The Day Saigon Fell – 41 Years Later

By Faye Higbee

The North Vietnamese Communists closed in on the South Vietnamese city of Saigon. The U.S. desperately evacuated the last remaining Americans on April 29, 1975. But the city fell to the North Vietnamese on this Day, 41 years ago, April 30, 1975.  It is an extremely difficult memory for Vietnam veterans, and a terrible day for United States History.

This short article can’t begin to cover all of the issues, the horror, the devastation of the war, the men who bravely fought, or the ramifications of failed policy.

Pew Research photo of the day Saigon fell

Code: White Christmas

President Ford ordered an immediate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees as the NVA closed in. US Marines and Air Force conducted an airlift of more than 1,000 Americans and over 7,000 refugees over an 18 hour period. They called it “Operation Frequent Wind.”

The people were to wait for the code signal, which was the playing of the song “White Christmas.” On the morning of April 29, the strains of the Bing Crosby classic signaled that those leaving had to get to designated landing zones.

South Vietnamese pilots also participated in the operation, flying American helicopters. But there were so many refugees that they had to push any damaged helicopters off the decks of the aircraft carriers to make room for more flights. More than 100 American-supplied choppers were pushed off into the sea (at around a quarter of a million dollars each).

A US helicopter is pushed into the sea to make room for more refugees

Thousands upon thousands of South Vietnamese people tried to get on the helicopters as they left. Many had to be pushed down in order to take off. Fear and panic had gripped the people, who knew full well what would happen as the Communist NVA took over the country.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese people stormed the gates of the US Embassy, desperately crying out for help.

Photo via gotmysecondwind.blogspot – Frank Romeo.

Marines died

The last two men to die in the Vietnam war were two U.S. Marines.  At 4:03 a.m. on April 30, they were killed in a rocket attack at the Saigon Airport. According to accounts, when dawn came, the last remaining US Marines guarding the Embassy lifted off.

Within hours, the US Embassy was looted, and NVA tanks rolled through the streets. South Vietnam was no more. Saigon is now called “Ho Chi Minh City.” The 1993 “peace agreement” was never implemented.


Vietnamese veterans, many of whom have terrifying memories of the war, remember another airlift called “Operation Babylift.” Thousands of Vietnamese orphans were taken out of Vietnam beginning on April 2, 1975.

Some Vietnamese communities in America remember that day with the raising and lowering of the South Vietnamese flag, and pictures of their Vietnamese heroes who died trying to save the country. They watched their nation fall to tyranny as thousands had to stay behind.

“We know that the tyranny that we have lived through and escaped is still going on widely in Vietnam. They still have no freedom, have no human rights, liberty, and they do not have fair opportunity…” Phat Bui, Garden Grove City Councilman, California

An ugly chapter

What went wrong? The climate for the war had turned ugly in the United States, and with weak leadership in power here, there was no stomach for fighting. America was sucked into a quagmire… one that lost a nation. It devastated the morale of America.

As Vietnam War veterans were spat upon, and treated with major disrespect as they returned, it is up to Americans now to honor them after the fact. They not only fought for the USA, they endured horrific conditions and injuries – and were exposed to chemicals such as Agent Orange (in all of its various colored poisons).