American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam

Expand/Collapse American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam


Gain insights into the American evacuation of Saigon and the Vietnamese refugee experience through some moving personal accounts of bravery and perseverance in this collection of media resources from American Experience. The collection features classroom resources from the Academy Award®-nominated film, Last Days in Vietnam, and from the First Days Story Project, a collaboration with the oral history project StoryCorps. The resources present the perspectives of people who were there, and describe the moral dilemmas they faced as communist-aligned forces closed in on Saigon. They also capture the lengths to which refugees went to escape, and reveal what new life in a new land held for them.

  • Last Days in Vietnam: A Moral Dilemma

    Experience the moral dilemmas facing both U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon in April 1975 in this video adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. According to some of the 6,000 or so U.S. personnel remaining in South Vietnam, it was clear that the U.S. Embassy needed to plan for an evacuation of American personnel and the hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese who had worked closely with the U.S. during the war. Because the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam had refused to develop an evacuation plan for endangered South Vietnamese, several young officers in the embassy led “black ops”—operations that were against regulations—to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible. This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Last Days in Vietnam: The Embassy Evacuation

    Learn about the decision to evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese from the U.S. embassy and about the experience of a South Vietnamese Army lieutenant who stayed behind in this media gallery adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. By mid-April 1975, it was clear that the North Vietnamese Army would attack Saigon. While the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, had been hopeful that Saigon would be spared, he ultimately sanctioned the helicopter airlift that helped 1,100 threatened South Vietnamese to their freedom. Lieutenant Dam Pham was not among those evacuated. He was arrested and spent 13 years in a communist re-education camp. This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Last Days in Vietnam: Miki Nguyen’s Story

    Experience the intensity of one South Vietnamese family’s escape from Saigon in this video adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. Miki Nguyen’s father was among several pilots in the South Vietnamese Air Force who commandeered helicopters to transport their loved ones to safety during the U.S. Embassy evacuation. Flying over the Pacific, his helicopter low on fuel, Nguyen’s father spotted a ship. But the Chinook that he flew was too big and heavy to land safely on its deck, so he hovered over the ship as his passengers jumped into the arms of the crew. Nguyen’s father managed to get himself off the helicopter before intentionally crashing it into the water. This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Last Days in Vietnam: Refugees

    Learn about the unsanctioned U.S. naval escort of thousands of refugees on South Vietnamese ships from Con Son Island to the Philippines in this video adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. Just before the fall of Saigon, Richard Armitage, a civilian on assignment from the U.S. Defense Department, and Paul Jacobs, the captain of the U.S.S. Kirk, led the mission to escort dozens of South Vietnamese Navy ships into international waters, away from Vietnam. But Armitage and Jacobs did not have U.S. government permission to bring refugees as well. They decided to do so anyway. Because the Philippines had already recognized the new Vietnamese government and wouldn’t allow South Vietnamese ships into port, the ships had to replace their flags with American flags. This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • First Days Stories: Emily Dinh and Tan Dinh

    Tan Dinh tells his 14-year-old daughter Emily about his family's escape from Vietnam by boat when he was 13 in this media gallery (audio, personal photos) produced for the American Experience First Days Story Project. Tan arrived in America excited but apprehensive. Thanks to helpful neighbors, a local pastor, and people at the middle school he attended, he was introduced to American culture and learned the English language. Today, Tan remains grateful to them and to the country that provided him and other political refugees shelter. He also hopes that his daughter will not take for granted the rights and the privilege she has being an American. Produced by StoryCorps for the WGBH American Experience First Days Story Project, part of the outreach and engagement initiative for the film, "Last Days in Vietnam." This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • First Days Stories: Pascale My Phuong Tran and Ngoc-Tran Vu

    Photos of Vietnamese “Boat People’s” journeys accompany Pascale My Phuong Tran’s recollections (audio) of her father's bravery in escaping Vietnam in this media gallery produced for the American Experience First Days Story Project. The accompanying photographs show the often-perilous journey faced by similar refugees. After leaving Saigon, Pascale’s father moved to a village on the sea and became a fisherman. During the late 1970s, he spent years gathering materials to build a boat, and then used it to carry more than 400 refugees into the Pacific Ocean. In the audio recording, Pascale describes to her friend, Ngoc-Tran Vu, how after surviving the century’s biggest hurricane in the Pacific and refusing rescue by a Russian ship, her father and his passengers eventually made it to an island in Malaysia. Produced by StoryCorps for the WGBH American Experience First Days Story Project, part of the outreach and engagement initiative for the film, "Last Days in Vietnam."

    Grades: 6-12
  • First Days Stories: Thang Do and Andrew Ly

    Andrew Ly recounts his escape from Vietnam and rags-to-riches success story to his friend Thong Do, also a refugee, in this media gallery (audio, personal photos) produced for the American Experience First Days Story Project. Andrew left Vietnam in 1979. After a dangerous boat journey and nine months in a Malaysian refugee camp, he arrived in the U.S. with nothing. Yet five years later, he and his brothers founded Sugar Bowl Bakery, now a multi-million-dollar business. Andrew comments that he was one of the lucky ones, and that the others who didn’t survive the journey deserve respect for the courage they demonstrated in trying. Produced by StoryCorps for the WGBH American Experience First Days Story Project, part of the outreach and engagement initiative for the film, "Last Days in Vietnam." This resource is part of the American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam Collection.

    Grades: 6-12

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