April is always a sad month for me. It was in April 1975 that South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists. I was there, watching it happen. So was my family, my wife and my four children. The U.S., foolishly believing that the war was over and ignoring my warnings, made the assignment in South Vietnam a “gentleman’s tour,” no longer a hardship tour in a war zone, so I was allowed to have my family with me. I succeeded in getting my wife and children out of the country forty-one years ago today, only twenty days before Saigon fell. That same day the North Vietnamese launched their attack on Xuân Lộc, about which more anon.
My wife had been hesitant to leave. The American embassy assured her and other dependents that they could disregard reports that the North Vietnamese were about to attack Saigon. Then, on 8 April, forty-one years ago yesterday, a renegade South Vietnamese air force pilot, who had defected to the North Vietnamese, bombed the presidential palace, close to our house. That persuaded my wife it was time for her and the children to leave.
To my way of thinking, the death knell for South Vietnam was the decision by the U.S. government to cut off financial support for the South Vietnamese government. That assured that the government forces wouldn’t have the needed gasoline to move forces and drive tanks. Lost weapons would not be replaced. Some troops would not be paid. All hope of avoiding defeat was gone.
Central to the final defeat was the battle for and eventual loss of the crossroads town of Xuân Lộc, some 45 miles northeast of Saigon. In hopes of stalling the advance of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN, i.e., the North Vietnamese regular army), the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) committed almost all their remaining mobile forces, especially the 18th Division, under Brigadier General Lê Minh Đảo, to the defense of Xuân Lộc. The battle raged from 9 to 21 April 1975. It ended when the town was captured by the PAVN 4th Army Corps led by Major General Hoàng Cầm.
Throughout this sad month, I’ll be continuing the story of the fall of Vietnam. I hope readers will be patient with me as I recount the sad tale.