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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS

The 70s: Vietnam. Aired 9:00-10:00p ET.

Aired June 25, 2015 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vietnam is the most divisive, morally abrasive war Americans have ever fought anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time for the great silent majority to stand up and be counted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just going to refuse to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may be in jail but you won't be dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military pressure will continue until a peace settlement is reached.

PRES. RICHARD NIXON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We have achieved peace with honor.

WALTER, CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: The Americans are leaving. The Vietnamese must stay and face uncertainty. Vietnam, we have reached the end of the tunnel and there is no light there.

DAN RATHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: There's no understanding of America in the 1970s without understanding how the decade began in relationship to the war in Vietnam.

JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Normally, casualties for the previous week are released on Thursday, but fighting in the last week has been so bitter, that military sources released the casualties unofficially today. 340 Americans and 527 South Vietnamese were killed last week. Enemy dead were reported to be more than 5,000.

CRONKITE: There was some grumbling among numbers of young GIs taking part in assaults questioning whether the objective is worth the bloodshed.

NIXON: Out here in this very difficult war, I think history will report this may have been one of America's finest hours because we took a difficult task and we succeeded. You're doing your job. I can assure you we're going to try to ours to see that they don't fight in vain. Thank you very much. NEIL SHEEHAN, AUTHOR, A BRIGHT SHINING LIE: Nixon did not want to be the first president of the united states to lose a war. It was a matter of personal pride with him.

WINSTON LORD, FMR SPECIAL ASST. TO HENRY KISSINGER: His basic goal to end the war as quickly as possible but on honorable terms with preserving his view, credibility as a world power and as an ally.

SANDER VANOCU, NBC NEWS HOST: President Nixon will dispatch his adviser on foreign affairs, Henry Kissinger to Paris for peace talks.

DAVID BRINKLEY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It is thought the U.S. is working on a new proposal to offer to the Viet Cong and North Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nixon's strategy on Vietnam was to negotiate a peace agreement but at the same time to Vietnamize the conflict.

EVAN THOMAS, AUTHOR, BEING NIXON: We had to turn the conflict over to south Vietnam or it was going to be helpless. We couldn't fight their war forever.

BOB SIMON, CBS NEWS HOST: The south Vietnamese were taught to think like Americans, act like Americans, fight like Americans.

FRANK BLAIR, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: South Vietnam's President Thieu, had said that he wanted nothing more than to gradually take over full responsibility for the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon started with joint troops almost right away. He had a lot to withdraw. There were over 5,000 men there.

SHEEHAN: But he did this very slowly as they supposedly shifted the burden of the fighting to the South Vietnamese army. It was -- we're fighting so slowly a lot of people were getting killed in the process and there was no end to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: October 15, 1969, Vietnam Moratorium Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surely this is a day unique in our history. Never have so many of our people, publicly, and collectively manifested opposition to this country's involvement in a war.

RICK PERLSTEIN, HISTORIAN: It wasn't hippies. It wasn't radicals and Marxists. It was ordinary middle-class Americans. Two million taking the day off from school, from work. It was a genuine democratic explosion of anti-war sentiment.

HERBERT KAPLOW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Nixon has told aids that loss of American popular support and appearance of it could reduce the leadership to press on in the expectation that the United States would quit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The October moratorium made Richard Nixon go to the mountain top literally. He went to Camp David for two weeks to write a speech to answer the anti-war movement. [21:05:01] The elites had gotten on the anti-war bandwagon, the press, Harvard, the universities, the east coast establishment. By 1969 they were all anti-war.

And Nixon wanted to rise up and show there was another side, his side, the outsiders, the people who didn't go to Harvard who revered the flag and supported our soldiers. And he wanted to rally them.

NIXON: To you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.

PAT BUCHANAN, FMR. SPECIAL ADVISOR TO PRES. NIXON: The term silent majority clicked with Middle America because they were never represented on television and they didn't feel they were represented in Washington and didn't really have a voice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon's not only display 52,000 telegrams persons who supported him.

NIXON: It's time for the great silent majority just to stand up and be counted.

BUCHANAN: At that point he went to 68 percent approval.

PERLSTEIN: It gave him the room he needed to maneuver.

NIXON: Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire communist military operation in South Vietnam. This is not an invasion of Cambodia.

ROBERT DALLEK, AUTHOR, NIXON AND KISSINGER: Nixon's conviction is that what you have got to do is cut off the supplies that the North Vietnamese are funneling into the south to the Viet Cong and the way to do it is to take out the Ho Chi Minh trail, the root they're using through Cambodia.

WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR, KISSINGER: They don't quite realize Cambodia is its own country. In fact a country that always had 10 U.S. relationships with Vietnam. And once they destabilize Cambodia you really just have all hell breaking out.

KENLEY JONES, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The Cambodian operation will continue during the coming days. American units searching for North Vietnamese troops and installations. But what they will find or how long they will be here, no one can say for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The active, large scale American and South Vietnamese participation in the fighting in Cambodia has brought a cry of anger for many college campuses. At Kent State University in Ohio, the protest turned into a riot with thousand of demonstrators facing national guardsmen and police.

DALLEK: Four students are killed at Kent State. Two students are killed at Jackson State in Mississippi. Nixon is sort of overwhelmed. He is bewildered.

BUCHANAN: Nixon was very upset by the deaths, by the belief that he had caused them. It was a low point of his presidency.

CRONKITE: The events of this past week have polarized not only the opposition to the war but also the opposition to the anti-war movement. Hard hat construction workers chased and beat demonstrators in the streets of the financial district. Police joined ranks while attacking workers and laughingly watched students brutally beat.

TOM JARRIEL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Smoke generated by this latest fuss is tending to obscure the only real question will the demonstrations have any effect on shaping the president's Vietnam policies? The answer here remains no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:12:45]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A United States military court martial formally established to day there was a massacre of civilians at My Lai. If convicted Lieutenant William Kelly, one of the American soldiers who was there, of premeditated murder in the death of 22 South Vietnamese.

GEORGE HERRING: William Kelly commanded the unit that went into My Lai, a village that was supposed to be harboring Viet Cong troops.

RONALD HAEBERLE, U.S. ARMY PHOTOGRAPHER: But we were ferried in by helicopters. We led on the outskirts of the village. We came across some people in the village because I have in the one photograph. You can see in the expressions of their faces, before they're about to be shot especially the small child on the left and the one small boy not realizing what as it but to happen.

HERRING: In the spasm of violence, hundreds of people are killed -- all of them civilians.

KARL MARLANTES, AUTHOR, MATTERHORN: This unit from the America division lost it. They said that well we just felt like we were killing vermin. They pulled the trigger by somehow tricking themselves off to think that they're not killing a human they're killing an animal.

The captain and Lieutenant Kelly did not do anything to stop them. They had lost it themselves. It was a complete failure.

BILL GILL, ABC NEW ANCHOR: The white house is a cutely aware that the My Lai scandal could bring a disastrous withdrawing away of support for the Vietnam War and for Nixon's plans for a staged withdrawal of American forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened in the Kelly case was not a combat situation. He shot in cold blood old men, women and children and the day that we as a country failed to recognize an act of cold-blooded murder.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not convict this battalion commander.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- every single one of them that put the man in Vietnam to presenting that and saying I am guilty too. That's how I feel. Every one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vietnam, fifth Cavalry, initiating new men.

[21:15:17]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The day after the initiations, five men came back in body bags.

SHEENAN: By the 70s, the U.S. army in Vietnam had essentially destroyed. Every time we tangled with the Vietnamese we were getting killed. And there was no end to it. So you got what amounted to a state of individual mutiny in the U.S. army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senseless, walking down the road. I'm not going to walk down it. I'm going to walk down the track. (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFED MALE: No, that's it.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Now, you wiggle (ph), move out and don't get left behind to take the point and then follow them if they want to. It's that simple. Now we're going to jump they won't do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just going to refuse to do it. Because it's -- you may be in jail but you won't be dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are supposed to be withdrawing right. And then one thing since we are going home, why don't we take it easy. Don't go out looking for trouble. Maybe sit down, if they come to us, we'll fight, you know. But for now going out looking for trouble and wasting more lives just time's sake. To me it's just absurd. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the people coming over here are a lot different than they used to be. Like World War II type people or the old Vietnam people. It's a Woodstock generation coming to Vietnam.

CRONKITE: The public campaign against the war in Vietnam took on a new dimension in Washington today. Men who have been there began demonstrations on the end of the conflict.

JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERANS: Businessmen have protested. Students have protested. Mothers have protested. Everybody has. But the men who fought the war, who know what it is like, who know what we're fighting, who know what they've been made to do haven't. And it's the first time in history they're going to do that.

BERNARD KALB, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening, the war in Vietnam has often been camouflaged by misleading statistics of body counts, weapons captured, hamlets pacified. But we are now in the midst of new more revealing statistics, the two and a half million word of the pentagon papers.

These once secret papers tell the agonizing story of the US involvement in Vietnam from four administrations of expanding commitment. The pentagon papers have touched off the deepest controversies, centering on whether the presidents and their men deceived the people.

DALLEK: Daniel Ellsberg, an official who has served in the defense department and had access to the materials is the one who leaks this to the press.

SHEEHAN: I was the lead reporter in the pentagon papers. Ellsberg turned against the war. And he copied these papers with the hope that's eventually they would be used to embarrass an awful lot of people. And which would show that we had made a terrible mistake fighting this war in Vietnam.

EHRLICHMAN: The Star tonight has the Ellsberg story. Front page. Big black type.

KISSINGER: Curse that son of a bitch. I know his well. He was ---

NIXON: You know him?

KISSINGER: Oh, well. He was a hard-liner. He volunteered for service in Vietnam. He then flipped late '67. He suddenly turned into a peacenik.

SHEEHAN: I think Kissinger was obsessed with secrecy. And so was Nixon. My first three articles were published. Ad the Nixon administration then wanted to stop the whole thing.

NIXON: Neil Sheehan is a vicious anti-war type, sure, we're all against it, but God dammit. If you're going to go to this length, we're going to fight everything we've got.

BUCHANAN: My argument inside was if you want to make the case against the Pentagon papers, get up and charge the New York Times with publishing national security secrets, gross irresponsibility, and sabotaging the war in Vietnam.

HOWARD SMITH, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The justice department went to court in New York today and got a temporary order restraining from publishing the next and last two installments.

BILL BRANNIGAN, ABC NEW ANCHOR: Attorneys for the New York Times claim the protection of the first amendment, freedom of the press is sufficient to protect their disclosure of the Vietnam memorandums.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Supreme Court today ruled that the New York Times may continue to publish the secret pentagon papers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the lessening of the people of this country can't afford to let the president run the country by himself even foreign affairs even more than domestic affairs, without the help of the Congress, without the help of the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you had to sum up the prevailing mood here on Capitol Hill, you could do it with two words embarrassment and anger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:23:44]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of the following CBS News special report, the Myrrh Griffin show will begin one half-hour later than usual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States tonight disclosed a Vietnam peace offer that he says has been secretly offered to the communists. The plan calls for withdrawal of all U.S. forces within the six months and new South Vietnamese elections in exchange for a cease-fire and return of all American prisoners.

NIXON: The offer that I shall now present on behalf of the government of the United States and the government of South Vietnam with the full knowledge and approval of President Thieu is both generous and far reaching.

LORD: The response from North Vietnam was, "No you're missing something. You got all of the two government." But we were not going to overthrow an ally as we left. And that was the sticking point.

DALLEK: We were stuck. It was a stalemate.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD, CBSA NEWS ANCHOR: This is the scene on the White House lawn. As the presidential helicopter waits for President Nixon to begin what must be surely one of the most remarkable journeys ever undertaken by an American president -- his trip to Peking.

NIXON: I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace.

SMITH: Is the food as good as people say it is?

HARRY REASONER, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: I'm no expert on Chinese food. But I liked it.

[21:25:01]

KISSINGER: Mr. President.

NIXON: Hello Henry. Have you checked in to see how they played the Chinese thing today?

KISSINGER: Oh yeah, it was tremendous. It's been the lead item on every television thing and...

NIXON: Rather be a Vietnam for a change.

KISSINGER: Yeah, it's gone on and on and on.

THOMAS: Nixon was a very geopolitical thinker. He liked the idea of linkage, the idea that he could link U.S. soviet policy with U.S. Chinese policy with U.S. Vietnamese policy and produce one tidy bundle.

SHEEHAN: Nixon thought the Vietnamese were highly (inaudible) or pawns of the Chinese and soviets that they work. They were communists domestically but they were no one's pawn. They were using the Chinese and the Russians playing them off each other to get weaponry to fight us to gain their independence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The heaviest fighting in a year broke out in South Vietnam today. North Vietnamese forces struck at eight bases manned by South Vietnamese troops just south of the demilitarized zone.

FREDRIK LOGEVALL, AUTHOR, CHOOSING WAR: The North Vietnamese are unnerved by the fact that the Americans seem to be making peace with both the soviets and the Chinese. They're feeling alienated from their principal in allies. They see the offensive as a bold effort to perhaps bring the war to a close or perhaps put themselves in a much better position with respect to negotiations.

KALB: The president has decided to keep American troops out of fight and to keep them coming home on schedule no matter what happens to the South Vietnamese. According to top officials here, counteraction to massive air strikes against enemy forces and installations in South as well as North Vietnam.

LODGEVALL: The Americans respond in great force. And so you see an absolutely massive aerial bombardment.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The latest in some ways the greatest of Mr. Nixon's gambles in his efforts to end the war as he says with honor and not defeat.

REASONER: And now the world is waiting to see how the American minefields will affect the North Vietnamese supply system. Will they really strangle the enemy's most important supply line?

LODGEVALL: The North Vietnamese fail in this effort to have a breakthrough as a result of this offensive. And they suffer massive casualties. It helps to advance the negotiations in a way that hadn't been possible before.

CHANCELLOR: Henry Kissinger dropped out of sight again and nobody is saying where he is. The president's top adviser left the Western White House yesterday with his children. There has been speculation he may have gone to Paris to renew secret peace talks with North Vietnam to lead that foe.

LORD: The North Vietnamese position began to change before the 1972 election. They knew Nixon was unpredictable. So if we get this mad man reelected as he looks like he is going to be and doesn't have to worry about reelection ever again what the hell is he going to do his -- from now? So in October 8 in Paris the North Vietnamese presented a proposal which for the first time after three or four years of endless negotiations dropped their political requirement that we overthrow the Saigon government. I remember stepping outside in a break and Kissinger and I want to go ahead in Paris and we shook hands and we said we done it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe that peace is at hand. There will be a return of all American prisoners within 60 days after the agreement comes into force. Now with the election just 12 days away the Nixon administration says peace is at hand. It might appear that someone has pulled a rug out from under McGovern.

KISSINGER: Hello, Mr. President? Colson called me and he thinks that we've wiped for McGovern out now.

NIXON: Did he really?

KISSINGER: Yeah.

NIXON: And far as Thieu is concerned, if he blows a whistle on us then we're in a perfect shape to twist his arm.

HERRING: Kissinger telling us peace is at hand was seeing the United States as a cynical ploy to win the election. The fact is Kissinger is telling Saigon this is the best you are going to get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thieu was afraid he was being sold out. And once the Americans left it would be a short matter of time before his own government fell.

THIEU: I reaffirm again that the whole people of South Vietnam will resist again any pace which demands the rendition of South Vietnam and with will give South Vietnam to the communist aggressors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looked like we had a peace deal. Kissinger said peace is at hand publicly. No deal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:33:27]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massachusetts is the only states going for McGovern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon is swept back into the White House. The victory landslide of McGovern is seems to be Mr. Nixon's alone. Not his party's.

BUCHANAN: I think Nixon was resolute. Now I am liberated. Now I am never going to have to run again. Now I am going to be whom I wish to be.

REASONER: The United States has resumed full-scale bombing of North Vietnam including the Hanoi Haiphong area. The North Vietnamese said American planes carried out heavy attacks around the cities and the Hanoi's armed forces shot down a large number of planes and captured several pilots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boeing-52 (inaudible). THOMAS: Nixon wanted the communists to think he was crazy in the hopes that that would drive them back to the bargaining table.

KISSINGER: He got a lot of things. Civilian areas were hit apparently. Civilian areas must have been hit. And I don't want to say that it was not a very painful thing to have to

SHEEHAN: When 8,500 pound bombs go off one plane the closest thing to a nuclear weapon. The response to the Christmas bombing was such an outrage.

DALLEK: Here is this small, third-world country that the United States is bombing back to the Stone Age.

JARRIEL: The word from the president is, military pressure will continue until a peace settlement is reached.

LORD: Within days after this so-called Christmas bombing, the North Vietnamese came back to us and wanted to reopen the negotiations made some concessions and within weeks we had an agreement.

[21:35:07] So what any one thinks of the bombing it produced peace within about a month.

WILLIAM ROGERS; SECRETARTY OF STATE: Good evening. The Vietnam War ended today, ended officially in this room in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The treaty basically said that South Vietnamese get to keep their government. The North Vietnamese get to keep their soldiers in South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese release the 500 American POWs and everybody promises to stop fighting.

NIXON: As far as this administration is concerned, we've done the very best that we can. Against very great obstacles and we finally have achieved a peace with honor. I know it gags some of you to write that phrase but that is true. And most Americans realize it is true.

RON NESSEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is the Americans who are celebrating. They are leaving. The Vietnamese are not celebrating. They must stay and face the uncertainty of whatever is going to happen to them next.

LIZA TROTTA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: In Hanoi, the American military involvement in the Vietnam War finally came to an end. For anything or anyone symbolized the American agony of Vietnam it was the prisoners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most were pilots and many had spent more than six years in prison. Now they were on their way home.

CHARLIE PLUMB, CAPTAIN U.S. NAVY (RET) : It wasn't really until we rolled down the runway. Finally lifted off enemy soil that we all broke loose and started hugging and kissing. The air force nurses. It was just unbelievable. And it was all euphoria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gathered in the den to watch the arrival of the planes in the Philippines. There was no word which of the three planes the Lieutenant Colonel Purcell would be on. The first one landed but it wasn't that one. Then, came the second plane. Someone in the family said that he went be on this one either. But he was.

PLUMB: We were greeted by thousands of people, they let out the schools and everybody was waving flags and calling our names. It was a great, great homecoming.

LT. CMDR. JOHN MCCAIN, PRISONER OF WAR: We are honored to have the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were legitimate heroes they had suffered terribly. And here they were home. And it gave the country something to cheer about after having so little to cheer about.

CRONKITE: Mr. Nixon said he does not plan to greet returning POWs, because, "this is a time when we should not grandstand it, we should not exploit it."

PLUMB: So many of the soldiers that came home from Vietnam in the early '70s couldn't wear their Uniforms in public. They were called baby killers to their face. And it really was very disturbing. It distressed us all to think that those comrades in arms had come back to such a negative reception where we had come back to ticker tape parades.

GENE SHALIT, THE TODAY SHOW HOST: American language has changed since you went away it may have changed since you returned. So the conversation of your wives, friends, children may seem strange.

PERLSTEIN: The "Today" show devoted the entire two hour episode to explaining ostensibly the prisoners of war, what had happened in America in their absence. They left a country where the "Sound Of Music" was the most popular movie. They returned to one in which "Last Tango in Paris" was the most popular, that involved unspeakable carnal acts illegal in most states.

CATHERINE MACKIN, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Whatever you do don't call a group of women girls. It's no longer considered a compliment by many.

PLUMB: We came home to quite a different world. It's like rip van winkle waking up after six years in a prison camp. It was unbelievable that our culture had changed to that point.

[21:40:02]

REASONER: In South Vietnam both the Saigon government and communists have accused each other of new cease-fire violations motivated by attempts to gain more villages and territory.

The Nixon administration again expressed confidence the cease-fire will prove effective before long.

PRES. RICHARD NIXON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Mr. President, we have been allies in a long, difficult war. And now you can be sure that we stand with you as we continue to work together to build a lasting peace. SHEEHAN: Nixon promised that if the North Vietnamese renewed the offensive he would send the B-52s back to Hanoi. Well, it didn't happen because he was caught up in Watergate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JARRIEL: Washington is a city that revolves around controversy during office hours and elegant social events at night. These of course are days where there is no shortage of controversy with a sensational testimony before the Watergate committee on Capitol Hill, with Henry Kissinger still trying to get the cease-fire agreement implemented.

[21:45:01] For a few hours tonight attention will be shifted away from those daytime problems here at the White House. The guests of honor are about 600 Americans who were held prisoner of war at some time or other during the long, agonizing Vietnam conflict

NIXON: All of us would like to join in a round of applause for the brave men that took thosee B-52s in and did the job.

THOMAS: Nixon was overjoyed when the POWs came home. They were overjoyed to see him. Nixon was a hero to the POWs.

NIXON: As all of you know, if they hadn't have done it, you wouldn't be here tonight.

THOMAS: But while he was cheering the POWs, Nixon was thinking, "Watergate's going to take me down." That night when it was over, he went back to his study and got his daughters down and said, "You know, I might have to resign."

CHANCELLOR: The Congress of the United States in an historic action today made effective a limitation on the powers of the president to make war. The House and then the Senate overturned President Nixon's veto of the War Powers Bill and despite his opposition that measure now becomes law.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Is this override the result of Watergate -- the new developments in the Watergate?

SEN. CHARLES H. PERCY, (R) ILLINOIS: I think this has no relationship at all to Watergate. This is a prerogative of the Congress of the United States that several presidents have tried to take unto themselves but the people of this country are demanding that never again do we stumble into a Watergate -- excuse me -- stumble -- the people of the country are demanding that we never again stumble into a Vietnam

CHANCELLOR: At 9:04, this evening, Nixon became the first president ever to resign his office

UNIDENTIFED MALE: And there is the president waving goodbye literally for us (ph).

PRES. GERALD FORD, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: As we bind up the internal rules of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

RATHER: There was this collective sigh of relief in the country. OK, we have a new president. It is a new day. Let's see how things go.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Secretary Kissinger, the president has already announced that he will stay in the cabinet.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Sophisticated Vietnamese believe they're the ultimate victims of Watergate. They think Congress cut U.S. to settle a score with former President Nixon.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (inaudible) Cronkite News, March 18, 1975.

IKE PAPPAS, CBS NEWSMAN: According to Pentagon sources, North Vietnamese have now penetrated to a point some 25 miles east of the provincial capital of Ban Me Thout fell over the weekend.

STUART HERRINGTON, COLONEL U.S. ARMY (RET.): The cease-fire that wasn't a cease-fire that wasn't a cease-fire involved a lot of bloody combat. And for the first 11 months the South Vietnamese fought quite well.

But by 1975, it became more and more clear that the North Vietnamese were building up a formidable logistical system that portended real danger for the South Vietnamese.

JACK REYNOLDS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The communists began the first major attack of their offensive. Saigon's troops made a stand. It was a vital one. The entire central highland might be lost. And South Vietnam could be cut in two by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.

HERRINGTON: The plan that the North Vietnamese conceived would be a two-year plan. What happened was that when attacking the central highlands town of Ban Me Thout, the Thieu government lost its composure.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Government troops were secretly ordered by President Thieu to pull out of the central highland provinces.

MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The withdrawal quickly became a rout, civilians and soldiers fleeing in panic leaving behind huge supplies of American-made war materials.

HERRINGTON: The North Vietnamese never dreamed it would result in such a dramatic decision as to abandon the highlands which had been fought over for 12 years. So they reconvened their central military committee and determined that the iron is hot. And this the time to strike.

BRUCE DUNNING, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: President Thieu said he would not abandon Hue but the people are leaving anyway. Thieu said he would not abandon Quang Tri and that city is now gone.

HERRINGTON: The world witnessed the tragedy of the overrunning of the DMC (ph) of Quang Tri, followed by Hue, followed Da Nang, and the next thing you know those of us sitting in Saigon are watching our map legitimately bleed red.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A somber Henry Kissinger outlined in a news conference what he saw as the choices now facing the United States.

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What we face now is whether the United States, not just will withdraw its forces, which we achieved, and not just will start the end of the loss of American life, but will they deliberately destroy an ally by withholding aid from it in its moment of its strength.

[21:50:08]

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: There's a new Harris poll out today on how people feel abut continued military aid to Vietnam. Only 17 percent favor that and almost three quarters of those questioned are opposed to further military aid.

FORD: It's a tragedy unbelievable in its ramifications. I must say that I am frustrated by the action of the Congress and not responding to some of the requests both for economic and humanitarian and military assistance in South Vietnam.

SEN. FRANK CHURCH, (D) IDAHO: When you consider how much we've spent in blood and treasure in Southeast Asia and how little we've fought with the money, I should think that now the time has finally come to say no more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: A communist commando unit, probably Viet Cong, has slipped into Saigon and dug itself beneath this American bridge over the Saigon river. Above them, South Vietnamese helicopter gun ships circle and fling down their (inaudible) rockets.

HILARY BROWN, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Soldiers behind me are firing at Viet Cong units who are 500 yards away. (inaudible) This is the closest the fighting has ever come in Saigon since the Communist offensive in 1968. Live from ABC News, Saigon.

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Now there are reports that the Communist have the city within artillery range -- at least in the airport.

[21:55:05]

HERRINGTON: Many Americans on the ground in South Vietnam at that time felt serious obligation to Vietnamese whom they have worked with and knew

SU RENKEN, SOUTH VIATNAMESE REFUGEE: My friend worked for the Embassy. She came over, knocked on the door 7:00 in the morning. I had maybe one hour. My friend said, "We have to go. Go, go now." I said, "Can I take my four kids?"

JIM BENNETT, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: They were running in panic, not because the NVA were so hard on their heels but because of t the threat that the NVA were coming.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The city was suddenly choked with people (inaudible) cars all chasing one American evacuation convoy after the other.

HERRINGTON: I'd borrowed a truck with a bogus embassy license plate on it and stuffed people in the truck drove them to Tan Seang (ph) through the gate.

RENKEN: The American army had an airplane. They have two machine guns, they point down. They're ready to shoot if something happens. Everybody's crying. We think, we leave Vietnam to go to -- we don't know if we'll come back or not.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The airport received sporadic rocket fire from communist forces closing in on the city.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Minutes later came the report that all Americans are to be evacuated immediately.

HERRINGTON: By the 29th at noon, there were about 2,500 people in the U.S. embassy who can only be gotten out by helicopter.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The scene here at the U.S. embassy here in Saigon is total chaos.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The embassy gates would close and we like the frightened Vietnamese and their families had to fight and claw our way up.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: I couldn't help them. I couldn't. I couldn't get anyone out.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: 50 at a time, they took off with the carriers waiting in the South China Sea.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: There was no room, so the navy men ordered the pilots to ditch the helicopters in the ocean.

SHEEHAN: We were living in a period of what the Greeks call hubris over winning pride. This was this eight grade military. How are they going to feed us?

RATHER: Once it became a reality of seeing the pictures on television, not only a retreat, but a disorderly retreat. And that ate within ourselves again to say, "This is not who we thought we were."

LORD: To see what was in store for the South Vietnamese People, to see the visions of the helicopters and peoples struggling to get out and the terrible triage that had to be made was clearly one of the lows in my life.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The communist forces some of them riding in Russian made tanks, some in captured American jeeps rolled into Saigon about three and a half hours after the end of the dramatic American evacuation of U.S. nationals and many South Vietnamese.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: There's no way to capture in one evening's broadcast the suffering and the grief of 30 years of a subcontinent war. There's no way to capture the grief of our own nation of the most divisive conflict since our own civil war.

In Vietnam, we've finally reached the end of the tunnel and there is no light there. What is there, perhaps, was best said by President Ford -- a war that is finished.

CHANCELLOR: The Vietnam War produced a million unwritten stories of human misery and human dignity. In all, the war in the south produced over 11 million refugees. 430,000 civilians died in the war according to an American estimate along with 254,000 South Vietnamese soldiers. The United States spent more than $350 billion on Vietnam. And it may end up being much higher than that.

BRINKLEY: The other loss we also know about, even though we don't talk about it very much. And when we do, it's as if it were some kind of index or score. 56,000 lives, plus, about 150,000 seriously wounded, many of whom will never recover.

So, when some future politician for some reason feels the need to drag this country into a war, he might come out here to Arlington and stand maybe right over there somewhere to make his announcement and to tell what he has in mind.

If he can attract public support speaking from a place like this, then his reasons for starting a new war would have to be goodness.

[22:00:09]