White Christmas in April: The Collapse of South Vietnam, 1975

By J. Edward Lee and Toby Haynsworth

When the last of the American POW’s were released by Hanoi in March of 1973, most Americans dismissed Vietnam from their consciousness. However, the Paris Peace Accords negotiated by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho provided for an expanded Defense Attaché Office under the direction of the American Ambassador to South Vietnam. This office’s staff was limited to fifty uniformed and 1200 civilian American personnel. These dedicated men and women were tasked with the management of the military assistance programs designed to provide the logistical support of the South Vietnamese military authorized by the Paris Peace Accords and promised by the President of the United States.

White Christmas in April: The Collapse of South Vietnam, 1975 describes how the Vietnam War actually ended in April 1975. This is accomplished by letting twenty-seven of the people who were either involved in the massive evacuation of Americans, Vietnamese, and third country nationals, or who were close observers of the event, give their personal accounts of how the end to America’s efforts to defend the independence of the people of South Vietnam came to pass.

The narrators in White Christmas in April are women and men, military and civilian, American and Vietnamese. Taken together, they tell a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a story of courage, confusion, politics, dedication, greed, duplicity, anger, pain, joy, zeal, stupidity, hesitation, and gallantry. In other words, it describes the American experience in Vietnam in microcosm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of what the narrators had to say:

"When I was at NATO, the news of the collapse of South Vietnam was probably the saddest day of my life. I had told President Ford that he had to roll up his sleeves like Harry Truman and go up to the Hill and have it out with those guys. I think that I would have bombed the North Vietnamese and let them impeach me if they wanted."

General Alexander Haig, NATO Commander and White House Chief of Staff.

"When the end came and you sent a small contingent of marines to secure Tan Son Nhut on April 29, we knew that they would not be there long. In my opinion, there was a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to allow the evacuation to go forward. We stopped fighting and shelling for a few hours. We didn’t shoot much. Then you were gone."

Tran Trong Khanh, ex-Vietcong officer.

"Starting with our rock bottom fiscal year 1975 budget of $1.126 billion, I degraded it in hundred million dollar, country killing, increments. I ended my cable with this: ‘$600 million level–write off South Vietnam as a bad investment and a broken promise.’"

General John Murray, Defense Attaché in Saigon in 1974.

"At about four o’clock in the morning (of April 30), the ambassador and I went up to the remaining communications set up, the last one. We sent our final message. The date-time group of that message was 291215Z. The message said, ‘Plan to close mission about 0430, 30 April local time. This is the last message from Embassy Saigon.’"

Mr. Wolfgang Lehmann, Deputy Chief of Mission, Saigon.

"There were two U.S.-type CIA agents who had twelve bus loads of Vietnamese CIA agents that they had collected around the countryside, and they were either told, or couldn’t get to Tan Son Nhut, so they got to the Mike-Mike piers in Saigon, and I picked them up on the barge that I was taking down the river, and we went out together."

Mr. William Ryder, Military Sealift Command, Saigon, Operations Officer.

"The exodus had started. For the next ten days I never slept more than a few minutes at a time. We worked around the clock. The first day we put up over 1,000 people. My job was getting them organized into planeloads and handling problems. One day we had 7,000 people to get out, and, thank God, our team had gotten very efficient by then.

Ms. Sally Vinyard, Director of Housing, Saigon.

"Our game plan was very simple because we were taking a lot of sniper fire up there on the roof. The game plan was, when the bird set down, we already had stacks of Vietnamese in the ladder well. Before that bird set down, we had them moving. We got the bird loaded, and they were out of there. We had to do it quickly because of the sniper fire."

Sergeant Terry Bennington, USMC Security Guard.

The authors:

Dr. J. Edward Lee is a professor of history at Winthrop University and Dr. H.C. "Toby" Haynsworth is a retired USN Supply Corps officer and a retired professor of Business Administration at Winthrop University.

A review of White Christmas in April: The Collapse of South Vietnam, 1975  that was published in the April 2000 issue of Vietnam magazine can be found at:

http://www.historynet.com/reviews/bk_vnapr00lead.htm .

How to order:

White Christmas in April: The Collapse of South Vietnam, 1975 is published by Peter Lang Publishing Company (1999, Paperback, $27.95 (US), ISBN: 0-8204-4538-X) and can be purchased from their Customer Service Department at (800) 770-5264 or from The Bookworm at 700 Cherry Road, Rock Hill, SC 29730, or Barnes and Noble ( http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ ), Borders Books & Records (http://www.borders.com/ ), or Amazon.com Books ( http://www.amazom.com/ ).

 

Table of Contents

Preface                                                                                                               xiii

Introduction                                                                                                         1

Chapter 1:  Slow Strangulation – Alexander Haig                                          7

Chapter 2: More – Jack Brady                                                                          11

Chapter 3: Oil And Money – Tran Trong Khanh                                          15

Chapter 4: Dunkirk – Ed Pelosky                                                                      19

Chapter 5: In The Alleyway – Haney Howell                                                 37

Chapter 6: Setting The Record Straight – Homer Smith                                41

Chapter 7: "Their Country, Their War" – John Murray                                51

Chapter 8: "A Done Deal" – William LeGro                                                    65

Chapter 9: "Nobody Told Martin" – Thomas Polgar                                    69

Chapter 10: Leaving A Pregnant Lady – Richard Armitage                         83

Chapter 11: "Politics Is An Evil Thing" – John Guffey                                 87

Chapter 12: Underground Railroad – William Estep                                      93

Chapter 13: The Fall Guy – Ann Hazard                                                          95

Chapter 14: An Ad Hoc Plan – Stuart Herrington                                        107

Chapter 15: Another Plan – Leon Nguyen                                                    121

Chapter 16: Not A Teheran Situation – Wolfgang Lehman                        125

Chapter 17: Atop Two Walls – Glenn Rounsevell                                        139

Chapter 18: "A Fruitless, Terrible, And Tragic Fiasco" – Joseph Gildea  149

Chapter 19: Mary’s Place – Mary Vu                                                               165

Chapter20: Self-Preservation – Donald Berney                                              169

Chapter 21: Giving Away A Country – William Ryder                                  177

Chapter 22: Last Woman Out – Sally Vinyard                                                 185

Chapter 23: Not Normal – Arthur Laehr                                                            191

Chapter 24: "Please Move Your Helicopters" – Ly Bung                              197

Chapter 25: Out On A Limb – Richard Carey                                                    201

Chapter 26: 0759, April 30 – Terry Bennington                                                205

Chapter 27: Fear, Rumors, And Panic – George Esper                                    217

Conclusion                                                                                                            221

Notes                                                                                                                     225

A Note On Sources                                                                                             233

Chronology Of Major Events                                                                            235

Glossary                                                                                                                243

Maps                                                                                                                     249

Index                                                                                                                      253