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Enemies now friends but still in pain, 40 years after Vietname War

Vietnamese veterans gather for a parade celebrating the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, today in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Associated Press)
Vietnamese veterans gather for a parade celebrating the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, today in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Associated Press)
Margie Mason Associated Press

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – This city once known as Saigon was festooned in red banners today that read “Long Live the Glorious Party of Vietnam,” 40 years after communist forces seized control of the country and America walked away from a divisive and bloody war that remains a painful sore.

Thousands of Vietnamese, including war veterans in uniform, lined up to watch soldiers and traditional performers parade through the streets of what is now Ho Chi Minh City.

On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam. They crashed through the gates of the presidential palace and hoisted the communist flag. It was an incredible victory for the revolutionary forces that had waged guerrilla warfare against the powerful, better equipped United States.

“The tank crashing the gates … was a symbol of victory for the Vietnamese nation and the Vietnamese People’s Army, marking the end of the 30 years of national resistance against the French and then the Americans,” said Nguyen Van Tap, 64, who drove Tank 390 through the iron bars and reunited with members of his tank company Wednesday. “For the Vietnamese, April 30 is a day of festivities and national reunification.”

For the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies, the day was one of panic, chaos and defeat known simply as the fall of Saigon.

After the government’s parade and celebratory speeches were over today, a group of former U.S. Marines, who helped Americans evacuate Saigon as it fell, planned to gather at the site of the old U.S. Embassy, now the U.S. Consulate. They were dedicating a plaque to the two fallen comrades who were the last two U.S. servicemen killed in the war: Cpl. Charles McMahon and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge died April 29, 1975, when their post near the airport was hit by a rocket.

Some 58,000 Americans were killed in the war along with up to 250,000 South Vietnamese allies and an estimated 3 million communist fighters and civilians.

“We lost … and I felt that way for a long time,” said Kevin Maloney, one of the last Marines out. “I was ashamed that we left people behind like that. I did what I could, so I’m satisfied with my own performance, but as a nation, I think we could have done better. And I hope we can learn from that, but I don’t think we’ve seen that.”

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