As the Vietnam War was ending, and our loss became clear President Ford ordered an evacuation of Saigon.
A Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corp, Tom Benton piloted one of the helicopters that day thinking it would be business as usual, but as he approached the embassy, he realized this wouldn’t be a one flight in and out mission.
“People were crying, kids were throwing up on the plane. As time went on and the desperation of the people trying to get on the helicopters became more and more apparent and we knew we only had a limited amount of time and limited amount of flights in and out,” said Benton.
The evacuation ended up being an 18 hour operation with more than 80 aircraft and hundreds of ships.
“It made you realize how sad this was, people were losing their country because if they stayed they would be put into reeducation camps or executed, so they were desperate to get out,” said Benton.
For Mickey Guth, a Vietnam Vet, who was deployed toward the beginning of the war, the order meant relief after years of battle.
“We were happy it was over, the Fall of Saigon was the end of the war as far as we were concerned because that was where trouble was coming from and they took care of the trouble. I mean I lost a lot of friends there and you never forget it so we were happy to hear that it was over,” said Guth.
But coming home from the war didn’t exactly mean a hero’s welcome. Veterans were discouraged from wearing their uniforms on their way home, and once they got to the airport were assaulted by protesters.
Understanding of the Vietnam War, didn’t come for many Americans until years later, when they were faced with similar battle situations.
“It wasn’t until after the first Iraqi war that Vietnam vets first got respect and treated well. People were nicer and actually started calling it a war instead of a policing action,” said Guth.
For Benton, things continue to come full circle – even 40 years later.
“I was vacationing with my family in Hawai’i and making small talk with the cab driver, found out he was a south Vietnamese officer who got out on one of the helicopters. Once he knew that I was there and a part of that, he started crying and giving me hugs. So that just it brought it all home to me,” said Benton.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Get daily hometown news and sports delivered to your inbox!Sign Up Today!