HOUSTON - Forty years ago tonight, Bill Balleza ripped a bulletin from the Associated Press wire machine. It was datelined, Saigon, followed by the simple sentence, "South Vietnam has surrendered."
The bulletin that flashed across the world was the last thing that Balleza and thousands of others who fought in Vietnam, wanted to hear.
The images were startling. U.S. Marines on the roof of the American embassy in Saigon, helping our allies escape the North Vietnamese tanks that were rolling into the capital city from all over the countryside.
"When I saw all that lifting I was just glued to the TV. I was amazed, I was like, what is happening?" said Paul Washington.
Washington and four other Vietnam veterans joined Balleza to talk about the anniversary. We all have mixed emotions about how the war ended. But we all to a man agree with Washington.
"I'm not going to be a negative person about how long we stayed or what. We fought. I know I fought, and I'm glad I did. I'm an American citizen, and I didn't have no problem fighting for my country," Washington said.
But watching the fall of Saigon brought other emotions as well -- the sad futility of losing 68,000 lives to a war most Americans did not support, and the knowledge that the war would never really end for most of us.
"The men and women who fought in our war, in our war, even though the war was over. We're still fighting it today. In hospitals. Agent Orange and stuff like that," said Stephen Brady.
As we shared pictures of our tour of duty, reminisced about the c-rations that sustained us for a year of our lives, we thought about our friends who gave life and limb for the people of South Vietnam. And we shared a sense of regret that, in the end, we left them just as we found them, desperate for freedom.
"We left an ally just hanging, and we spent years training them, working with them and training them, and we just let it go," said Brady.
But the bottom line is always the same when Vietnam veterans get together to talk about our war. Ask most of us if we have any regrets and the answer is no. And we'd go again.
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