Reflections on Fall of Saigon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Finally, by April 1975, there was something about Vietnam that almost everyone could agree on. After a wrenching decade of bloodshed and protest, the end of the war was near.

The Communist North Vietnamese army was sweeping south in violation of a treaty signed two years earlier in Paris, an accord President Nixon had heralded as bringing "peace with honor." America's combat role was over. South Vietnam's cities were falling like dominoes in a Cold War nightmare: Ban Me Thuot, Hue, Da Nang, Chu Lai, Quang Ngai, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang. Its troops threw down their weapons and fled the highlands, trailed by a panicked mob of 200,000 refugees.

Hanoi had kept only one division, the 308th, in the north as a home guard. By mid-April, 18 other divisions were closing in on the south's capital, Saigon, with tanks, artillery and bo doi--peasant soldiers in threadbare uniforms and sandals cut from rubber tires, men who had passed from adolescence to adulthood in the jungles and likely as not hadn't seen their northern families in four or five years.

On the outskirts of the capital, Col. Vo Dong Giang received a coded message from North Vietnamese army headquarters saying an all-out attack was imminent. It ended: "Good luck. See you in Saigon."

Rumors of a pending blood bath raced through Saigon in those final days of April 1975. CIA agents estimated that thousands of people would be killed. The company providing insurance for United Press International's correspondents increased premiums 1,000%. Restaurants closed and merchants fortified their shops with sandbags.

In the 14th-floor nightclub of the Palace Hotel, a bar girl sipped ginger ale and reread a telegram. "Dear Mai," it said, "plane tickets forwarded to Pan Am office on Tu Do St. Paperwork waiting for you at U.S. Embassy. See you in St. Louis. Love." She thought for a moment and said quietly, "Sorry 'bout that, GI. I Vietnamese. I stay Vietnam."

For some, the events that unfolded 25 years ago this month would represent a hopeful prologue to a lifetime's dream. For others, it would be a dreaded epilogue to a failed mission. But no one--Vietnamese or American--would be untouched, and no one, when they share their memories today, has quite the same interpretation of what happened or how the world around them changed.

Twenty-one years earlier, in 1954, when the Vietnamese defeated France to end colonial rule, French soldiers were marched over the Doumer Bridge spanning the Red River in Hanoi, on their way back home. As a disarmed Frenchman passed, a guerrilla of the Viet Minh--the forerunner of the Viet Cong--kicked him in the rear. The Frenchman stopped, turned and saluted. The Vietnamese returned the salute.

For the departing Americans--the next Western power to get bogged down in Vietnam--the curtain would fall on Indochina with no such symbolic exchange of shared respect.

The largest helicopter evacuation in history ended at 7:52 a.m. April 30. Over a span of 19 hours, choppers took out 1,120 South Vietnamese and 978 Americans. U.S. security guards used their rifle butts to beat back many more South Vietnamese trying to storm the embassy. Now the last chopper was skirting over Saigon, carrying the remnants of a U.S. force that once had numbered 543,000 troops. The 11 Marines aboard had their weapons trained squarely on their former allies below.

Within minutes, the chopper was over the South China Sea and Saigon faded from view. For the first time since the French attacked Da Nang 117 years earlier, Vietnam was free of foreign influence. For the first time in a generation--ever since a Cold War compromise partitioned the country at the 17th parallel as France departed--there would be no North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Only Vietnam.

To this day, Vietnamese speak of the fall of Saigon as a milestone that divides everything in life into two eras: "before '75" and "after '75."

THE JUDGE: Early Morning

What Duong Cu remembers most vividly about that day is not the shooting in the streets, the mobs that looted and rampaged after the last chopper lifted off, or the terrified South Vietnamese soldiers shedding their uniforms. It was the silence that followed.

"April 30th, I remember it well," recalled the 65-year-old Cu, a senior South Vietnamese judge who had been home early that morning, tending his sick wife. He thought for a moment, his hand stroking a trim white beard, then added: "It was a day that changed my life. All our lives changed.

"The silence was so total it scared me," he said. "No one knew what to expect. But I never thought anything would happen to me."

Despite the fears of a blood bath, many people like Cu thought the North would be gracious in victory, and, in fact, its soldiers were professional and disciplined in taking Saigon. He also thought all Vietnamese, whether they had supported North or South, would band together to rebuild the country.

Cu chuckles now at his naivete. He was sent off to one of the 40 reeducation camps Hanoi set up in the South, as were upward of 400,000 other "puppets" associated with the Saigon government. It was six months before he was allowed to receive a family gift of instant noodles, dried meat and cigarettes--and six years before he was freed from the endless lectures on political correctness.

"We'd get lectures in the morning, then in the afternoon we'd write self-criticism," Cu said. "But they didn't want you to express any opinions, raise any questions. You could call it quite insulting intellectually."

By the time Cu got home, his four brothers and one sister had joined 1 million boat people, about 5% of South Vietnam's population, who fled to Australia, North America and Europe. Cu's career, like that of most Southerners, was over, except for a brief stint as a legal advisor in the early 1980s that paid him food stamps and $5 a month.

"A lot of people think the war was a fight between communism and democracy/capitalism," Cu said. "But it wasn't that. The North's point of view was there was one Vietnam. The South thought there were two. The reality is we were defending ourselves. Our system wasn't perfect. Human rights were abused. The legal system had flaws. There was a lot of corruption. But people will fight to protect what is theirs."

Cu spends his time at home reading and researching law as a hobby. Sometimes he gets a small legal consulting job. He wonders how far his career would have gone had life taken a different twist. But over many years pondering works of Western philosophers in his bedroom library, he has made his peace.

"I'm not bitter at all," he said. "I could have left as a political or economic refugee, but self-respect never would have let me think of myself as a refugee. I stayed because I wanted to. Generally, things are getting better in Vietnam. And for my son's generation, life is improved, very much improved. You just have to learn to accept things as they are."

Twenty-five years after Saigon's fall--or liberation, depending on one's point of view--Southerners like Cu are still apt to be denied access to jobs and positions of power.

But there has been reconciliation between North and South on a personal level, if not fully on a political one. Life is much freer than it was a decade ago. Churches and pagodas are full again. The ban on contact with foreigners has long since been lifted. Vietnamese can travel within their country without a permit and obtain passports to go abroad. People speak with more candor.

They are testing these newfound liberties, aware that if they don't care to make a political statement, they have nothing to fear from their government.

NORTHERN OFFICER: Midmorning

Nguyen Duc Bao was a 36-year-old army officer in 1966 when he said goodbye to his wife and two children in Hanoi and started trekking down the Ho Chi Minh Trail with 5,000 soldiers of the North Vietnamese army's 141st Regiment to take up the fight against the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. His right forearm bore the jagged outline of the Vietnamese flag he had tattooed into his skin with a sewing needle and ink after joining the Viet Minh as a 15-year-old to fight the French.

Bao, who had earned a battlefield commission in the war against the French, was already a veteran commander. Now, at midmorning of April 30, 1975, he was on Saigon's northern perimeter, locked in combat with the last organized resistance that South Vietnam's forces would offer.

"The enemy fought well," Bao recalled, "but not for long. Then, just like that"--he snapped his fingers--"the war was over, the country was reunited. That night, for the first time in months, we got to sit quietly and talk about our comrades who died, to write letters to our families in the north.

"I had not seen my wife and children in almost 10 years. Ten years. That was several lifetimes in those days."

Bao, 70, took a sip of his Coke. His daughter, a teacher, stood behind him, occasionally supplying missing words when his memory slipped. He had brought out his army uniform with its 15 medals. When he put it on, as he does every April 30 and other national holidays, she helped him line up the buttons with the proper buttonholes. "Now, that looks better," she said, straightening the collar.

After the American War, as the Vietnamese call it, Bao was in charge of a reeducation camp similar to the one where Cu was sent. Among the 40,000 residents of Bao's camp were 23 South Vietnamese generals.

"We didn't kill or knock down people," he said. "We just tried to persuade them how to make progress to become good people."

Even then, Bao was not through fighting. In 1978, he went on to Cambodia to fight in a war that chased Pol Pot's guerrillas into the mountains and left Vietnam as the de facto ruler for 10 years. It was his third war in 34 years.

Did his life seem like one never-ending war? "That question sounds political," he replied. "No comment."

Bao, a retired colonel, lives on a pension of $72 a month, a comfortable sum in Vietnam, and the government has provided a pleasant two-story home with a garden in Ho Chi Minh City. He spends his retirement serving on health and veterans committees for the Communist Party, and on several occasions he has hosted groups of U.S. vets.

He offered a recent American visitor a tangerine and touched his arm. "Our people, the Vietnamese and American, are friends today," he said. "The problem I have is with your old government and what they did to us. Not with your people or soldiers. We've met your veteran groups and had good talks. I think they're impressed with us. I know we're impressed with them."

As Bao suggests, Americans are welcomed without a touch of animosity throughout Vietnam today. But on the official level, suspicion lingers. The United States broke promises to both sides during the war, and Hanoi questions Washington's trustworthiness. With congressional delegations and American businessmen trooping through Vietnam on a regular basis, all of them lecturing on the need for economic and political reform, Hanoi wonders if the United States isn't trying to win something economically that it lost militarily.

INTELLIGENCE AGENT: 10 a.m.

At 10 a.m. on April 30, 1975, Pham Xuan An was in Time magazine's office listening to Radio Saigon. The magazine's American correspondents had been evacuated two days earlier. Reporting Saigon's final hours was left to An, a Vietnamese journalist who had covered the entire war for Time and was so trusted that he had access to U.S. military briefings and bases.

"Citizens, stand by," the radio voice said. "The president will shortly make an important announcement."

President Duong Van Minh's surrender did not surprise An. In fact, very little surprised him, because unknown to virtually everyone in Saigon except his wife--and certainly unknown to his bosses at Time--An led a double life: He was a Viet Cong colonel who had worked for the National Liberation Front for years.

"I don't think anyone ever suspected me," said the 72-year-old An, his hair still jet black, a dozing Rottweiler at his feet. An, bare-footed, poured a cup of tea and lit another Marlboro. "But remember, I was an analyst, not an operative. It was like working for Rand. I never planted a fake story. I never did anything that cost the life of an American. I was loyal to the revolution, but I had friends and sources to protect on both sides.

"The Americans taught me a lot about opening up my mind," he said. "And being a Western journalist taught me about objectivity. It made me a better researcher and analyst. I used to write my reports for the front like I was doing a Time story. I'd keep asking myself, 'Now, am I really being objective on this?' "

It wasn't until after the war that his double identity was revealed. But despite his valuable service to the Viet Cong, An's career stalled after the war, and time began to drag. He had made a few too many American friends, and he was a bit too much of an advocate of a free press. He was set up in a nice house at a monthly rent of $6. But when his former friends called to arrange a visit with him, the government press center often told them that he was sick and unavailable.

He hasn't written any articles in two decades, feeling shackled by the state-controlled media. The stack of unanswered letters on his desk from old friends around the world grows higher. "I guess I haven't replied to anyone in 12 years, but I keep meaning to," he said. His English is getting rusty. He has turned down U.S. publishers interested in his life story because, he says, to write truthfully he would have to embarrass people on both sides. That's something he is unwilling to do.

An still speaks of some of the influential Americans he worked with--such as William E. Colby, who later became CIA director, and U.S. advisor Edward G. Lansdale--as "beautiful people."

"They were very smart," An said. "They weren't ignorant about Vietnam. But being smart and making the right decision are different things. The big mistake the Americans made was not understanding the Vietnamese culture or mentality. They were so sure military strength would win the war, they never bothered to learn who they were fighting."

An is among the 2 million members of Vietnam's invitation-only Communist Party. It is a party he equates with nationalism, not ideology. But the party is struggling today to maintain its relevance. Many of Vietnam's 77 million people were born after U.S. combat troops pulled out, and for them, the wartime sacrifice of another generation is an elusive concept, more elusive perhaps than the pursuit of prosperity, education and good times.

WESTERN REPORTER: 11:10 a.m.

The first communist tank, driven by Bui Duc Mai and carrying a crew whose helmets bore the words Vi Saigon, or Onward to Saigon, crashed through the gates of the presidential palace at 11:10 a.m. April 30. President Minh, who had trouble summoning his Cabinet because switchboard operators had fled, sat with his 30 top advisors in two rows of chairs on the palace steps, awaiting the victors.

"The revolution is here. You are here," Minh told them.

A few blocks away, in the fourth-floor Associated Press office on Nguyen Hue Street, George Esper, heart thumping, typed a one-paragraph bulletin on the fall of Saigon. His Vietnamese telex operator looked at it and bolted for the door. Esper and another AP correspondent, Peter Arnett, wrestled him back into his chair. They did not release him until he had punched out the urgent telex to AP's international desk in New York.

Esper, now 67 and a 42-year AP veteran based in Boston, recalled that he then ran outside to gather reaction.

"The first guy I saw was a police officer. His eyes were crazed and he was yelling, 'Fini! Fini!' He took out his pistol, and I thought, 'Oh, God, he's going to shoot me.' Personally, I never liked weapons. He put the gun to his head, saluted the statue of the South Vietnamese soldier that stood nearby and fired. He died at my feet."

Esper, from Uniontown, Pa., had arrived in Vietnam in 1965, intending to stay only a year. By the time Saigon fell, he had been here a decade. He had a Vietnamese wife. He would stay in Saigon for five weeks after North Vietnam took the capital and would have no problems with the victorious soldiers. He would later write a book about the war.

Letting go of Vietnam, he found, was not easy. In the years ahead, covering the 1991 Persian Gulf War and a score of other major stories, Esper came to understand that nothing would ever match the allure of Southeast Asia or the adrenaline rush of the Vietnam War.

"I've searched for an answer why I stayed all those years," he said, "and what I keep coming back to was a young nurse from upstate New York I saw on a fire base. It was monsoon season. We were under rocket attack. She was tending the badly wounded. Some died in her arms. And I said, 'Wow, a woman. Why are you here?' and she said, 'Because I've never felt so worthwhile in my life.'

"That's how I felt too. On top of that, we were living this free-wheeling, unstructured life with so much freedom and a go-to-hell attitude. It was a very good lifestyle despite the war. It was exotic, sensual. I think that's one of the reasons some people wanted to get lost in Vietnam and why some stayed in Vietnam, mentally, forever."

Forever? It is true that even after all this time, Americans still wrestle with what happened and why it happened, and they still ask questions that have no answers.

"Where were you amongst this madness on the streets of Saigon?"

American singer and composer Nanci Griffith wrote in her hotel room during a visit to Vietnam last January a song about her ex-husband, a Vietnam vet. "Where were you in '69? You were an American boy, whose innocence was lost here in the war, and I wear your scars while traveling through this part of you."

A VETERAN: 2:30 p.m.

At 2:30 p.m. on April 30, 1975, when President Minh told his nation over the radio, "I declare the Saigon government is completely dissolved at all levels," Bobby Muller--antiwar activist, former gung-ho Marine and a paraplegic as a result of injuries suffered in a firefight in 1969--was where he was every afternoon, at a New York racetrack. Muller gave events in Vietnam hardly a thought.

"When you're trying to figure out a daily double and a couple of perfecta bets at Belmont, the collapse of Saigon was pretty much a background piece," the 54-year-old Muller recalled.

"To be truthful, I didn't like the Vietnamese. Sorry. But that's how I felt. In the northern corps where I operated, the Vietnamese didn't see us as liberators--we were the people bringing down a reign of terror. They'd mess with us like we were the enemy. And I'd think, 'Excuse me. I've just come 10,000 miles to save you from communism. So what's with this attitude you've got?' "

But Muller mellowed. He believed that the wounds of war needed healing and that veterans, not the U.S. government, were the ones who should begin the reconciliation process. In 1981, as head of a nationwide veterans organization, he led the first group of vets to return to Vietnam. He could find only one company willing to underwrite the trip's expenses: Penthouse magazine.

"Vietnam was really off-limits then," he said. " 'Good Morning America' gave me a camcorder and said, 'Shoot anything.' We were received with total grace and friendship and courtesy. I was blown away. And I went home and told vets, 'Come on, you can do this.' "

Two hundred death threats flooded his Washington office. Four years later, Congressman John McCain, who had been a POW in Vietnam, shook with anger as he pounded his desk and yelled at Muller: "What were you doing over there talking to the enemy?"

Muller, and later McCain, became leaders of the reconciliation process that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam in 1995. As president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Muller has come back often to oversee projects that his nonprofit organization runs here, including one that provides prosthetic limbs to land-mine victims.

Not long ago, Muller returned to Quang Tri province, where he lost the use of his legs. He steered his wheelchair through the pathways of a 300-acre war cemetery near Dong Ha, past row upon row of soldiers' markers, more than 10,000 in all, pausing occasionally to wonder, "If we're friends now, why not then?"

Later he wrote in the visitors register:

"The magnitude of the Vietnamese people's suffering is hard to imagine, even though we are so connected in our history and hearts. Let these sacrifices inform and inspire all of us to continue working for peace, healing, and to prevent anything like what happened here from happening again."

Though Hollywood has portrayed some of the men who served in Vietnam as misfits who never adjusted to postwar society, most fought gallantly and for the same reason every soldier fights--to survive. And like Muller, most eventually put the war behind them and got on with their lives.

Polls indicate that most vets long ago made peace with their wartime service and with American society as a whole: In one, 91% of Vietnam veterans surveyed said they were glad they had served their country. Another survey showed that 87% of Americans viewed Vietnam veterans favorably.

WIDOWED MOTHER: 3 p.m.

At 3 p.m. April 30, Saigon's new authority, the Provisional Revolutionary Government, broadcast a 10-point program promising peaceful reunification, freedom of thought and worship, and sexual equality. It banned prostitution and "acting like Americans."

In Washington, the Treasury Department froze all Vietnamese assets in the United States and prohibited Americans from sending money to Vietnam.

In Berkeley, a thousand University of California students marched in celebration.

Activist Tom Hayden, now a California state senator from Los Angeles, said the fall of Saigon meant that Indochina had risen.

An Tran, a secretary at the U.S. Embassy, knew nothing of this. The widow of a South Vietnamese special forces captain killed in the war, she had sent her two young sons, Tony and Tim, on an evacuation flight to Guam 12 days earlier, intending to join them in a day or two. Now it was too late. She hid her American ID card, No. 1824, and joined the mob outside the embassy. But the last chopper had left hours earlier.

She milled around the French Embassy but found no one she knew. She hurried to the harbor, but the departing Vietnamese ships, crammed with refugees who had paid officers for a place on board, were already on the distant horizon.

For the next 10 years, dressed in peasant garb--black pants, brown shirt, conical hat--Tran sold ice on the streets from an old Sears refrigerator her former boss had left behind. And from Tony and Tim, only silence; she had no idea if they were dead or alive.

Tran set up a travel agency with a single desk in the lobby of a shabby hotel, and to the occasional tourists who ventured by, she passed out leaflets with pictures of her sons. Finally, a U.S. tourist said he would look through some phone directories when he got home.

One morning in 1991, at 4 o'clock, Tony Nong received a call in San Jose, where he and Tim were living after staying for several years with a great aunt in San Diego. "This is your mother," said the voice on the other end. Nong by then had a business degree from San Jose State, no longer spoke Vietnamese and ate rice seldom, if at all.

"I was chunky, a meat-and-potatoes guy," he said. Tran, in her call routed through Canada because Vietnam and the United States had no phone links, said two tickets to Ho Chi Minh City would be in the mail within the week.

"We'd been apart so long, it was a little awkward getting to know each other again," Nong recalled. "Tim and I had been on our own. All the freedoms of America we took for granted. But the completeness of being a family again, well, in the end that was the missing link that made my life whole."

Tim Nong found Vietnam's extensive security apparatus stifling and returned to San Jose. But Tony Nong, 33, has stayed, begun speaking Vietnamese and eating rice again. With Tran, 53, he developed Ann's Tours into Vietnam's largest privately owned travel agency. Former President Bush and Nike CEO Philip H. Knight have been among their clients.

"It's not that we haven't had problems," Nong said, "but our business is growing. More tourists are discovering Vietnam. Free-market reforms are taking hold. Long range, I'm definitely an optimist. In fact, Mom and I are talking to some people about investing in a rubber plantation."

Although Nong has joined a growing number of returning Vietnamese, about 2.5 million still live outside their motherland in 80 countries. Their flight was the result of war and Hanoi's doctrinaire peacetime policies, collectivization of farming, forced migration into rural economic zones and harsh restrictions on personal freedoms. It was a course that led Vietnam to the brink of famine and into economic ruin after 1975--and one that forced the government to institute the reforms that brought people like Nong back.

THE TAILORS: Nightfall

By nightfall on April 30, 1975, Saigon no longer existed. The victors immediately gave it the honorary name Ho Chi Minh City, which they would formalize the next year. It was now the impoverished economic capital of a peasant nation.

Young, hungry North Vietnamese soldiers gathered around flickering campfires on the lawn of the presidential palace. The city was dark, apprehensive. Unlike the liberation of Paris, where Ernest Hemingway had observed, "Anyone who doesn't get drunk tonight is an exhibitionist," Vietnam's wartime anguish ended quietly and, in the austere and disciplined manner of the men who had come to govern, somberly.

More than a decade later, Bao Ninh, a former North Vietnamese soldier who was in Saigon that night, would write of his protagonist, Tien, in "The Sorrow of War": "In later years, when he heard stories of V-Day or watched the scenes of the fall of Saigon on film, with cheering, flags, flowers, triumphant soldiers and joyful people, his heart would ache with sadness and envy. He and his mates had not felt that soaring, brilliant happiness he saw on the film. True, in the days following 30 April, he had experienced unforgettable joys after the victory. But on the night itself, they had that suffocating feeling. And why not? They'd just stepped out of the trenches."

That same night, two tailors, Le Van Vang and his wife, Vang Hui Huong, arranged four bags filled with clothes and food in their small home on Saigon's Nhieu Loc canal. They were prepared to flee if Hanoi's troops went on a vengeful witch hunt, as had happened in Cambodia two weeks earlier when Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh.

But there was no blood bath in Vietnam, no random killings, no unruly victorious army.

"I couldn't believe Saigon gave up so easily," said Vang, who had fake identity papers and had spent a good part of the war years hiding in a closet to avoid being drafted into the South Vietnamese army. "But really, the war didn't affect us much. We only saw a handful of Americans in all those years. I guess most Americans were out in the countryside. There wasn't any fighting in the neighborhood. Mostly we did what we're doing now, sewing and stitching."

Vang, now 63, and Huong, 59, have lived in the same canal-side house since they married 37 years ago. Four of their seven children are university graduates. They have a television, and two Honda motorbikes are parked in their living room. The government is beautifying the neighborhood, cleaning up the waste-filled waterway and installing street lights on a new pathway along the canal. Best of all, orders for suits and ao dais, the traditional flowing garment women wear, are picking up as the economy improves.

"In the bad years after the war, when times were very, very tough," Vang said, "we sold everything just to survive: the refrigerator, the radio, our clothing, even the material for ao dais. Finally we had nothing left. So we've got no complaints today. Life is so much better than it was. Yesterday seems a long time ago."

WAR'S END

Vang may have escaped unscathed, but for both Vietnam and the United States as a whole, the scars of America's longest war are incalculable.

Vietnam, north and south, lost an estimated 3 million people--a generation, really. Three hundred thousand North Vietnamese troops are still listed as missing in action. More than 58,000 Americans died; 2,029 are listed as MIA.

Although Vietnam's first peacetime generation in many, many years bubbles with optimism, the war left the country desperately poor and divided between victors and vanquished. But time has healed most wounds, and liberalized economic policies are taking a bite out of poverty. From the ashes of war, a new Vietnam is emerging--its cities bursting with energy, its people obsessed with a quest for knowledge, its economy in painful transition from state control to free market.

Besides the lives lost, Americans also lost a great deal of faith and trust during a decade of inflated body counts and lights at the end of the tunnel that only generals could see. In a 1964 Harris Poll, 76% of respondents said they trusted their government "to do the right thing in almost all cases." By 1976, after a decade marred by Vietnam, riots and Watergate, the percentage stood at 34.

And for years Americans would debate: Who "lost" Vietnam?

The press? The politicians? The soldiers? The antiwar public? Perhaps, in the end, Vietnam simply wasn't there to "win." The United States had come to extinguish a revolution, and ended up nourishing one. It had come to build, and ended up destroying. It had come to win hearts and minds, and in the course of dropping more than 7 million tons of bombs--more than were unleashed on all of Europe in World War II--discovered that the tools of war could not compete with the vitality of nationalism.

"We really meant to help and to stabilize," Adm. Noel Gayler, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said in 1975. "But things went awry in a lot of ways."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Lessons and Legacies: 25 Years After Vietnam

The longest war America has ever fought--and the first one it has lost--Vietnam continues to evoke emotions and provoke questions both vivid and complex. The U.S. was involved in Indochina from the late 1950s until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Through the rest of this month, The Times will examine the impact of that turbulent time on American society, popular culture and institutions, from the military to the media.

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