April 30, 1975
PLAN TO CLOSE MISSION AT ABOUT 0430 30 APRIL LOCAL TIME. DUE TO NECESSITY TO DESTROY [COMMUNICATIONS] GEAR THIS IS THE LAST MESSAGE FROM EMBASSY SAIGON.
After those words were sent, someone took a sledgehammer to the machinery. The ambassador and CIA chief were flown out by 5 a.m., and the last official American presence 11 Marines waited for a helicopter on the roof. Around them, chaos had blossomed: Saigon was burning, the communists were nearing, and thousands of South Vietnamese were trying to flee with the Americans. Hours earlier, one man had tried to put his baby on an embassy bus, as ABC's Ken Kashiwahara recalls in the oral history Tears Before the Rain. Kashiwahara watched as the man fell, and the bus ran over the baby. But the driver kept going.
Just before 8 a.m., a Chinook-46 helicopter landed and whisked away those last Marines, drawing up plumes of the tear gas they had dispersed in the embassy to discourage people from going to the roof. And in that vaporous haze, the American war in Vietnam a debacle that took 16 years and 58,000 American lives finally ended.
Next Apple Boots Up