Continuing from yesterday the events of March 1975 in Vietnam, quoted from my article, “Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon”: Yesterday, I told of my trip with my counterpart, a South Vietnamese general, to the far north of South Vietnam and our stop in Pleiku in the highlands. After our meeting with Major General Pham van Phu, the commander of II Corps, the general I was travelling with cancelled the rest of our itinerary and we flew immediately to Ban Me Thuot. Quoting from my article:
The first barrages against Ban Me Thuot had been launched that morning. Not long after we landed, while the general was inspecting his troops, I watched a battle erupt in the valley to the west of the ridge where the airstrip was located. We took off for Saigon just as the runway came under fire.
Ban Me Thuot fell within days, and South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu ordered the evacuation of the highlands, starting on 15 March. The result was mass chaos as the military and the civilian population panicked and fled. All major roads to the coast were by then under the control of the North Vietnamese; fleeing military and civilians clogged the only open road, Route 7B, a secondary bypass, barely more than a trail in places, while the North Vietnamese repeatedly attacked them.
Route 7B came to be called “The Trail of Blood and Tears.” Something like eighteen thousand South Vietnamese troops were killed or captured; losses among civilians were over a hundred thousand. The highlands fell within the week.
Almost at once, I Corps, the northern five provinces of South Vietnam, crumbled. Eighty thousand refugees jammed the roads and ports, vainly trying to escape the Communists.
With the northern half of the country now captured, Communist forces moved south toward Saigon. I knew capitulation was weeks away.
End of quote. General Phu, the II Corps commander, escaped to Saigon where he committed suicide the day the city fell to the North Vietnamese.