Sư Đoàn 18 Bộ Binh
1100 hours - XUAN LOC OUTPOST, NORTH OF SAIGON
Our aging Chinook helicopter kicks up a wall of red dust as it settles on a highway. Everywhere we look there are refugees, many of them have walked hundreds of miles to get to this point where they hope to find safety. ARVN wounded call from stretchers for a drink of water. Two jeeps barrel toward us and the drivers yell for us to get aboard, as incoming rocket rounds scream overhead.
In his command tent, General Le Minh Dao whips his swagger stick against his neatly pressed fatigues. "We will hold this location," Dao barks into a field telephone in Vietnamese. Upon seeing us, a gaggle of reporters, photographers, and a TV crew, he gives us a big thumbs-up. "I don't care how many divisions the communists send against me! I will smash them," he yells as if for our edification.
He ushers us outside his tent where roughly a dozen North Vietnamese prisoners, stripped to their underwear, are bound like hogs waiting for the slaughter. Leon Daniel tells him that based on what we know of North Vietnamese movements, his situation appears to be hopeless. Dao becomes furious. He insists his men are in total control of the town. But neither Leon or AP's Peter Arnett will back down. He insists that if things are so good, we should be allowed to look for ourselves. More incoming slices through the trees around us. A bunch of us start to feel as though it’s time to go. But now, the general has taken Leon's bait. He brings up the jeeps, packs us in, and we careen down the jungle path toward Xuan Loc.
1200 hours - THE TOWN OF XUAN LOC
Our little group of press cautiously moves up the deserted street. The general has taken the lead, swinging his swagger stick. He is calling out in Vietnamese but there is no answer. There are bodies lying in the road. Smoke is still rising from their charred remains. The town is a mess. But other than Dao's voice there is not a sound to be heard.
Slowly, heads begin to rise from foxholes on the sides of the streets. Wide-eyed ARVN rangers look at us in disbelief. Others simply have a thousand-yard stare. We get the picture. This place is in bad trouble. Gunfire erupts from up the street. An alarmed aide runs to the general and points toward the tree line. Black-clad figures seem to be flitting between the trees…or is it my imagination?
Dao suddenly decides it’s time to go. Our jeeps spin around and barrel toward the helicopter landing zone, as the aide barks instructions into a radio. Two Chinooks touch down, filling the air with red dirt. As we begin our sprint toward the helicopters, the ARVN who had followed us from town overtake us in a mad dash for the Chinooks. Two ARVN soldiers that had been carrying a wounded soldier, drop him. The soldier in the rear runs over the wounded man. Leon Daniel goes berserk. He runs after the soldier who had run over the wounded man and cold-cocks him. Other troops are flinging themselves on the rising helicopters. Some fall as the choppers rise into the air. In less than a minute it is over. The helicopters are slipping into the distance. The wounded moan. Other soldiers fire toward the helicopters. We look around. The entire small contingent of press are still on the road. It begins to appear that for us, the war may be nearly over.
Xuân Lộc Kiêu Hùng
Trích một đoạn ngắn từ bài phóng sự “White Christmas - The Fall of Saigon by Dirck Halstead.”
18th Division troops at Xuan Loc
VNAF chinooks land on road at Xuan Loc
Battlefield debris at Xuan Loc
North Vietnamese POW's at Xuan Loc CP
1500 hours - OVER XUAN LOC
The Chinook that we thought we would never see again rises into the air, carrying us out of Xuan Loc. Dao evidently felt responsible for our safety. He had called in his personal command helicopter to get us out, and has it landed in an area where it would not get mobbed. As General Le Minh Dao says good-bye, tears begin to well in his eyes…"I do not want you to die with me...if they give you a chance to return here, you must refuse. Please tell the Americans you have seen how the 18th Division can fight and die. Now please go!"
As our helicopter clears the treetops, we look North, and as far as the eye can see, dust is rising from movement of armor headed south. None of us ever sees the general again.
Troops and press left behind as helos lift off
ARVN troops scurry for choppers