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Remembering the fall of Saigon: thirty years ago, the end of the Vietnam War marked the worst defeat in U.S. history.


Students should understand

* what happened 30 years ago, in the final days of the Vietnam War.


evacuation: the removal of people or things to protect them from impending harm.


After students have read both this news item and the American history play (pp. 12-15), help them recognize connections between the two. The news item describes the final days of the war that had such an impact on the life and legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson.


The American phase of the Vietnam War began in 1957. The country was divided in two: Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. The U.S. supported South Vietnam--first with advisers then, in 1965, with military force. An estimated 58,000 U.S. troops, 250,000 South Vietnamese troops, 1 million North Vietnamese troops, and 2 million civilians died in the war. (Also see the time line Skills Master, p. T-6.)


CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why was the Americans' departure from Saigon done in such a chaotic manner? (The general of the North Vietnamese troops, waiting outside Saigon, had given the city 24 hours to surrender. (The deadline was later extended an additional day.)

COMPREHENSION: Why did the North Vietnamese seizure of Saigon mean the end of the war? (Saigon was South Vietnam's capital, its seat of government. Once the North Vietnamese took that, they controlled the entire country.)


CONDUCT AN INTERVIEW: Have students ask relatives what they remember of the Vietnam War. What did they see on the TV news? How did the war affect their lives?



* Power, authority, and governance: How the long struggle for control of Vietnam ended.



* Warren, Andrea, Escape From Saigon: How a Vietnamese War Orphan Became an American Boy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004). Grades 5-9.

* Young, Marilyn B., et al., The Vietnam War: A History in Documents (Oxford University Press, 2003). Grades 7 & up.


* Vietnam: The Next Generation Airing on the PBS series Independent Lens, May 17. See /independentlens/vietnam.


* A Photographer's Diary: April 20-30,1975 /wcintro.htm

(Teachers should review first.)

April 29, 1975, was a day unlike any other in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. That morning, the American radio station issued a cryptic (mysterious) report. "The temperature is 105 degrees and rising," an announcer said. The station then broadcast Bing Crosby's recording of "White Christmas." The odd broadcast was a signal for Americans: Get out immediately!

On the outskirts of the city, troops of the enemy, North Vietnam, were waiting to sweep into Saigon and bring an end to almost 30 years of civil war.

The conflict in Vietnam had torn the United States apart. Since the early 1960s, and especially under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the U.S. military had fought beside the South against the Communist North. But as U.S. casualties mounted, millions of Americans came to believe that the war was a tragic mistake.

In a January 1973 treaty with North Vietnam, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon agreed to withdraw U.S. troops. Only a small force remained to protect U.S. workers. Fighting stopped for a while. But most military experts believed that it was only a matter of time before the superior North Vietnamese army would overwhelm South Vietnam.

"The American War"

In January 1975, the war resumed. North Vietnamese forces, under General Van Tien Dung, swiftly advanced to the outskirts of Saigon. On April 28, General Dung gave the city 24 hours to surrender.

During the previous week, at the order of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, helicopters had airlifted more than 3,000 people to ships in the South China Sea. Most evacuees were South Vietnamese who were thought to be in danger from the Communists. Now, because of North Vietnamese shelling, there was only one safe evacuation point left: the American Embassy.

The city was in chaos. "Thousands of Vietnamese were at the [embassy] wall, hoping to climb over [the barbed wire]," photographer Neal Ulevich of the Associated Press later wrote. "The Marines ..., kicking Vietnamese [back], started grabbing the Westerners by their collars and hauling them up."

Through the night of the 29th, the last 1,000 Americans and about 6,000 South Vietnamese were airlifted out. Many were left behind.

The next morning, after the last helicopter left, General Dung's forces took Saigon--soon renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the North's leader. The conflict the Vietnamese commonly called "the American War" was finally over.


* Match each person or phrase in the left column with the correct description in the right column.
-- 6. Bing Crosby A. North Vietnamese
 general whose forces
 took Saigon in 1975

-- 7. Van Tien Dung B. President who ordered
 Saigon airlift

-- 8. Gerald R. Ford C. leader for whom
 Saigon was renamed

-- 9. Ho Chi Minh D. his song was a signal
 to leave Saigon

-- 10. Richard M. Nixon E. President who agreed
 to withdraw U.S. troops


6. D

7. A

8. B

9. C

10. E
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:May 9, 2005
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