I was in the Navy in Japan relaying messages to ships off the coast of Vietnam from December 1972 through November 1974, just as America was desperately trying to get out of that war. Watching the final episode of Burns & Novick’s film tonight surely didn’t make me feel very good about the promises we reneged on and the haste with which we bailed on our allies. No matter how corrupt their politicians were, the South Vietnamese Army deserved better from us.
I remember seeing the famous photograph of people clambering up a ladder to get on board a chopper on the roof of the Embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975. I don’t know whether I saw it in The Stars and Stripes or in Newsweek, and I know I didn’t know the whole story of how our erstwhile friends and co-workers among the Vietnamese were turned back from other helicopters that day, but I remember the sense of disbelief that the US would leave so unceremoniously.
Thinking on it now, we didn’t cover ourselves in glory at any point in that war, so why would the way we left be any different?
I’ve been to DC to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial once in 1984. I didn’t know anyone whose name was on it, but that didn’t keep it from being a very moving experience.
That documentary will stick with me for quite a while.