'... It was going to happen'; Local veterans recall 1975 fall of Saigon.

AuthorBarnes, George

Byline: George Barnes

The vision etched in the mind of Matthew Reilly and many other Vietnam veterans is a helicopter sitting on the top of a small rooftop of the Saigon CIA station at 22 Gia Long St., with a long line of people clambering up ladders hoping to escape before the North Vietnamese Army took over.

Mr. Reilly, of Whitinsville, served in Vietnam with Marine Air Group 12 from May 17, 1972, until the final weeks of December that year. He was back home attending Mount Wachusett Community College 40 years ago when he heard about the evacuation of Saigon. It was a long time ago, but he still remembers the chaos of American personnel and South Vietnamese citizens and military attempting to escape before the city fell.

It was the largest helicopter evacuation in history, made necessary because major air bases were under fire. The collapse of the cause Americans fought and died for over a decade was not a surprise to those who served.

"I knew it was going to happen. Most of us did,'' Mr. Reilly said. "You couldn't rely on the South Vietnamese Army or the Air Force. There were some good people that were there, but you couldn't rely on them too heavily.''

Mr. Reilly, now a teacher in Northbridge public schools, said he does not believe the South Vietnamese Army had the same resolve as the North Vietnamese. He said many of the South Vietnamese people also were tired of a war that had gone on for generations and were glad to see it end.

"I was glad to see us get out of there and I don't think we had any business being in there to begin with,'' he said. "The domino effect didn't happen like everyone was worried about.''

The domino effect was the idea that if Vietnam fell, nations throughout Asia would also fall to Communism. Mr. Reilly said he also felt the collapse of South Vietnam was a huge waste.

"We had spent so much time there and so many people had gotten killed, wounded, screwed up in the head, only to see it all fall apart within two years,'' he said.

The United States lost 58,220 men and women during the war or from war-related injuries, a majority in combat.

The first to die were advisers in 1956 and the last to die during the war were Marine embassy guards Cpl. Charles McMahon of Woburn and Lance Cpl. Darwin L. Judge of Iowa, who died the day before Saigon fell, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Mr. Reilly sees some parallels today with the war in Iraq, which is unraveling somewhat under attacks by ISIS.

In both...

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