Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75

Avis de parution ; CR de lecture par HistoryBuff ///

[nldr] Nous avons rencontré George J. Veith lors du SouthVietnam Symposium à l’Université de Cornell en juin dernier. Ce chercheur indépendant a noué de solides amitiés avec des personnalités vietnamiennes exilées afin de mieux saisir les réalités peu connues de la guerre. Nous avons évoqué ensemble le destin de Nguyen Tu, journaliste du Chinh Luan, décédé en juillet 2010. L’ouvrage de Veith nous plonge dans les deux dernières années de la guerre du Viêt Nam. Cette histoire militaire a le mérite de prendre en considération le destin des vaincus lors de cette étape cruciale qui mit fin à l’existence de la République du Viêt Nam le 30 avril 1975. Nous présentons ci-après le CR de lecture le plus complet paru sur Amazon.


An accurate account on the heroic efforts of the South Vietnamese in the last days

Black April is a book about the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. The book has 18 chapters, each titled by a quote, and an introduction. The book tells the story of South Vietnam in the last two years (1973-1975) of the Vietnam War, starting with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and ending with the final collapse of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975.

The story is told from a military viewpoint. Those with other interests (e.g., political, social) may be easily turned off with detailed military maneuvers, troop movements, strategies, etc. However, the author skillfully intertwines war scenes with anecdotes of the human spirit, poignant and touching.

For those who are interested in military history, or just history in general, this book is a must-read. The chapters are full of detailed and vivid descriptions with maps and accounts of what happened during the last few months of the war. The author presents the material from a fairly objective position, using sources from all sides, including communist sources, in printed materials, memoirs, articles, etc. In addition to superb narrative, the author also provides valuable insights and analysis on what, how, and why things happened the way they did.

The collapse of South Vietnam started with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 when Nixon pressed South Vietnam President Thieu into signing the agreement by promising harsh reaction to violations of the Peace Accords by the Communists (Chapter 1). Nixon’s promise to Thieu was kept secret from Congress. However, it is doubtful that things would have been different had Congress known about it.

As expected, the Communists didn’t sign the Peace Accords in good faith. It was merely a trick to allow the Americans to complete the face-saving withdrawal from Vietnam. Le Duan, the North Vietnam leader at the time and a die-hard Marxist, wanted to conquer South Vietnam. He persuaded the Politburo to push forward « revolutionary violence » in a military conquest of the South (Chapter 2).

South Vietnam desperately needed military aid from the U.S. to prepare for the defense. But Congress voted to reduce the aid amount. While South Vietnam prepared for the renewed war, North Vietnam poured supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail and sent fresh troops to the South (Chapter 3). « [O]ne hundred thousand fresh troops advanced southward in 1973, and another eighty thousand were headed to the battlefields during the first half of 1974. » (p. 69)

The war resumed in South Vietnam when Gerald Ford became U.S. President (Chapter 4). « Ford faced a recalcitrant Congress and a stagnant economy, » (p. 81) and couldn’t do much.

The beginning of the end started with the collapse of Phuoc Long in January 1975 (Chapter 5). « Heavy rains swept Saigon, unusual for January. » Colonel Le Gro’s Vietnamese driver, eyeing the pouring rain, said to him, « Even the gods weep for Phuoc Long. » (p. 110)

Chapters 6 through 16 chronicles the collapse of Corp I and Corp II, from Ban Me Thuot (Chapters 6-7), Thieu’s error in his order of withdrawal (Chapter 8), the retreat from the highlands (Chapter 9), to the chaos and disintegration (Chapter 10), Hue and Corp I collapse (Chapters 11-12), the battle for the coastal cities (Chapter 13), the Communist advance toward Saigon (Chapter 14), the battle for Phan Rang and its capture by the Communists (Chapter 15-16).

The battle of Xuan Loc is the most heroic battle of the war (Chapter 17). Against all odds and clearly outnumbered, under the magnificent command of Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, the men of the 18th Infantry Division, the 82nd ranger battalion, the 1st Airborne Brigade, the Air Force, the 3rd Armored, and the popular and regional forces fought with remarkable courage and skill.

Only when President Duong Van Minh broadcast the surrender order on April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese soldiers laid down their weapons (Chapter 18). They followed the order of their supreme commander against their own wish to continue fighting. Even when surrendering, they maintained their honor and discipline. In the most moving scene on the final day, the 81st Airborne Rangers surrendered to their enemy with class. « Shouldering their weapons,lining up four abreast in a column stretching almost half a mile long, the two thousand men of ARVN’s most elite unit began marching along the highway toward Saigon. As promised, Colonel Huan was in the first row. . . Soon a Communist officer and troops met Huan on the highway. Huan told the officer his men were prepared to turn over their weapons, but they would not undress. If ordered to do so, they would refuse, and a firefight would break out. The Communist officer relented, and the soldiers of the 81st stacked their arms and dispersed. It was the final unit in Saigon to lay down its weapons. » (p. 494-495). Several South Vietnamese Generals committed suicide. « [M]ost mid- and upper-level commanders stayed with their men. For example, not one Ranger-group or battalion commander deserted his men. Of the senior officers who escaped at the end, Lieutenant Generals Truong and Thi, for example, were no longer commanding units. » (p. 495)

Black April is an accurate account on the heroic efforts of the men of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces who stood up for a last fight against the aggressive North Vietnamese despite lack of ammunition, supplies, equipment, and replacements. They fought till the end. The very end.

A Vietnamese saying says, « Heroes die, but their heroic spirit never dies. » (Anh hung tu, khi hung bat tu.) The country of South Vietnam died, but the spirit of the Vietnamese people never dies.

Black April is about the military defeat of South Vietnam. But the stories in Black April are not just about the fight against communist invasion. They are about the human spirit. They are about the spirit of the Vietnamese people, the peace loving people, who were not given the chance they deserved to fight for freedom.

Réf. : George J Veith, Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-1975, Encounter Books, 2012.

Source : HistoryBuff / Amazon

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George J. Veith [Author’ presentation]

People often ask me how I got involved in writing about Vietnam, since I did not serve there. Here is the short answer to that question.

I am a former Armor officer, having served in tank units in Germany and the U.S. I’ve always been interested in military history, and in particular, historical mysteries. My initial foray into Vietnam was investigating the POW/MIA issue, a natural fit on both counts. One can’t understand the POW/MIA issue without learning about the war, which led me to dive deeper into the conflict.

I also always wanted to write, and years ago, I found some documents at the Army’s Carlisle Barracks on the Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC), the military’s top-secret unit to recover American prisoners during the Vietnam War. Realizing that no one had ever written about these guys, I made ten trips to Carlisle going through all their Vietnam materials. Eventually I located about 80% of the JPRC weekly and monthly reports, and I was off! That research led to « Code-Name Bright Light, » my first book.

My second book, « Leave No Man Behind, » is the memoirs of my friend Bill Bell, who led the USG’s POW/MIA field investigation teams after the war. It was published in 2004.

In April 2001, my friend and translator, Merle Pribbenow, and I visited MG Le Minh Dao, the last commander of the ARVN 18th Division. We interviewed him about the battle of Xuan Loc, which took place in April 1975. His unit stood their ground in some very heavy combat, and our article on the battle was published in January 2004 in the « Journal of Military History. » Dao was so pleased with our efforts that he begged me turn the paper into a book on the final two years of the war. He emphatically told me that the RVNAF had fought well, and they were not the corrupt cowards so often portrayed in the American media. Thus began a ten-year journey of research and writing that finally culminated in « Black April. »

I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your comments.