On April 30, 1975, North Viet-namese troops accepted the surrender of Saigon and thus snuffed out the Republic of Vietnam, humiliating Washington in the process. Saigon, within 24 hours, had become Ho Chi Minh City. The surrender of the capital and its prompt renaming--38 years ago this month--became the ultimate symbol of the failure of US policy in Southeast Asia.
For Americans, that day forever will be remembered for the spectacle of overcrowded US helicopters fleeing in a badly timed but well-executed evacuation, their flight to safety contrasting with the terror that gripped thousands of loyal South Vietnamese left to their fates. The media presented hundreds of wrenching scenes-tiny boats overcrowded with soldiers and family members, people trying to force their way onto the US Embassy grounds, Vietnamese babies being passed over barbed wire to waiting hands and an unknown future.
Saigon fell with bewildering speed. After 21 years of struggle against the Communist forces, the South Vietnamese army collapsed in just weeks into a disorganized mass, unable to slow, much less halt, forces from the North.
In nearly 30 years of war, Hanoi had defeated France and South Vietnam on the battlefield and the US at the negotiating table. The Communist regime was expert in manipulating US opinion. For example, Hanoi had converted its debilitating defeat in the 1968 Tet Offensive into a stunning propaganda victory, one that ultimately drove the United States out of the war.
Still, North Vietnam had suffered about 50,000 casualties in Tet and was similarly mauled in its spring 1972 offensive against the South. The People's Army of Vietnam needed time to recuperate.