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A MAIN SELECTION OF THE MILITARY BOOK CLUB
A groundbreaking revisionist history of the last days of the Vietnam War that reveals the acts of American heroism that saved more than one hundred thousand South Vietnamese from communist revenge
In 1973 U.S. participation in the Vietnam War ended in a cease-fire and a withdrawal that included promises by President Nixon to assist the South in the event of invasion by the North. But in early 1975, when North Vietnamese forces began a full-scale assault, Congress refused to send arms or aid. By early April that year, the South was on the brink of a defeat that threatened execution or years in a concentration camp for the untold number of South Vietnamese who had supported the government in Saigon or worked with Americans.
Thurston Clarke begins Honorable Exit by describing the iconic photograph of the Fall of Saigon: desperate Vietnamese scrambling to board a helicopter evacuating the last American personnel from Vietnam. It is an image of U.S. failure and shame. Or is it? By unpacking the surprising story of heroism that the photograph actually tells, Clarke launches into a narrative that is both a thrilling race against time and an important corrective to the historical record. For what is less known is that during those final days, scores of Americans--diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, missionaries, contractors, and spies--risked their lives to assist their current and former translators, drivers, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even perfect strangers in escape. By the time the last U.S. helicopter left Vietnam on April 30, 1975, these righteous Americans had helped to spirit 130,000 South Vietnamese to U.S. bases in Guam and the Philippines. From there, the evacuees were resettled in the U.S. and became American citizens, the leading edge of one of America's most successful immigrant groups.
Into this tale of heroism on the ground Clarke weaves the political machinations of Henry Kissinger advising President Ford in the White House while reinforcing the delusions of the U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, who, at the last minute, refused to depart. Groundbreaking, page-turning, and authoritative, Honorable Exit is a deeply moving history of Americans at a little-known finest hour.
Clarke (Last Campaign) does a fine job in this latest reconstruction of the infamous, chaotic final days of the Republic of (South) Vietnam at the end of April 1975, specifically "the greatest evacuation under wartime conditions since Dunkirk and the largest humanitarian operation in American history." Clarke goes into detail about the failed White House decision making in the months leading up to what is known in the U.S. as "the fall of Saigon," but he mostly focuses on what he calls "American Schindlers," a group of CIA and military men, U.S. embassy employees, Foreign Service officers, and civilians (including airline employees and NGO officials) who worked diligently and often courageously to evacuate some 130,000 South Vietnamese military and government workers and their families, sometimes against great odds. Clarke provides compelling details, recounting, for example, how the consul general of Can Tho, Terry McNamara, refused to follow conventional wisdom and abandon Vietnamese staff while evacuating American personnel by helicopter. Instead he led a much larger group of both Vietnamese and Americans to safety via a risky boat journey down the Mekong River. Clarke calls out several participants for mishandling the evacuation, including secretary of state Henry Kissinger and especially U.S. ambassador Graham Martin. Filled with new information and riveting recreations of daring rescues, this book adds significantly to the history of a notable moment in U.S. military history. Photos.