A South Vietnamese father carries his son and a bag of household possessions as he leaves his village near Trang Bom on Route 1 northwest of Saigon April 23, 1975. The area was becoming politically and militarily unstable as communist forces advanced, just days before the fall of Saigon. (AP Photo/KY Mhan/namvietnews.com)
“At a speech at Tulane University, President Gerald Ford says the Vietnam War is finished as far as America is concerned. ‘Today, Americans can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.’ This was devastating news to the South Vietnamese, who were desperately pleading for U.S. support as the North Vietnamese surrounded Saigon for the final assault on the capital city.” (History.com)
On April 23, 1975, Congress authorized funds for humanitarian relief in South Vietnam, and for the evacuation of remaining American personnel. No funds were authorized for military aid.
Saigon was virtually surrounded by North Vietnamese Army troops, in clear and obvious violation of previous peace agreements. The President of South Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, had resigned and fled two days earlier.
The door was beginning to close on the Vietnam War.
That same month, the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia and stories had begun to spread in neighboring South Vietnam about the new Cambodian government’s brutality toward those who had worked for the other side (1.7 million people – or 21 percent of Cambodia’s population – lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979). (Yale Cambodian Genocide Program). Those Vietnamese who had worked for the Americans felt especially vulnerable if Saigon were to fall.
This set the stage for the final American evacuation of Saigon that would begin a week later. That story will be posted next week.