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May 1, 2015

Remembering the end of the Vietnam War, 40 years later


40 years after the Vietnam War ended, veterans and journalists visited the country to remember one of the most contentious wars in U.S. history.

The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975, with U.S. combat troops arriving in 1965. The war was fought between Communist-backed North Vietnam and the U.S.-backed South Vietnam. At the time, the U.S. government sought to limit the expansion of Communism to South Vietnam during the Cold War.

The war killed 58,220 Americans and over three million Vietnamese, including as many as two million civilians, and inspired a large counter-war movement in the U.S.

American involvement in the war began to wind down as the North Vietnamese’s Tet Offensive, which began in 1968, made greater gains in South Vietnam. During the Easter Offensive of 1972, the North Vietnamese took over approximately a third of South Vietnam.

As the war drew to a close, millions of people fled the country. In April 1975, North Vietnamese forces began to advance on Saigon. On April 29, the Tan Son Nhut airport closed, prompting American forces to evacuate Saigon via helicopter.

As the soldiers left, thousands of South Vietnamese besieged the American embassy hoping to join the evacuation.

“When we were given the order to fall back into the embassy while falling back and looking at the people’s eyes you could see the fear,” Sgt. John Ghilain remembered.

Nick Ut, a photojournalist, took an iconic image of a young Vietnamese girl who was badly burned by napalm. He now visits that same woman regularly in Toronto where she lives. He remembers April 30, 1975 as a “very sad day.”

Warm up questions
  1. What do you know about the Vietnam War? 
  2. What was the Cold War?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How did journalists document the war in Vietnam, and what was the effect of that work? What are the challenges of working as a journalist in a conflict zone?
  2. How do you think public perception of the Vietnam War has changed over time?
  3. What legacy did the Vietnam War leave? How does that legacy affect young people today?
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