Continuing my series of posts about why April is a sad month for me as I remember the fall of Vietnam forty-five years ago:
On 21 April 1975, as I strove to get my forty-three subordinates and their wives and children safely out of Saigon before the North Vietnamese attacked the city, the North Vietnamese seized the last bastion standing between them and Saigon. The story, as told by Wikipedia, is brief and bitter:
“The Battle of Xuân Lộc (Vietnamese: Trận Xuân Lộc) was the last major battle of the Vietnam War. From the beginning of 1975, People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) [that is, the North Vietnamese] forces swept through the northern provinces of South Vietnam virtually unopposed. In the Central Highlands, South Vietnam’s II Corps was completely destroyed, whilst attempting to evacuate to the Mekong Delta region. In the cities of Huế and Đà Nẵng, ARVN [that is, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam] units simply dissolved without putting up resistance. The devastating defeats suffered by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) prompted South Vietnam’s National Assembly to question President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu‘s handling of the war, thereby placing him under tremendous pressure to resign.
“The ARVN committed almost all their remaining mobile forces, especially the 18th Division, under Brigadier general Lê Minh Đảo, to the defence of the strategic crossroads town of Xuân Lộc, hoping to stall the PAVN advance. The battle was fought between 9 and 21 April 1975, and ended when the town of Xuân Lộc was captured by the PAVN 4th Army Corps led by Major general Hoàng Cầm. This was the ARVN III Corps‘ last defensive line east of South Vietnam’s capital, Saigon. The line connected the city of Bình Dương, Biên Hòa Air Base, Vũng Tàu, Long An and the lynchpin centered on the strategic town of Xuân Lộc, where the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff committed the nation’s final reserve forces in Saigon’s defense. In the last-ditch effort to save South Vietnam, Thiệu ordered the 18th Infantry Division to hold Xuân Lộc at all costs. The PAVN 4th Army Corps, on the other hand, was ordered to capture Xuân Lộc in order to open the gateway to Saigon. During the initial stages of the battle, the 18th Division managed to beat off early attempts by the PAVN to capture the town, forcing PAVN commanders to change their battle plan. However, on 19 April 1975, Đảo’s forces were ordered to withdraw after Xuân Lộc was almost completely isolated, with all remaining units badly mauled. This defeat also marked the end of Thiệu’s political career, as he resigned on 21 April 1975.
“Once Xuân Lộc fell on 21 April 1975, the PAVN battled with the last remaining elements of III Corps Armored Task Force, remnants of the 18th Infantry Division and depleted Marine, Airborne and Ranger Battalions in a fighting retreat that lasted nine days, until they reached Saigon and PAVN armored columns crashed throughout the gates of South Vietnam’s Presidential Palace on 30 April 1975, effectively ending the war.”
During that last nine days, I succeeded in evacuating all my subordinates and their families. I escaped under fire on the night of 29 April 1975. Those terrible days are burned into my memory.