By Al Everson
Unless it was your birthday, wedding anniversary or some other memorable event, you probably paid no attention to March 29.
March 29 marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the official U.S. military role in the Vietnam War. It does not mean the Vietnam War ended that day, but rather that the last contingent of U.S. GIs — about 6,000 — left South Vietnam, and the last increment of American prisoners of war held by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in South Vietnam were released.
March 29, 1973, was the final day of the 60-day period for the U.S. to complete its withdrawal of troops from South Vietnam, concomitant with the repatriation of the remaining American POWs in communist captivity in Vietnam. The problem, however, was that while the U.S. pulled its remaining combat troops out of South Vietnam, the enemy did not release all of our live POWs.
Also, the war continued, culminating in the conquest of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
The communists held back many, probably hundreds, of American hostages as bargaining chips in future dealings with the U.S. In 1973, the U.S. Defense Department listed as many as 2,500 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action.
The communists believed the U.S. would negotiate for the lives of its captured sons, trading dollars and goods such as tractors and construction and oil-drilling equipment for its precious citizens.
The communists, after all, had good reason for their belief. Unbeknownst to Americans, President Richard Nixon had sent to Hanoi a letter promising $4.75 billion in U.S. aid as an incentive to keep the peace. The existence of Nixon’s deal was not revealed until 1977 during a congressional hearing on Vietnam.
After the U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War in 1973, and again after watching the governments of Cambodia, South Vietnam and Laos fall like dominoes in 1975, the presence of live Americans still in communist captivity was known to our civilian and military leadership. Few, however, were willing to speak out — let alone work for the release of the hapless POWs.
While the families and friends of those still missing worked tirelessly to gain attention for their cause, a few courageous journalists, such as Jack Anderson, recounted the evidence of live sightings of imprisoned Americans and the case for believing they were still alive and waiting to come home. For several dozen Americans listed as captured, there were enemy reports of their captures, including radio broadcasts and photos and intelligence reports of their lives under communism.
Fed up with a no-win war that drained America of so much of her blood and treasure, our government turned its back on those left behind — and we the people allowed it to happen. Following the war, we were treated to a bad economy marked by high inflation and energy crises, and, not least, revelations of political corruption under the catchall name of Watergate. However, let history show, the policy of abandoning one’s fellow citizens held against their will is a far worse scandal than Watergate.
Moreover, the willingness to turn one’s back on hapless Americans abroad may be the logical next step in descending to new political lows to win and hold on to political power at any cost. Think about it.