My most recent blog about Palm Sunday reminded me of Tet 1975. Tet is the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year and the beginning of spring. It is by far the biggest holiday of the year. Festivities go on for days. In 1975, the holiday fell on 11 February. It was tinged with fear. Phuoc Long Province, some 60 miles north of Saigon, and its capital, Phuoc Binh, had already fallen to the communists. For the first time during the war, the North Vietnamese held the land they had seized. Attempts to regain it for the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) failed. With cold in the pit of my stomach, I reviewed our evacuation plans.
I had experienced many Tet celebrations over the years—I’d been in and out of Vietnam for thirteen years. But 1975 was different. Despite the smug reassurances of the U.S. government and the bravado of South Vietnamese officials, I felt tension in the air. The Tet celebrants seemed to be looking over their shoulder for threats. The carefree joyousness of earlier years was missing. The communists weren’t far away, and they were getting closer. Memories of the 1968 North Vietnamese Tet Offensive reverberated.
Saigon fell two and a half months later. I escaped under fire. Suicides among the South Vietnamese we left behind were rampant. So many of the people we abandoned chose death rather than life under the communists.