Posted 02 Apr 2015
The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) will host three free screenings of 'Last Days in Vietnam,' an Academy Award-nominated film presented by 'American Experience,' in conjunction with partners in Fayetteville, Little Rock and Jacksonville during April. The film premieres on AETN Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and the broadcast will contain additional footage not seen during the film's theatrical release.
'Last Days in Vietnam' recounts the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon and South Vietnamese resistance crumbled. City after city and village after village fell to the North while the few U.S. diplomats and military operatives still in the country contemplated withdrawal. With the lives of thousands of South Vietnamese hanging in the balance, those in control faced an impossible choice – who would go and who would be left behind to face brutality, imprisonment or even death.
In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords had forged a tenuous ceasefire and limited U.S. military involvement to the presence of approximately 6,000 non-combat troops and advisors. While President Nixon promised a swift military response should the North Vietnamese violate the agreement, his abrupt departure from the White House in late 1974 left in its wake a Congress unwilling to appropriate funds to Vietnam or put U.S. soldiers back in harm's way.
By early March 1975, huge swaths of territory were overrun daily by the North Vietnamese Army, and by the end of the month, they had surrounded the capital, preparing to launch their final assault on Saigon. As the inevitability of a communist victory became clear, the U.S. diplomats and military operatives still in Saigon grew increasingly concerned for the safety of their South Vietnamese allies, co-workers and friends. Even the most ambitious U.S. evacuation plan allowed for the transport of just a few thousand South Vietnamese refugees. By April 25, the number of people in Saigon wishing to flee swelled far beyond that projection.
Yet, even as the North Vietnamese troops drew close to Saigon, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin, himself the father of a fallen Vietnam veteran, steadfastly refused to discuss an evacuation, both for fear of panicking the South Vietnamese population and out of reluctance to admit defeat. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, American officers on the ground found themselves faced with a moral dilemma: whether to follow official policy and evacuate U.S. citizens and their dependents only, or to ignore orders and evacuate the men, women and children they had come to value and love in their years in Vietnam.
At the risk of their careers and possible courts-martial, a handful of individuals took matters into their own hands. Engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations, they waged a desperate effort to get as many South Vietnamese out of the country as possible.
On April 29, the airport in Saigon was bombed, leaving few options for evacuation. What ensued was a scramble to board one of the helicopters carrying refugees to a small fleet of ships floating just offshore in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy ships, initially sent to offer support and protection to Americans, rapidly and unexpectedly played a central role in the evacuation, taking aboard both American and South Vietnamese helicopters, and countless evacuees.
However, most of the action on that final day took place at the besieged U.S. Embassy in Saigon, where thousands of South Vietnamese scaled the walls in hopes of securing a evacuation. As desperation rose and time grew short, Martin used American resources meant for his own protection to extract thousands of South Vietnamese during an airlift from the embassy compound.
'Last Days in Vietnam' anchors a special week of programming related to the Vietnam War, and will be preceded at 7 p.m. by 'The Day the '60s Died,' which chronicles the nation's upheaval during May 1970, the month in which four students were shot dead at Kent State University during a protest against the Vietnam War. Premiering Monday, April 27, at 8 p.m., 'The Draft' takes a look at the turbulent history of this American institution and dives into the discussion of how mandatory military service has defined our nation. 'Dick Cavett's Vietnam,' April 27 at 9 p.m., is a look back at the conversations the talk show host had about the war with a range of high-profile public figures.
In conjunction with 'Last Days in Vietnam,' 'American Experience' is launching a national outreach campaign, bringing together Vietnamese Americans, U.S. veterans and their communities to share their experiences from that turbulent time. The cornerstone of the campaign is the 'First Days Story Project,' a partnership with StoryCorps. Forty years after those last days, the 'First Days Story Project' is recording the stories of the Vietnamese American and veteran communities during their first days in the United States after the war and will archive them in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. These stories will be published as part of a comprehensive multimedia digital experience, launching April 2015.
The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas's statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).