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The 40th Anniversary of Saigon’s Fall

s1Forty years ago on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace and hoisted the communist flag. It was an incredible victory for the revolutionary forces that had waged guerrilla warfare for more than a decade against the better equipped U.S. forces, and before that, against the French colonialists. Known as “national liberation and unification” day, it been celebrated on its anniversary ever since.

For the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies, however, the day was one of panic, chaos and defeat known simply as the fall of Saigon.

Months before the 40th Anniversary, ambitious plans were made for a huge celebratory parade on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Several months before the event, colorful banners and signs with some that read “Long Live the Glorious Communist
s2┬áParty of Vietnam” were scattered throughout the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

On Thursday morning, after much preparation, the commemorative parade began on time with a huge military parade marking the moment communist tanks smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace, ending a divisive and bloody war that delivered a painful blow to American moral and military prestige.

Thousands of Vietnamese, including war veterans in uniforms heavy with medals, lined up to watch regiments of goose-stepping soldiers in dress uniform march past all the country’s flag-waving top leadership as a marching band played. Elaborate floats, including one bearing a giant portrait of founding president Ho Chi Minh, made their way slowly through the city streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

During Thursday’s festivities, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung praised the victory as one of
s3“ardent patriotism” and national reunification. “I call on Vietnamese people at home and abroad to uphold the sense of patriotism, the tradition of humanity and tolerance; to rise above the past and differences; to sincerely engage in national reconciliation,” he said.

Prime Minister Dung also slammed what he referred to as Washington’s “countless barbarous crimes” that he said caused “immeasurable losses and pain to our people and country,” according to the French news agency.

No U.S. diplomats attended the parade. However, after the government’s parade and celebratory speeches were over, a group of former U.S. Marines who helped Americans evacuate Saigon as it fell attended a separate, small ceremony at the U.S. Consulate –
s4┬ásite of the old U.S. Embassy – to remember U.S. troops who died during the final days of the war. They dedicated a plaque to two fallen comrades who were the last U.S. servicemen killed in the war: Cpl. Charles McMahon and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge died April 29, 1975, when their post near the airport was hit by a rocket. Each of the former Marines placed roses in front of the monument before saluting it as taps played.

“We lost … and I felt that way for a long time,” said one of the last Marines out who attended the event. “I was ashamed that we left people behind like that. I did what I could, so I’m satisfied with my own performance, but as a nation, I think we could have done better. And I hope we can learn from that, but I don’t think we’ve seen that.”

The conflict – which killed millions of its people as well as 58,000 American servicemen – is bitterly divisive in the US and still haunts our country.
s5As the first Cold War conflict to be extensively covered by the Western media, it remains seared into the public imagination, most often as a tragic waste.

For the Vietnamese who once viewed the war as one for national liberation and unification, many now believe that the war was a tragic event during which Vietnamese killed other Vietnamese in what is sometimes considered as a civil war. The communist party is no longer seen as patriotic or invincible.

Despite their bitter past, economic and military ties between the U.S. and Vietnam have improved in recent years. Thursday was also the 20th anniversary since the two countries normalized relations in 1995. More than 16,000 Vietnamese students now study in America, and the U.S. has become one of Vietnam’s biggest foreign investors. Bilateral trade exceeded $36 billion last year.

The country still tightly controls the press and cracks down on political dissidents. It jails those who dare to speak out for democracy, including in blogs on the Internet. But much has changed since the early days after the war when Vietnam was plunged into severe poverty and isolation during failed collective farming policies.

s6As for the parade April 30, 2015, many Vietnamese thought it was a waste of money and that the fall of Saigon happened too many years ago to be relevant.

Today, Ho Chi Minh City is alive with capitalism, and many of the scars from the war are no longer visible on the surface. It is the economic muscle of the country, and recent and ongoing construction projects have transformed its skyline into glassy high-rises bathed in neon lights.

But much of the old traditions remain. The sidewalks are still filled with generations of families hustling out of small shops to earn money while elderly women peddle the country’s famous pho noodle soup from street stalls.

The two countries have also hosted high-level visits, and Vietnam has welcomed military cooperation and visiting U.S. naval ships. China continues to spar with Hanoi and other neighbors over disputed islands in the South China Sea in what is viewed as a growing maritime threat in the region.

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