#RememberingVietnam: Mementos


In honor of the opening of the National Archives exhibit “Remembering Vietnam” on
Friday, November 10, this week we’ll be featuring content from our
collections related to the people who experienced the conflict in
Vietnam. Learn more about the #RememberingVietnam campaign and how to
participate here.

View of the staircase from the American Embassy in Saigon on display at the Ford Museum, via Google Streetview

During the hectic and turbulent hours before North Vietnamese forces swept into Saigon at the end of April 1975, American personnel and Vietnamese allies climbed to the rooftops of buildings to be evacuated by helicopter. One of the staircases used during the evacuation, this one taken from the top of

the building that served as the American Embassy in Saigon from the 1960s to 1975, is part of the collections at the Ford
Presidential Museum.

President Ford reflected on the final evacuation and the meaning of this “important, if sobering, piece of 20th century history”

during his remarks at the opening of the Ford Museum’s Saigon Staircase Exhibit on April 10, 1999:

April 1975 was indeed the cruelest month. […]

The passage of time has not dulled the ache of
those days, the saddest of my public life. I pray that no future
American president is ever faced with the grim options that confronted
me as the military situation on the ground deteriorated… mediating
between those who wanted an early exit and others who would go down with
all flags flying… running a desperate race against the clock to
rescue as many people as we could before enemy shelling destroyed
airport runways… followed by the heartbreaking realization that, as
refugees streamed out onto those runways, we were left with only one
alternative – a final evacuation by helicopter from the roof of the U.S.
Embassy. […]

A quarter century after
Operation Frequent Wind concluded, I still grieve over those we were
unable to rescue. I still mourn for 2500 American soldiers who to this
day remain unaccounted for. Yet the passage of time brings with it a
fresh perspective. No doubt each visitor will interpret this staircase
and its historical significance for himself. For many, it was both a way
out of a nightmare – and a doorway into something incomparably better.
To some it will always be seen as an emblem of military defeat.

For me, however, it is a monument of hope and not despair. For it symbolizes man’s undying desire to be free.