Premieres 4/28. Juan Valdez, Marine Embassy Guard: So the marines just kinda grabbed me, and then just pulled me in. Premiering 4/28 on PBS. Stuart Herrington, Army Captain: If we were going to bring out everybody who was inside the embassy it was obvious that there was the need for a hasty plan to be developed for a helicopter airlift out of the embassy to the fleet. They were small helicopters, the little Hueys, which were never part of the evacuation plan. They were very patient. Graham Martin, U.S. Later we found out, "the big fleet is out there; you can just take a boat and go there. Dan Cogan Binh Pho He came down finally and in a very loud voice said, "You don't have military people on here or people of military age." And I said, "You two stay right with me. The U.S.S Kirk Association Stuart Herrington, Army Captain: There were thousands and thousands of Americans who served in Vietnam who were sitting at home heartbroken at watching this whole thing come to naught. Stuart Herrington recalls the struggle of members of the South Vietnamese military who stayed behind to fight while their families were evacuated. If they weren't, they wouldn't go. They spoke good English, too. Catherine Karnow Executive Producer Mark Samels talks about "Last Days in Vietnam." Slate: Of those left behind, hundreds of thousands were sent to re-education camps. No, Marine pilots don't get tired.". The second was the honor of America -- that we would not be seen at the final agony of South Vietnam as having stabbed it in the back. Without any immigration papers, anything, passports, you name it. In 1975 my mission was to remove or destroy as many ships, boats, anything I considered to be a benefit to the enemy. I had arranged a signal with my intelligence community friends that if I said, "I'm having a barbecue," that meant come to a certain pre-designated place and bring your families and only bring one suitcase because we're going to have a party. It was long enough to get us through the most dangerous part of the trip. Miki Nguyen: One by one, we jump out. And we'll work together as a team.". But in August, 1974, he was gone. The agreement called for a cease-fire between North and South Vietnam, and marked the withdrawal of American troops. Then my friend, he showed the paper to the guard, and he just kind of pointing to each one of us, and we, one by one, to go inside of the Embassy. Then you really gotta get out. And that's when the Captain Herrington started speaking to us in Vietnamese. Frank Snepp, CIA Analyst: That morning, CIA choppers began picking up evacuees off the roofs of buildings around the city and bringing them to the embassy. We didn't know how much longer we could last. But people could see what was going on. Aide to Graham Martin (archival): He has no statement to make. I felt the rounds. Black Ops were essentially violating the rules. But I was on my way back to Vietnam. And I remember the dawn breaking and the sun coming up, seeing what I had seen as a radar display in person. They're gonna be in there by Ho Chi Minh's birthday", which was May 19, literally a month away. Ambassador to South Vietnam (archival): If you, if you, if you mean is South Vietnam is on the imminent verge of collapse? In 1975 Richard Armitage was a special forces advisor in Saigon. Caused a lot of wind, caused a lot of commotion. Tri Ma Gia And he had the general with him; it was a two star general. And I was like, "Captain, I assure you, neither am I. United States Marine Corps When the cease-fire occurred, in 1973, everybody toasted it with Bloody Marys in the U.S. Embassy. But we complied. Harnage was a pilot featured in the iconic image, it was Caron at the controls. Joseph McBride, State Department Officer: If we were gonna get people out, we were gonna have to make it happen, and deliver the Vietnamese to the big airplanes in some form or fashion. We were, you know at this point, four or five hours from Can Tho. We should take out the cook too, and all the other cooks. It's a different noise. And they began to argue with me. Stuart Herrington, Army Captain: The plan was when the signal was given, Americans still in Saigon would immediately go to pick up zones around the city so that buses could then come to these 13 locations and get everyone out to the airbase where they would be helicoptered to the fleet. Nothing. The ambassador had resisted us cutting that tree because he did not want anybody to be alerted that we were doing any sort of evacuation or were going to do any sort of evacuation. I can't take anymore." They had no idea what was going to happen so they came out ready for anything, really. Reporter (archival audio): Rockets exploded all over the base, touching off three major fires. You know, so... Paul Jacobs, Commanding Officer, USS Kirk: As we approached the Philippines with our refugees, there was a big problem. Afraid for a lot of things. He was determined to keep U.S. aid flowing into Saigon. You know, like a Houdini, trying to get out of this thing. © 1995 - 2018 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). And Ambassador Martin pulled me out of line and he said, "I know what you've been doing. I thought of my friends who were killed in action and I thought, "Well, is this what we fought for? We couldn't think of what else to do, these other planes were looking for a place to land, so we just, just, physically pushed them. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State (archival): I'm confident that every American who wanted to come out, uh, is, is out. This was another 30 or more thousand people to deal with. I thought about how this really really was wrong. It was just a day to day job. Well, I'd been there for almost five years at this point and I was committed to the Vietnamese. Matt Radecki, Legal Services It was a little over an hour, back and forth. In other words, reenter the war. Gerald Berry, Marine Pilot: About four in the morning, 4:30, I land on the USS Blue Ridge again. U.S. military men took matters into their own hands to get their South Vietnamese counterparts out of the country before the North Vietnamese reached Saigon. Binh Pho, College Student: I remember I talk to my friend and he said, "Oh, it's our turn now, we're almost there." Le Nguyen Binh Frank Snepp, CIA Analyst: The deputy defense attaché moved out Vietnamese personnel and their families, to Clark airbase in the Philippines without any approval whatsoever. With the lives of thousands of South Vietnamese hanging in the balance, those in control faced an impossible decision—who would go and who would be left behind to face brutality, imprisonment, or even death. It's 70 miles from Can Tho down to the mouth of the river. So they just put one or two Americans on each one. But they had to be allowed to bring their families on board with them. Hugh Doyle, Chief Engineer, USS Kirk: Turned out, all throughout the southern part of Vietnam, there were South Vietnamese army and air force installations with one or two or three or four helicopters, and those helicopters were flyable, their pilots were there. Get the latest on new films and digital content, learn about events in your area, and get your weekly fix of American history. Fixed iFrame Width: in pixels px Height: in pixels px. As North Vietnamese forces swept into Saigon in April of 1975, one family risked everything to escape. So I spun around and slammed these huge doors, and we locked it from behind. If the very worst were to happen, at least allow the orderly evacuation of Americans and endangered South Vietnamese to places of safety.