Last Days in Vietnam

Synopsis: During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront the same moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate U.S. citizens only--or to risk treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can.
Director(s): Rory Kennedy
Production: American Experience/PBS Films
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 10 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
98 min

As we began to contemplate evacuation,

the question, the burning question was,

"Who goes,

and who gets left behind?"

I borrowed a truck

and I basically sent

the signal to my folks,

and this meant a group of

South Vietnamese majors,

lieutenant colonels,

colonels and their families

to muster at an address

in downtown Saigon.

I drove down there, they

loaded up onto the truck,

and I drove them to the airbase.

And I had told them, "When

you hear three thumps,

"that means hold the babies' mouths.

"Don't breathe, don't

talk, don't make any noise

because we're going

through the gatepost. "

I saluted in uniform

as a captain of the United States Army.

The guard waved me through,

and I drove straight

out to the flight line

to an aircraft that was awaiting.

One Vietnamese colonel that was

putting his family on the plane,

he had wanted to stay in

Vietnam to defend the country.

And this full colonel had,

like, eight kids and a wife.

And he was in tears, the family...

The family were in tears,

and I said to him, "Get on the plane.

"Just... go.

Go. "

It was a terrible, terrible,

terrible moral dilemma

for everybody.

We today have concluded

an agreement to end the war

and bring peace with honor in Vietnam.

We have adopted a plan

for the complete withdrawal

of all U.S. combat ground forces.

We are finally bringing

American men home.

We who made the agreement

thought that it would be the beginning

not of peace in the American sense,

but the beginning of

a period of coexistence

which might evolve as it

did in Korea into two states.

Reconciliation between

North and South Vietnam

we knew would be extremely difficult.

But I was hopeful.

Because of the Paris Agreement,

American soldiers were going home.

But I was on my way back to Vietnam.

I was assigned to Saigon

in the first week of August 1973,

so about six months after the ceasefire.

I would say that between

the State Department people

and CIA people,

the contractors who were there

to maintain infrastructure,

maintain aircraft,

as well as people like me,

we had 5,000 to 7,000

Americans in country.

A lot of the guys had

Vietnamese girlfriends and wives,

in many cases with children.

In general, things were eerily calm

and in many ways normal in Saigon.

My sense was that we

were gonna be there,

you know, pretty much

for a long time to come.

I was assigned to the

American embassy in Saigon.

I was in charge

of the 84 Marine security

guards that were there,

making sure that they kept up

with their physical fitness training.

We were there to protect American lives

as well as American property.

It was just a

day-to-day job.

The Ambassador there was

a guy named Graham Martin,

a North Carolinian, just as I was.

He spoke with a slow Southern drawl.

He was a great gentleman.

He was a cold warrior in the old stripe.

He'd lost an adopted

son in Vietnam to combat.

And he was not gonna give up

South Vietnam to the Communists.

He was determined to keep U.S. aid

flowing into Saigon.

When the ceasefire occurred in 1973,

everybody toasted it with Bloody Marys

in the U.S. embassy.

It was a grand party.

We thought peace was at hand.

But the Paris Peace Accord

was a masterpiece of ambiguity.

In order to get President

Thieu and the South Vietnamese

to go along with the Paris Agreement,

President Nixon pulled

out all the stops,

and in a letter to President Thieu,

he promised that if the North Vietnamese

were to substantially violate

the terms of the Paris Agreement,

the United States would

respond with full force.

In other words, reenter the war.

The North Vietnamese

viewed Nixon as a madman.

They were terrified of him.

They believed that Nixon, if necessary,

would bring back American air power.

But in August 1974, he was gone.

Nixon resigned because of Watergate.

And overnight, everything changed.

Hanoi suddenly saw the road

to Saigon as being open.

The South Vietnamese population

had ample reason to fear

the Vietnamese Communists.

The Communist conduct

throughout the course of the war

had been violent and unforgiving.

For example, when the city of Hue

was taken over by the North Vietnamese,

several thousand people

on a long blacklist

were rounded up...


government civil servants,

people who were known


And they were executed,

in some cases even buried alive.

So panic was but a millimeter away.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees

are in a blind rush to flee even further

from the rapidly advancing Communists.

Bruce Dunning reports.

President Thieu

broadcast a strong appeal

to the soldiers and

the people of Da Nang,

urging them to stay and fight.

As the enemy approaches,

the panic has swept

from the coastal city's

crowded backstreets and pagodas

onto runways at the airport.

Our plane is surrounded here.

I don't know how the

hell we're gonna get out.

We're racing down the runway,

leaving behind hundreds

and thousands of people.

Another dozen of them running along,

grabbing at the air stair.

We're pulling them on as fast as we can.

There's a sea of humanity jamming on.

Impossible to stop the crowd.

We're pulling away.

We're leaving them behind.

We're pulling up with the...

People are falling off the air stairs!

The plane is taking off.

It was every man for himself.

So you saw the World Airways flight

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Mark Bailey

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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