Sunday, December 16, 2012

Col. Bui Tin Remembers the Fall of Saigon

Col. Bui Tin. Raw Tape Transcript, some misspellings

I was born in 1927 in Hanoi. I was studying for my diploma in a French High School in Hue for my HS diploma and my father worked there, I was 17 years of age at the time, when the uprising took place against the Japanese and the French. Between 1941 and 1945 I was with the Viet Minh.
On Independence Day, September 3, 1945, I was in Hanoi and listened to Ho Chi Minh declare the Republic of Vietnam. It was the first time I saw Ho Chi Minh. There were three black cars there, and I touched the handle of one and I saw Ho Chi Minh inside.
That was an exciting time for me. After Ho Chi Minh's speech was over and he got in to his car I grabbed onto the handle and ran beside the car and saw Ho Chi Minh after his speech.
Just before the independence, there was a meeting organized by the journalist association, for the nationalists, a pro-Japanese group, there was also a governor, Tran Kim Trong(Spelling?), the idea was that two weeks earlier, this meeting to back up the Tran Trong Kim (spelling ?) government, and two weeks later that dissolved and we had the new government.
And I was present at the meeting organized in order to cause a commotion for the Viet Minh Movement. It was a big meeting and many people attended and filled the square in front of the national theater, and at that meeting there was a novelty because before the Tran Trong Kim government, they called it the "Li Flag", and that was the first flag for this country.
So my job was to be present at the meeting and to disrupt the meeting, and as soon as there was the announcement that the meeting was to begin, and in front of the theater there was a large government, from the roof of the theater, a six meter flag dropped down, the red flag with a yellow star in it, the North Vietnamese government(eventually), was unfolded. Before that even there were many smaller flags being posted everywhere, but the Japanese soldiers and the French had taken them away.
So anybody in possession of such a flag, anybody who was caught with such a flag was to be jailed.
And I was assigned to post flags around Hanoi and fliers. Here was the method of putting up the flag, I would put the flag on my back and someone would put glue on it and I would back into a wall and then walk away and the flag would stay glued to the wall. We did that throughout Hanoi.
After the meeting, when we were unfolding the flag and disrupting the meeting. And the people seemed to like the flag. Ten minutes after the loudspeaker system was seized and the meeting for the Tran Tong Kim meeting turned into a meeting for the Vietminh. And that was important moment in the history of our revolution.
After that we went to the governor's palace to put the flag up. We climbed over the fence and into the palace grounds. And when we took the loudspeaker system over, there was a man and a woman with hand guns, backed up by two other people with guns. At that time, two days before this event, there was a public declaration of the Vietminh government, there was a national congress meeting to declare a provisionary government, the people who attended the national congress, and announced their intentions and that led to this event in Hanoi.
After we went to the governor's complex and put up the flag we went to a military compound to take it over. The headquarters of the Japanese government and we were winning support for the League for the Independence of Vietnam.
After I joined the unit that was posted in front of the house where Ho Chi Minh was staying. I was a gate guard for two weeks and then I was assigned to go to school to train military cadres in the villages. I went to school for two weeks the Association of Military and Political Cadre, Pham Van Dong taught there, Truong Trinh, who was known then Comrade Nhien, and at that time these people were known not as communists but as Viet Minh. Vo Nguyen Giap was teaching guerrilla warfare, how to shoot and how tothrow grenades and how organize operations.
And then after two weeks we were graduated and sent south, there were 72 graduates sent South using the railroad system. And in each province there would betwo or three of us, and we went through Phan Thiet where we were based. On the 23rd of September 1945 the French Army came back then and started another war.
Back in Hanoi we had the Japanese soldiers and then the Chinese Army and in the South we had the British Army and then the French Army. The Chinese Army came into Hanoi just three or four days after the independence declaration.
At that time, remember, when independence was declared, there was an American airplane flying overhead and to us that meant that the Americans supported what we were doing.
When the Chinese came into town, and I was curious and went out to see what they were like.
I was not in the deep South. I left at the end of September and went then to Quang Tri, we were based there. That was the "hot spot" because the French Army was in Laos too at that time. And It was my job to organize a regiment of Viet Minh fighters in Quang Tri. I was to share with the regiment the military tactics and the knowledge tht I had learned in Hanoi.
They had been taught their tactics by some Americans from the OSS who had also given them arms. But there was also military tactics learned from Mao Zedong's writing. But the main thing was the Americans at that time.
From that time I was always in the Viet Minh, then, always in the field fighting against the French until 1954. I was in April 1948 present in an operation that captured seven French soldiers. I was the sole person in my unit who could speak French at the time. Later on I joined the 304th division in Phanh Hoa province from 1949 until 1954. By the end of 1953 I was directed to move to Dienbienphu with my division.
And my division was to position itself at the base of the valley. And I stayed there until the end of 1954, after the Geneva treaty I returned to Hanoi. We captured a lot of French prisoners, 2,000 prisoners in the battle.
Only about 2 to 3 percent of the total we captured were Vietnamese fighting for the French.
I didn't think Dienbienphu was a turning point in history. Because after the victory I was occupied in fighting further against the French.
I had fought then against the Japanese and the French. I did not imagine at that time that I next would fight against the Americans. Never.
At that time, after the Geneva Treaty we thought there would be a general election in 1956 and the country would then be unified. That would be the victory that we had fought for. Only when the government put Ngo Dinh Diem did it begin to look like we would have to fight the Americans.
I didn't remain with the 304th Division, but was transfered to the MR IV area for political work, because then I was quite occupied with preventing the flow southward of Vietnamese after the Geneva Agreement. The people in that area were staunch Catholics and so when the movement South began all the Catholics wanted to move South, and I was trying to discourage them from going South. They went by foot, by boat, by car to the South. Somy men and Iwere asked to convince people not to leave and that the Jesus Christ was not moving South. We wre just to talk to them, and that as the bishop had said, and we were not allowed to be rude oruse force, and when we convinced people tostay we had tohelp themmove their belongings off the boator car and take them home again. We were highly disciplined at that time and did not touch any of the people who wanted to move South or did we try to useforce.
We brought our own food rations with us and never touched the crops or belongings of people who were leaving for the South or those who were staying. People were leaving after many generations in the North.
In 1962 I was involved in the recruitment and organization of troops, selecting people who had come North in 1954 to return to the South. It ws an individual recruitment very much in secrecy at tht time in Nghe An province.
In 1962 I led a unit of a few hundred men crossing the DMZ area, using the Ho Chi Minh trail, which at that time was very primitive and it was not an easy task, we had to wend our way through very difficult terrain. We wore simply shorts and going by foot and holding on to a cane and each of us carried our own hammock to sleep in and it was a march in the jngle and we would camp near a spring in the afternoon, about 4 o clock, and after that I would go out to recruit and train more people and bring them North for training. It was a secret operation that few people knew about even within Vietnam.
When President Diem was assassinated in November of 1963 I didn't think that the South would collapse even after the death of Kennedy. What we did, though, was to increase our efforts in the South. We decided at that time to bring in division size units, one at a time, into the South to fight gainst the puppet regime in the South.
The majority of these men were from the South who had gone North, but now they wree going back into the South, and now we recruited Northerners also. But the majority had been Southerners.
Two weeks after the death of Diem I was in the headquarters delegation for an on the spot examination in the Central Highlands to see what ws happening and to open the Ho Chi Minh trail and to make it better organized. I was also to organize battalions and regiments in the Central Highlands. In the beginning we could only walk on the trail, and by 1963 the width and the organization was such that now we could bring bicycles with supplies down the trail. And at that time there were few American or Vietnamese planes bombing on the trail.
I never believed, after the battle of Ap Bac in January 1965, was not if the country would collapse, our main concern if we could fight the Americans face to face. That ws increasingly the question that we had.
General Westmoreland was using the Armored Personnel Carrier at tht time(APC), and we had not confronted them before and we were not sure that we could fight against them. So at Ap Bac, before that time, we did not have the right kinds of weapons to destroy those machines. And so we alerted headquarters that we had to contact the Russians and the Chinese to provide us with the types of weapons that could destroy these machines and they began to supply us with rockets to destroy them. That is what we did in Ap Bac against the southerners and the Americans.
then we fought the Americans in the Ia Drang Valley, and we concluded that we could fight the Americans directly. We concluded that we could stand and fight against them, and now we knew that we could fight. But we did not say at that time that we could beat the Americans. We just knew that we could stand and fight them. That is all we learned there. Winning was something else.
We gained a lot of experience in fighting the Americans when they used APCs and then helicopters. Every time they came up with sometehing new we had to come up with sometihng new. And what we learned was theAmerican strength but also our own weaknesses. So after Ia Drang we had to retreat and rethink fighting with the Americans and come up with tactics for fighting them. We had a problem.
there was the additional problem of American bombers, especially Americans using B52 bombers. And we had to rethink how to confront them also along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
What did not happen isthat Idid not lose faith. I was very very worried. But morale among the troops remained very high in those days for us. We never thought we would lose. We just did not know how we could win.
We did not lose faith. Whatever the American government ws dising out, in the beginning with the B52s it was completely terrifying and it worried me a lot. A lot. A lot. But we watched them and discovered the pattern of bombing. We found outthe formation they would fly in. And we knew what pattern they would hit on the ground and so we would go into shelters in areas that we thought the bombs would not hit in. You study the pattern of flight ofthe planes and then take shelter.
How did we maintain high morale among ourselves? We wre fighting for the independence and the unification of our country. We knew that. And we knew that we could survive the war. We were discouraged in the beginning from the bombing raids because so many people were killed and we didn't know for a time if we could survive the punishment that the Americans were giving us. But then we found out the pattern of their bombing and the times and we found we could survive their weapons and their technology and when we knew that and knew that we could surivive then we saw that we could win, also.
Were the Americans and the South Vietnamese a worthy foe on the battlefield? I thought about this issue a long time. My conclusion was that the American soldiers and the Vietnamese soldiers they had a lot of weaknesses courage in them, the Am soldiers belonged to a rich country and they had all of the ammunition they needed, but they had so many weaknesses it was not difficult to fight against them. Supplies did not overcome their weaknesses.
The weaknesses of the American soldies included the mentality and the attitude. They did not know whatthey were fighting for. They wre fighting for a country that wasn't theres and they missed their families far away and they were fulfilling a duty to their own country, but they didn't care much for the fight and so they had weak morale. And they depended far too much on their air powere and on their artillery. But when it came to fighting in close quarters with our soldiers without air or artiller, just us and them face to face, they often freaked out.
The Northerners they wre fighting for something. They really wanted to free their country. The Americans fought because it was their job, and they wanted then to return home. They didn't believe in what they were doing. So their hearts were not in the fight and ours were. That was a major difference in the fighting.
Following the signing of the Paris Agreement, I was sent to the South to attend the Four Party Commission for the Settlement of the provisions oftheAgreement. I went to Camp Davis as a member of the delegation from the North. I was the spokesman for our delegation. I was there for 60 days. And for the first time I met with Americans. I met with General Woodward and his wife. We had a many meetings in Saigon and in My Tho and in Danang. Working with the Commission. And I headed a team top supervise the last withdrawal of American troops on the 28th of March 1973. I has in uniform at that time. And after that I returned to Hanoi just at the end of March.
The last working paper I received was a report from General Woodward. And I remember watching the last Americans leave Vietnam. I shook hands with the last Ameican to leave the country. I remember his name, his name was Sergeant Max Bielke.[for more on Sgt. Max Bielke, see below] And I shook his hand and said goodbye to him.
I came South then in 1975 with General Van Tien Dung. This time I was a journalist. I came into the Saigon with the first NVA troops into the city. I was with the headquarters unit in the South.
There was no high-ranking official with us when we went into Saigon. So they delegated the duty to me to take the surrender of the South. I was with the first three tanks that came into the city.
I was in Saigon. Ihad been in Saigon in 1973 already, and I had been around the city site seeing. And so I was the only officer in the tanks who knew the way into the city. In 1973 I had taken a picture of the Presidential Palace, so I knew what we were looking for. I was on the way to Tan Son Nhut to meet with the Hungarian delegation and I took a picture of the Palace.
Bielke was the last American to leave Vietnam. I shook his hand and I gave him a small picture frame, a picture of the lake, Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, return of the sword lake. And I wished Bilke happiness when he was reunified with his country, and I wished him good health, and I hoped that he would never come back to Vietnam again.
It was a great feeling to enter the Palace Grounds. I was worried about having the war in Saigon and fighting for the city. And I thought that we might have tofight in thecity for a week or so. I heard the firing when we came into the city, butit was just soldiers firing their weapons into the air signifiying that the war was over. and so wedrove on to the Presidential Paoalce to take the surrender.
I was I didn't plan on the one being the one to take the final surrender of the South. It just happened that way. I just happened to be going with the army and happened to be with the first tanks to enter the city and so directed them toward the palace because I knew where it was. None of this was planned. It just happened.
I was directed to General Minh by the chief of the guard of the armored unit. I went to General Duong Van Minh's office and he was standing and he said he had been waiting for someone to come in and to take the surrender. And Ilooked around and I saw that all of the people in the room were very worried. Mr. Minh was dressed in a short sleeved shirt and his face looked tired and he looked like he had not slept in a long time and he had not shaved for several days. He waid he wanted to surrender the government of South Vietnamese to me and I said that he had nothing in his hands to surrender because he could not surrender what he did not possess. Everyone from the Southern government seemed very worried there, and so I looked around at them and I told them this should be a happy day for our country because the war is over. "If you love your country, then you should be happy." Then when I said that, they seemed to relax and not to worry so much. Then to lighten up the atmosphere of the room, I asked Vu Van Mau about his family and tried to make some jokes and tried to make small talk. I asked General Minh how his tennis game was. Minh grew orchids and I knew that and so Italked to him about that? I surprised them because I knew all about them and they knew nothing about me.
I went to the US Embassy then to take pictures. I went to the roof and took pictures. There were lots of helmets and guns and supplies all over the roof. And I took pictures of it. So much they left behind on the roof. Jackets. Bags. And I also passed by the place where the Americans destroyed their documents, and I went out to the Tan Son Nhut and saw the place where they kept their documents. It was still burning.
I was very happy at that time, and the thing I enjoyed the most was tht the southerners came up and talked to us. Young people came out to talk to us to find out about us and what we intended to do, so they could go back and report totheir homes. People seemed tobe welcoming us, but they wre worried. And I was so excited about that that Iforgot about my journalistic duties and I didn't until that evening sit down andtryo to write an article about the events of the day.
then I found myself sitting in a desk on the second floor of the Presidental Palace and in one stroke I wrote four pages.
I wrote it but then I didn't know how to get it to Hanoi. Then I remembered the DAO office where I thought I could telex it, so I went out there but they had destroyed the telex and then I went to Camp Davis and there were three people there and I told them to try to send it out to Hanoi, and that was the first news that came out of Saigon that day about the victory. I met a lot of foreign journalists who were taking pictures but they didn't know how to get the pictures ou tof the country.
The opening line, was "I am writing this article while sitting at a desk on the second floor of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. The long war over."
Americans must remember today that the war was regrettable and it was preventable and it should never have been fought. It was the most regrettable war in America's history. And if the American people have always been slow in perceiving the real nature of things in Asia, especially the American government. Right now, of course, the Americans have diplomatic relations with China and with Russia but they do not have diplomatic relations with us. Why not? America and Vietnam should be friends, for sure. We were once friends, at the end of World War II. We should have remained friends and this war should never have been fought. It is tragic.
I am not bitter. The Vietnamese are not bitter about the war today. Remember that. And why not? The reason is that we never did what was morally wrong. We never dropped bombs on America. We never shot prisoners or civilians. What the American soldiers did was what they were required to do for their country. I spoke with more than 100 American pilots in Hanoi after they were shot down. We had more than 500 of them here in prison during the war. They should never have been our enemies. They should have been our friends.
Today I am very tired of war. Very tired. If you have been to war you can appreciate peace. Peace. All the people of the world want peace. We know that. I became a man of war and I never wanted that. All I ever wanted was friendship and peace. All wars were forced onto us. The Vietnamese people hate war. We love peace.

Closure for the family and relatives of retired Master Sergeant Max Beilke, United States Army, came on December 11, 2001: he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, three months to the day following his death.

Beilke, deputy chief of the Retirement Services Division, of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, was meeting with Lieuenant General Timothy Maude and retired Lieutenant Colonel Gary Smith at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when a hijacked jet piloted by terrorists hit the outer ring of the building. The three men and 71 other personnel were killed.

Lori Wells, of Brookings, joined high-ranking Army officials who took part in services to honor Beilke, her uncle. First came the funeral services in the military chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia, attended by General Eric K. Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Major General Kathryn G. Frost, the Army's Adjutant General. And following the burial ceremony at Arlington, which included a bugler playing Taps and a 21-gun salute by a firing squad, Frost presented an American flag to Beilke's widow, Lisa Beilke.

Wells praised the American Red Cross, who paid for her and other relatives and family members from around the country and abroad to travel to the Washington, D.C., area to attend the services for her uncle.

Wells said she was the only relative from South Dakota to attend the funeral and burial services. Others who the Red Cross got to the services were Wells' mother and Beilke's sister, Lucille Johnson, two of Wells' aunts, and three cousins, all of whom live in Minnesota, and an aunt and uncle of Wells, who live in Oregon.

"The Red Cross was great," Wells said. "It made it easy for us to go. They just took care of everything. They took care of our hotels. They gave us money for food. They took care of the plane."

In addition to being impressed with the Red Cross helping out the family and relatives, Wells was impressed with the military funeral for her uncle and how the Army looked after his widow.

"The Army has done so much to support my aunt," she said. "It's something I'll never forget."

Wells found out about her uncle's fate from her mother, Lucille Johnson.

"I called my mom that day (September 11) and asked her if she had heard from him. His office was in Virginia, but he spent a lot of time in the Pentagon," Wells said. "She said she had called Lisa, Max's wife. Lisa said Max usually called her every morning, just to check on her. And she hadn't heard from him. Even that night, they hadn't heard from him. And then (Lisa) kind of knew.

"A general came and visited her and said they just couldn't find him."

But she said Lisa Beilke wanted to wait a while before holding funeral services. Wells added that DNA testing of some parts of the human remains found in the damaged section of the Pentagon were identified as belonging to her uncle.

And, Wells said, "It was such an intense fire. His death was probably instantaneous. They said he never knew what hit him, which helps."

Wells said she had not seen Beilke in about seven or eight years. But she knew about his interesting Army career, which made Beilke a legend of sorts in the Army and among his family and relatives.

The 69-year-old Beilke, a native of Pipestone, Minnesota, who was drafted during the Korean War, stayed in the Army until his retirement in 1974, which was followed by a second career as a civil servant. During his 22 years on active duty, he served in Korea, Germany, and Vietnam. It was his tour in Vietnam during 1972 and 1973 that brought him a unique place in the history of our long struggle there.

Max Beilke was the last official American combat soldier to leave Vietnam. And he did so with his family watching on television.

A report following his death quoted his sister, Lucille Johnson, as saying, "We could see him leaving (Vietnam) on television. We all just beamed, because we knew he'd soon be home safely."

Max Beilke, 69, the last U.S. combat soldier to leave Vietnam, was among the first to be declared missing at the start of a new war.

Beilke, a retired Army master sergeant living in Laurel, was working in the Pentagon on veterans' issues when hijackers rammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the building.

Beilke, a quiet midwesterner, was drafted into the Korean War. He served almost a year in Vietnam as the United States negotiated terms for its withdrawal from the country. The Army listed him as the last soldier to leave Saigon, on March 29, 1973, although Marines guarding the U.S. Embassy stayed until the fall of South Vietnam in April 1975.

As Beilke boarded a C-130 transport plane for home, a North Vietnamese colonel gave him a rattan table mat with a pagoda woven into it, a scene that unfolded on national television and gave the low-key Beilke a certain celebrity.

"It was all over the TV and radios when Max was the last one out of Vietnam -- then for something like this to happen," said Lucille Johnson, one of Beilke's four surviving sisters.

She remembered her only brother fondly. "One boy growing up with five girls tells you a lot: He grew up spoiled," she said, adding that when he died, "Max was doing exactly what he would have liked to have done."

Beilke grew up on a small farm near Alexandria, Minn., west of Minneapolis. He finished high school in 1950, was drafted in 1952 and served two years in Korea. In 1956, he reenlisted. He met the woman who became his wife, Lisa, while he was stationed in Germany, where he taught local children to play baseball. Together, they raised two daughters.

By the time he went to Vietnam in July 1972, Beilke was a 20-year veteran. He retired in 1974 and held various jobs before he went to work for the Army as a civilian and began lobbying for veterans in 1984.

"If they had problems, they'd come to him," Johnson said. "He liked being helpful to somebody."

Like so many Americans in the days since the attack, Johnson has displayed a U.S. flag outside her Evansville, Minn., home. Beilke had given her the flag, which once flew over the Capitol, as a birthday present.


Peter Graves said...

Thanks for all this detail. I used some of it to comment on the obituary of Colonel Tin, at the Washington Post of 14 and 15 August 2018.

The two soldiers in the photo of Col Tin at the top of this blog were otherwise not identified on the WaPo site.

Peter Graves

Peter Graves said...

Apologies - I should have also included the link to the Washington Post, here