APRIL 28 - THE NEWPORT BRIDGE, SAIGON
Helicopter gunships streak overhead, rockets spewing from their mounts. ARVN troops are crouched on each side of the roadway by the bridge, firing their guns blindly toward the bank on the opposite side of the river.
Giant columns of smoke rise from the Newport warehouses and refinery tanks at the harbor entrance to Saigon. Here on this four-lane highway bridge less than two miles from the center of Saigon, the government of Vietnam is fighting its very last stand.
I lie prone on one side of the bridge as Hillary Brown, a tape recorder clutched in her hand, rolls across the highway toward me. Together we peek over the edge of the bridge. Below us, just ahead, we can see figures running amidst the burning warehouses. As we watch, the low-flying gunships pour rocket and machine gun fire into them. The North Vietnamese have reached the very gates of the city.
Several flatbed trucks, their air horns shrieking, roar past us from the direction of Newport, piled high with crated ammunition. They are no sooner past than an huge explosion flattens us against the guard rail, and we see a fireball just ahead of us as one of the trucks in convoy evaporates before our eyes. Screaming with fear, ARVN soldiers, throw down their M-16s and dash past us, running down the ramp of the bridge back toward the city.
THE MAIN PX, SAIGON
Vietnamese are smashing through the windows of the giant American PX and Commissary. As burglar alarms bray, they wheel off shopping carts filled with sugar, medicine and frozen pork chops that immediately begin to thaw and drip in the blazing sun.
Police in the parking lots watch with amusement,
occasionally plucking a choice items from the passing carts, as a type
THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE, SAIGON
The huge, gold brocaded main room of the Presidential Palace is filled with government officials, National Assembly delegates, American Embassy officials and the press. The room is sweltering under the hot TV lights. Occasionally, a wisp of humid air ruffles the curtains at the big open windows, as storm clouds brew in a darkening sky.
Seventy-one-year-old Tran Van Huong, the last President of the Republic of Vietnam, hobbles to the podium. Tearfully, he delivers his final address. As he finishes, a soldier in starched white uniform strikes the familiar yellow flag with red stripes, as another soldier removes the National Symbol of the country from the podium. An electric silence grips the room. All of the participants seem frozen in an historic tableau.
Suddenly, as if on cue, a resounding thunderclap booms within the room. The curtains are blown inward from the windows, as a driving rain, accompanied by bolts of lightening, beats against the palace. It is as if the heavens are serving as an angry witness to this moment.
Amidst the lightning bolts and thunderclaps, 59-year-old General Duong Van Minh walks to the podium. It is to this man that South Vietnam’s final destiny has fallen. Twelve years prior Big Minh had helped usher in American involvement by toppling South Vietnam’s autocratic President Ngo Dinh Diem. That commitment was now coming to a crushing close. He approaches the stage of history for the final time - to preside over the transfer of power to the communists.
The new symbol of government, the I-Ching,
flanked by two doves, is attached to the podium as collossal claps of thunder
roll throughout the countryside and reverberate throughout the room.
SAIGON, LAN SONG SQUARE
I am dashing across Nguyen Hue street, trying to keep my cameras as dry as possible in the torrential rain. A tremendous traffic jam had forced me to jump out of the mini-moke and try to make it to the bureau on foot. Cyclos, Hondas, taxis and cars are stalled in the traffic, horns blaring.
Waiting for a break in the traffic, I look up the street to the huge statue of two Vietnamese soldiers, three stories tall, that dominates the park in front of the Vietnamese Senate Building. As I look past the statue, I see three specks on the horizon moving toward me at nearly the speed of sound. The A-37 fighters, bearing VNAF markings swoop over my head. I am relieved momentarily at the show of force, but at that instant, one of the jets peels off and heads toward the Presidential Palace, rockets spewing from its wings. A fireball billows up from the grounds of the Palace. The sounds of the explosions mix with thunder, as the other planes follow the first into dives and open fire.
I throw myself under a car, along with other press coming from the Palace, and begin crawling to find some semblance of safety. The planes break formation again and make a strafing run right over our heads, machine guns blasting They pull up, and head north toward the airport. I plug the earphone of my small police radio into my ear and listen to the Mission Warden frequency. The radio is alive. The planes are now making a bombing run on Tans Son Nhut.
As I run across the street to the Continental Palace Hotel, I see Mark Godfrey trying to help Hillary Brown to safety. They are both soaked to the skin. Shooting is breaking out everywhere. It is as though every soldier and policeman in the city are firing their guns blindly. CBS cameraman Mike Marriott is watching a "White Mouse" pump rounds from his automatic into the side of a yellow Renault taxi cab. Correspondent Ed Bradley watches transfixed in horror as the policeman swings around, points his gun directly at the cameraman's head and pulls the trigger. The hammer strikes on an empty chamber.
The voices in my earphone are screaming
at each other in Vietnamese and English. One American voice breaks in saying,
"Control...control...I don't know what is going on, but I think everybody
is going crazy!"
SAIGON, THE ROOF OF THE CONTINENTAL PALACE
Harry Griggs and Neil Davis of NBC and I are finishing one of the best meals we have ever eaten, with Cuban cigars and Brandy in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel. We might as well relax, since there is no place to go. A full curfew has been in effect since early evening. Anyone caught walking the streets will be shot on sight! We are the only Americans (and - Neil Davis - an Australian) in the restaurant, and the entire staff is doing their best to make us happy.
Lurking in the shadows are more than a dozen bar girls who have made their way to the roof, just to be around us. It is made quite clear that if we can offer passage on a plane out - anything, REPEAT, anything is not just possible, but guaranteed. None of the Vietnamese want to leave us. As the manager brings yet another bottle of brandy from the wine cellar, the sky to our north is lit by explosions. A second later, we hear the sounds of salvos coming from the direction of Tan Son Nhut airbase.
The Embassy Mission Warden's radio on our table comes to life, "This is control...we have reports of incoming at the DAO!
Control...control, Mission, we have damage and casualties reported at the gymnasium!
Control..control...we have a gunship down near the gate!
Control...control...This is security one. We have Marines hit by the front gate! We need help NOW!
From our vantage point, we see one explosion after another light up the sky. It appears the entire flight line is being targeted. I duck down to my room, and try to reach the bureau on the phone...no answer. Going back to the roof, Harry Griggs is on his two-way radio talking to NBC. There is still no word from the Embassy.
The Mission radio blares again, "Control, Security 1. We have three Marines dead at this post. Please advise situation! Get us help!"
Now there is another voice on the radio...one we have never heard before. A deep and steady voice says with authority, “Mission Control, Mission Control, Silver Hill. Repeat, this is Silver Hill…please advise you are hearing us 5x5. We are taking direct control of all operations. All traffic will now pass through Silver Hill."
None of us has ever heard of Silver Hill.
Then I remember...on my many trips to Andrews Air Force base, a sign pointing
to Silver Hill. Washington is now running things.
|Contents Page||Editorials||The Platypus||Links||Copyright|
|Portfolios||Camera Corner||War Stories||Dirck's Gallery||Comments|
|Issue Archives||Columns||Forums||Mailing List||E-mail Us|