Vietnam War: Saigon Government Surrenders
A triumphant Communist army rode tanks flying Viet Cong flags into Saigon today, ending 35 years of war against American, French, Japanese and Vietnamese forces in the jungles of Indochina.
The conquering Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces crushed a few pockets of resistance by diehard defenders and then renamed the South Vietnamese capital “Ho Chi Minh City.”
The laughing, cheering Communists shouted “Hello, comrade” to bystanders as dozens of tanks flying red, yellow and blue Viet Cong flags rumbled onto the grounds of the presidential palace.
A few of Saigon’s residents cheered their conquerors but most of them simply watched as Communist tanks, trucks and jeeps rolled down the streets of the city.
The Communists entered the capital hours after the South Vietnamese government surrendered unconditionally and the United States completed the evacuation of Americans from the war-torn country.
The Communist victory dealt a stunning setback to the United States, which spent $150 billion and lost more than 50,000 lives in a futile effort to save the South Vietnamese government.
Diehard government troops shot it out with Communists at the presidential palace for 10 minutes in one of a few last-ditch battles across the city. UPI photographer Hoang Van Cuong jumped on one of the tanks to the applause of the smiling Communist soldiers and rode with the conquerors into the palace.
Vu Van Mau, prime minister in the fallen government, went on radio this afternoon to tell the people “the entire city of Saigon has been completely liberated.”
He said the Saigon government agreed to surrender “without conditions” and called on the people to obey “the liberation forces.”
Gen. Duong Van Minh, who took over as president of a war-weary South Vietnam two days before, announced the surrender at 10:20 a.m. (10:20 p.m. EDT Tuesday) in a 60-second radio address to his people.
The six-foot-tall general, nicknamed “Big Minh” by his countrymen, called on the Communists to stop shooting “so that together we can discuss ways to hand over the reins of government without bloodshed.”
The Viet Cong refused to recognize Minn’s “puppet regime” and there were’ unconfirmed reports that he was arrested.
In Paris, the Viet Cong’s Provisional Revolutionary Government described the fall of the Saigon regime as “an immense victory of historic importance.”
Hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese crowded into the streets of Hanoi to celebrate the surrender of the Saigon government.
The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said the celebrants, wearing their best clothes, attended a mass rally in Hanoi’s biggest square.
Communications between Saigon and the rest of the world resumed at 5 p.m. (5 a.m. EDT) after being out for 32 hours. A Viet Cong official at the Post Office apologized after UPI complained of the breakdown. “I’m very sorry, sir,” the official said in Vietnamese. “We just have to cut this for a little while. We will give you back your service very soon.”
Scores of South Vietnamese air force pilots, unwilling to live under a Communist regime, flew government warplanes to America’s U Tapao Air Base in Thailand.
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In Hanoi, jubilant North Vietnamese went into the streets and held the noisiest and, most joyous celebration of the long, drawn-out war, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported. Hundreds of thousands of people clad in their best clothes attended a victory rally marked by the sound of loudspeakers, firecrackers and rockets.
In Peking, the embassies of North Vietnamese and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (Viet Cong) were decorated with flags and banners and hundreds of firecrackers celebrated the Communist victory, Tanjug reported.
In Saigon, crowds greeted a victory parade through downtown Tu Do street apprehensively. Many persons waved at the Communist troops, and some of the soldiers waved back. The Communists laughed and cheered and shouted “hello, comrade” to bystanders from tanks bearing the red, yellow and blue Viet Cong flags.
But there was no overall joy among the populace. Radio Saigon announced a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and said today would be a day of celebration to mark the Communist victory. No program was announced.
The eventful day began with the final U.S. evacuation, at 9:00 a.m., (9 p.m. Tuesday EDT) of U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin and a Marine security force from the American Embassy.
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At 10:30 a.m, President Minh announced the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam to the Communists “to avoid needless bloodshed.”
At 12:30 p.m. North Vietnamese army tanks rumbled into the city and headed for the presidential palace to accept the surrender.
Residents were obviously fearful. But when it was clear there was to be no more killing for those who put down their arms, they began to take to the streets.
The Communist tanks went past the embassy and rumbled straight into the palace grounds, breaking down the gates as they went.
Troops spread out quickly, took the palace guard prisoner and raced inside the building to raise a huge Viet Cong flag. By 1:30 p.m. they had occupied virtually all ministries and military headquarters. The big Viet Cong flags went up on cars, jeeps, tanks, the National Assembly and government ministries.
Military vehicles not occupied by the victorious Communists flew the white flag of surrender. Soldiers threw down weapons and stripped off boots and uniforms on Saigon streets and tried to fade into the population.
The Communists made no immediate attempt to round them up but moved quickly to secure key areas in what obviously was a well-planned operation.
A Saigon policeman, identified by his uniform as U. Col. Long, put a pistol to his head and committed suicide in the main downtown square.
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Crowds came out in greater and greater numbers, and by 2 p m.there were about 1,000 persons on downtown Tu Do, where during American involvement U.S. soldiers, were entertained in sleazy bars by prostitutes.
Saigon radio announced the city was henceforth to be called Ho Chi Minh City — “the city which Uncle Ho dreamed of.” Ho died in 1969.
Some aspects of the takeover were confused.
Most civil servants and government workers tied with the Communist advance, causing some electrical outages and communications problems. International communications were closed, opened, closed again and opened again over a six-hour period.
But despite the tears and apprehensions of many, the first day under Communist control in Saigon was relatively calm. In general, newsmen were allowed to operate at will, although only news wires were allowed to send out news.
Radiophotos and radio circuits were not allowed, and no planes were allowed to land to pick up television film.
There was no censorship of the news reports. In the case of UPI at least, there was no contact between the Communists and newsmen except on the streets.
South Vietnamese soldiers, weary of a losing war, tore off uniforms on downtown Tu Do Street, a garish strip of bars where pretty girls once catered to the desires of American GIs.
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A Saigon policeman, identified by his uniform as Lt. Col. Long, put a pistol to his head and committed suicide in the main downtown square.
South Vietnamese sailors, unwilling to live under Communist rule, boarded ships on the Saigon River and headed out to the South China Sea.
In what may have been the last shots of the war, guards at the presidential palace emptied their weapons into the air at 12:20 p.m. (20 minutes after midnight EDT). Seconds later. Soviet-built tanks rolled onto the palace grounds.
A drizzle fell as the people of Saigon huddled in the doorways of their homes, looked out at the victorious troops and awaited an uncertain future under Communist rule.
The surrender came 2-1/2 hours after the last Marine helicopter lilted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, completing an evacuation of about 900 Americans to aircraft carriers in the South China Sea.
Embassy’s emergency evacuation plan – Vietnam
From the papers of Wolfgang Lehmann, Deputy U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, include these materials from the Embassy’s emergency evacuation plan that was put into action at the end of April 1975.
On the list of designated assembly points is 22 Gia Long, the building seen above in the iconic photograph of evacuees boarding a helicopter on April 29, 1975. (Courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.)
Should it be felt necessary for U.S. personnel to report to their designated assembly areas, a coded message will be broadcast over American Radio Service. This message will consist of a temperature report for Saigon of “105 degrees and rising” followed by approximately the first 30 seconds of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. This message will be broadcast every 15 minutes for approximately two hours.
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