Fall of Saigon
This poem traces the lead up to the final day of the Vietnam War on 30th April 1975, when a North Vietnamese tank crashed down the main gates to the Presidential Palace in the heart of Saigon. Australian cameraman and journalist Neil Davis had elected to remain behind in the besieged city as one of the few foreigners to report and film the final hours. For more information on Neil Davis see the poem titled Just One Crowded Hour.
“Imprudent though it might have been to try to save South Vietnam from Communism,
it was an attempt born of noble ideas. The same can’t be said for what the U.S. Congress did in abandoning South Vietnam in 1975 to face the North Vietnamese invasion alone.”
- from The Living and the Dead by Paul Hendrickson, 1996.
Fall of Saigon
During that Vietnam War,
They’d tried to take the city, Saigon;
Then Khe Sanh served as bait,
During Tet ’68,
When Westmoreland’s plans had gone wrong.
Allied troops had to face,
At Tan Son Nhut’s air base,
[Text Box:] An attack that raged there all night;
Heard fierce battle sounds,
In that Embassy’s grounds,
Yet the Viet Cong met defeat in that fight.
Two presidents had slipped,
Their powers then clipped,
Withdrawal seemed everyone’s goal;
Johnson’s and Nixon’s demise,
Perhaps no surprise,
And Gerald Ford took on a caretaker’s role.
And I still well recall,
Lasting shame of it all,
From that time in ’75;
’Twas on all household screens,
Final sad tragic scenes,
Television brought it to us here live.
Chaos reigned everywhere,
Panic, fear and despair,
Public institutions, all closed down;
A bloodbath, the fear,
Hue’s atrocities still clear,
Memories of slaughter in that north coastal town.
And so I couldn’t believe,
We’d leave and deceive,
Ignore them as if deaf, even blind;
Past promises we’d made,
Stay till the end, provide aid,
Yet, we left our so-called friends far behind.
As the death knell rang,
For Da Nang and Nha Trang,
A giant airlift flew out people all night;
And at the crack of dawn,
The West finally all gone,
Safe out at sea, turning our backs on their plight.
With the ‘Stars ‘n’ Bars’ pulled down,
Last full ‘chopper’ left town,
From the United States Embassy’s roof;
Then a cruel regime,
Replaced an American Dream,
Boat people became the ultimate proof.
Since we too were not there,
That guilt we now share,
Since past deeds had come down to nought;
’Twas an idealist’s dream,
What did it all mean,
What lessons, if any, were we taught?
Yet, I can’t ignore,
When I look at the score,
And read the long list of each name,
Such a huge sacrifice,
Paying the ultimate price,
So the troops should wear none of the blame!
No matter how others try,
They can never deny,
As history records our absence quite well;
A lasting disgrace,
’Twas to abandon that place,
That day in Saigon when the palace gates fell.
NVA tank 844 crashes down the palace gates - April 30, 1975 (photograph taken by Australian Neil Davis)