can stay at a time, necessitating further jockeying and flights with limited resources), and on to the refugee camps on Guam, Wake, Yokota AFB Japan, and eventual resettlement in the states and elsewhere.
The United States turns its back on the sacrifices made by 58,000+ dead and 139,000 who
came home with life-altering injuries, out of 2+ million who served. This is far bigger than even those grisly statistics, 18 million people fall under communist rule, by the time Saigon fell, 675,000 refugees, flee in the thunder of collapse, and another 500,000 become 'boat people.' With forced relocation and re-education camps for some 2+ million more who had outwardly supported the US. As collateral damage, Cambodia’s society completely shreds itself suffering a staggering 25% devastation due to genocide. The cost to the North is unknown but estimated as high as 2 million dead.
Finally, it was over, and there was a void, a sort of ache that would last for years.
Leading ARVN officers who committed suicide in the thunder of collapse, rather than flee & accept asylum. Total suicides were estimated "at several hundreds". (According to Vietnam's Forgotten Army- Andrew Wiest, Jim Webb).
It was much worse. There was a large catholic population that had fled the north in 1954, at that time they resettled north & northeast of Saigon. But they refused to leave the country at the end.
My CO had told me to try to convince as many as possible that I had contact with to flee with us. Very few takers. They called me ‘Doitsu-San’ (the German). I told them I had left and continued to fight the communists, and they could too. They would respond that Germany & the states were culturally very close, but they could not see themselves making that transition. (Vietnam has a strong family tradition of generations tending their ancestors graves.)
ARVN Brigadier General LE VAN HUNG (1933-1975)
ARVN Brigadier General LE NGUYEN VY (1933-1975)
ARVN Major General NGUYEN KHOA NAM (1927-1975)
ARVN Brigardier General TRAN VAN HAI (1927-1975)
ARVN General PHAM VAN PHU (1927-1975)
They largely staffed the 18th infantry division, and fought the last great battle, Xuan Loc.
They earned the title “The Supermen”
2nd time in my life i saw blood in pools on the ground.
Operation Babylift 1975, which evacuated 2,600 children and took them back to the United States for adoption.
at least some happy endings, but not all a C5A Galaxy crashed (shot down?), 'cause still unknown,' the Air Force's C5A fleet worldwide was grounded for several weeks.
Our last losses, died in a rocket attack on Tan Son Nhut. One from Massachusetts, big Marine from Woburn, he'd just bought an F150 with the big-block.
CPL Charles McMahon
The Swiss legation eventually negotiated the return of their bodies, almost a year after the fall.
MISS SAIGON, the musical?
never saw it, i lived it.