From the Archives, 1973: U.S. quits Vietnam as Saigon teeters

First published in The Age on April 30, 1975

U.S. quits Vietnam

Rescue armada at Vung Tau as helicopters lift out Americans

Agreement on truce, says Saigon report

SAIGON. April 29. — The last Americans were evacuated from Saigon today, leaving behind a confused and panic-stricken capital.

Front page of The Age published on April 30, 1975. “U.S. quits Vietnam”.Credit:The Age Archives

Only hours later, South Vietnamese Government sources said that the Administration and the Viet Cong had reached agreement in principle on a ceasefire.

Six giant helicopters swooped low over the city to pick up Americans from the roof of their embassy and from the top of apartment buildings nearby.

Others braved anti-aircraft fire to lift Americans from Tan Son Nhut airport while U.S. jets patrolled overhead.

At least one anti-aircraft battery was attacked by the U.S. fighter-bombers.

The helicopters flew to Vung Tau, 70 km from Saigon, where a U.S. fleet, including aircraft carriers, is standing 64km offshore.

Elsewhere in the country, small groups of Americans were reported making their way to the coast in barges and buses.

The evacuation ends two decades of American involvement in Vietnam.

AAP-Reuter correspondent Neil Davis, who was evacuated from Phnom Penh by the Americans shortly before it fell, said today’s evacuation was basically the same, but on a bigger scale.

The American consul general from Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, with six marines, 16 other Americans and about 100 Vietnamese, was reported to be with two ships under attack by South Vietnamese helicopters on the Mekong River.

Military radio could he heard promising U.S. naval air support for the ships, but it gave no details.

Convoys of buses, guarded by U.S. marines wearing flak jackets, carried more than 2500 Americans and Vietnamese from the city to Tan Son Nhut. Shots were fired at one of the buses as it reached the airport.

Near the airport, South Vietnamese soldiers stopped a French correspondent and asked his nationality. When he said French, they told him: “’That’s OK. If you had been American, we would have killed you”.

The evacuation was ordered only hours after President Minh of South Vietnam ordered all Americans employed by the U.S. Defence Attaches office to leave within 24 hours.

As the last Americans left Vice-President Nguyen Van Huyen made vet another appeal for an end to the fighting, and pledged that the south would do everything to achieve peace.

But in Hanoi North Vietnamese officials said that the return to power of President Minh “comes too late.”

“The revolutionary forces are determined to finish the job,” the officials said.

Communist forces around Saigon today maintained a heavy artillery attack on Tan Son Nhut Airport, and ground attacks were launched on several areas on the outskirts of the capital.

The attacks began only hours after communist leaders last night turned down an earlier Government appeal for a ceasefire.

Several people, including two U.S. marines on guard duty at the airport, were killed In the rocket attacks, and an American cargo plane being used to ferry refugees to Guam was destroyed.

Despite the heavy bombardment of the airport, more U.S. planes were reported on their way from the Philippines to pick up Vietnamese.

Tens of thousands fleeing Vietnamese today were crowding Vung Tau in an attempt to get out of the country.

Hundreds of craft of all sizes packed with refugees were reported to be clogging the harbor.

One American vessel said it had taken 4100 refugees on hoard and was standing by at Vung Tau to take on another 500.

Other ships were reported to be carrying between 8000 and 9000.

Vung Tau was under heavy communist attack as the refugees fought for places on the evacuation craft.

Vietnamese staff at the telecommunications office in the town, through which most of the country’s links with the outside world pass, said they were under mortar and artillery attack.

The only port in the Government-controlled part of the country now regarded as safe is Rath Gla, 160km south of Saigon.

In Bangkok, it was re-ported that 30 South Vietnamese fighter-bombers and transport planes had landed at U Tapao air base as air force men and civilians fled.

And Philippines Air Force planes intercepted a Sown Vietnamese plane as it headed towards Clark air force base from Saigon. The plane was carrying about 130 Vietnamese.

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