At a sold-out program April 20 that marked the 40th anniversary of the final days of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Newseum members and supporters got a preview of the Oscar-nominated, American Experience documentary “Last Days of Vietnam.” The documentary debuts April 28 on PBS.
Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of the late Sen. Robert F Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, is the film’s producer and director. Kennedy said her father, who was assassinated in June 1968 — six months before she was born — and who ran for president on an anti-war platform, was an inspiration for making a film she called “timely” and a “reminder of the human costs of war.”
“I’ve always been fascinated with Vietnam. I feel that it’s a seminal moment in our nation’s history,” Kennedy said. “My father … ran his final campaign in 1968, because he really wanted us to get out of Vietnam. So, from a very young age, I’ve had an appreciation for Vietnam.”
After the preview, Kennedy was joined by Col. Stuart A. Herrington and Binh Pho — two men featured in the film — to discuss their personal experiences in Vietnam. Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief at Roll Call, moderated the discussion.
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While serving on a team investigating missing military personnel in Saigon, then-Capt. Herrington was the last member of the U.S. Army to leave Vietnam, departing on a helicopter from the roof of the U.S. Embassy. He helped save 2,000 people from the Embassy.
“For years, I didn’t home in on the people that we were able to get out. I homed in on the ones that we left behind,” Herrington said. “I always felt every year when April came along a little bit sad. I always thought about the group of 420 to whom I’d made those promises, all of them in good faith.”
Pho, who was a college student in South Vietnam during the war, was one of the 420 South Vietnamese who was left behind. Pho said he was too afraid to be mad. After the war, he spent a year in a re-education camp and eventually escaped the country by boat in 1978. He currently lives in St. Louis.
“I was so scared after the last helicopter took off. I was just so afraid of what was coming up next,” he said. “We loved the freedom. We had the freedom, and all of a sudden, in just one day, we just lost it.”
On Friday, May 22, the Newseum will open “Reporting Vietnam,” a new exhibit that marks the 50th anniversary of the start of America’s first televised war. The exhibit explores the dramatic stories of how journalists brought news about the war to a divided nation.