Immigration: Past Reflections

By Nicholas Perugini, Trending Writer

April 30 1975, a day forever embedded in American history. On this day, the last U.S. helicopter left Saigon as North Vietnamese forces closed in on the city. With this final evacuation, the Vietnam War was over. The war had ravaged South East Asia for over a decade and created over 11 million refugees. When the U.S. military forces pulled out in 1973 the situation quickly deteriorated as communists forces swept through the country. The crumbling of the South Vietnamese army is comparable to the rapid retreat of the Iraqi army to ISIS in June 2014.  As Saigon became under siege, the U.S. military devised Operation Frequent Wind. This operation was an evacuation for American citizens still in the country; it soon became an evacuation for South Vietnamese citizens as well. Thousands of refugees had retreated into the city to escape the fighting.

Saigon’s airport became a bustle of activity as people tried to flee. In early April, President Ford announced Operation Babylift, where an estimated 3,000 orphan children were evacuated form the country. When the airport was destroyed by artillery fire, the only option out of the country was a helicopter. The iconic black and white photo of a helicopter picking people lined up on a roof came from one of the many pickups during this operation. Many Americans fleeing the city refused to leave behind their Vietnamese friends to the fate of the communists. Some successfully smuggled refugees into the U.S. embassy compound for evacuation. Off the coast of Vietnam, dozens of U.S. ships waited to pick them up, including multiple aircraft carriers.

During this chaos, South Vietnamese pilots abandoned their posts and stole helicopters so they could also evacuate their family and friends. There were so many refugees that the U.S. navy had to dump helicopters off their decks to make room for more passengers. Some pilots even had to ditch their helicopters in the sea. By the end of the day, the U.S. naval task force left for Guam with thousands of Vietnamese citizens with them. In total over 130,000 Vietnamese citizens were evacuated from Vietnam. The next challenge came in figuring out what happened next to these refugees.

To deal with the massive amount of refugees on Guam the United States Government passed The Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. This act gave special status to the refugees that allowed them to have residency in the United States. The law also gave financial aid for housing and assimilation into American culture. With the passing of this law and the subsequent moving to the United States, many of refugees were able to settle into the United States and start a new life.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 7th print edition.

Contact Nicholas at


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