Thirty years ago today I was an E-5 in the U.S. Army stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wa. I remember watching the fall of Saigon on TV and feeling the bottom drop out of my stomach. I had been raised in an America that celebrated bravery, sacrifice and not backing down. What I saw that night was a monstrous betrayal. Not only of the Vietnamese people, but of all the U.S. servicemen that had been casualties of the war. In that one instant, when the helicopters flew off the roof of the embassy, my faith in the United States was pretty much destroyed.
Many, if not most, Americans seemed to consider Vietnam as some vague, far away location with people that didn’t measure up to our standards of openness and honesty. But to me, they were my neighbors, my friends and people that had put their trust in me. We failed them. Not from lack of bravery, but from lack of will. A pathology had gripped the country that seemed to devalue both the Vietnamese and those who went to help them. It permeated society and still lingers in some areas today.
It took many years for me to get my faith back, to start seeing America as a force for good in the world rather than a collection of spoiled children with too much money, too much free time and not enough integrity.
After the retreat from Vietnam, that country sank into repression, poverty and starvation. Millions were imprisoned, thousands were executed, many more died of starvation when the North Vietnamese tried to set up their “socialist paradise.” Millions fled, braving the South China Sea and pirates reaching Europe, Australia and the United States. Wherever they landed they worked, studied and excelled. Far from being the dregs of the world that the opponents of the war told us we were foolish for supporting, they showed themselves to be equal or superior to the natives wherever they went.
I grates on me to this day that we turned our back on these people, and it infuriates me to no end when some of those same people point to this betrayal as some kind of triumph.