Ira A. Hunt, the retired major general who is the author of Losing Vietnam (University Press of Kentucky, 2013), was named the deputy commander of the U.S. Support Activities Group (USSAG), established at the Royal Thai Nakhon Phanom Airbase in northeast Thailand, in the late summer of 1973. USSAG was the replacement for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which was dissolved coincident with the cease-fire signed by the U.S, and North Vietnam in 1973. USSAG’s purpose was to maintain liaison with and monitor support to the government of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in what was expected to be the peaceful period following the war.
As General Hunt points out, the cease-fire required the withdrawal of all but fifty U.S. military personnel but left all North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in place. He watched as the North Vietnamese violated the cease-fire almost immediately and continued their campaign to conquer South Vietnam. In August 1973, The U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution requiring the complete disengagement of U.S. combat forces in Southeast Asia. That meant all U.S. Air Force air combat support to South Vietnamese forces ceased. In July 1974, the U.S. Congress drastically reduced the funding for South Vietnam. It failed to add funds in 1975. Meanwhile, North Vietnam was receiving generous financial help from the Soviet Union and China. But the U.S. public, and therefore the Congress, was sick of the Vietnam war. They wanted an end to the war. The end came in late April 1975 when the North Vietnamese completed the conquest of South Vietnam.
General Hunt’s assessment matches my own, that on the whole the South Vietnamese armed forces were an effective fighting force and fought bravely. President Thieu’s poorly planned and executed withdrawal from the northern half of the country in March 1975 hastened the inevitable ending but didn’t cause it. The single greatest cause of the loss of Vietnam was the U.S. decision to withdraw financial and air support.
As told in the autobiographical novel, Last of the Annamese, I witnessed the debacle. I watched as the South Vietnamese government tried to economize, unable to repair or replace damaged equipment and weapons, slowly ran out of ammunition, and, finally, was unable to pay the members of its military forces. I was still watching when I escaped under fire on 29 April as Saigon fell to the communists.