A friend is writing a novel about an Amerasian boy who escaped from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. When I read her work, I was pulled back again to those days of chaos in March and April of 1975 when the North Vietnamese completed the conquest of the south.
I have never witnessed anarchy like that which engulfed Saigon. The streets were jammed with refugees fleeing into the city as the North Vietnamese came closer. By the middle of April, I could no longer drive a car through the mobs—there were too many people. Food and water were scarce. Looting became common. Shops and restaurants in vain bolted their doors against the panicking people in the street.
By the end, Saigon was in total turmoil. South Vietnamese soldiers and policemen shed their uniforms to conceal their identities. People were trampled under foot as the crowds went into panic. American facilities, including the embassy and the building I was in at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of the city, were mobbed. Outside the perimeter fence surrounding our compound the crowd was ten to fifteen people deep, all clamoring to be admitted. I knew it was only a matter of time before the fence was breached.
On 28 April, the North Vietnamese began bombarding the city, first with rockets, then artillery. People fled for cover in all directions. I escaped by helicopter under fire on the night of 29 April. We left behind many thousands of Vietnamese who had worked with us and fought by our side. I’m confident that those shooting at me as I flew out that night were South Vietnamese rather than the communists. We were deserting them. Thousands and thousands of them were left behind defenseless to face the North Vietnamese.
My memories of surviving those days still give me nightmares.