Rory Kennedy sheds light on America’s ‘Last Days in Vietnam’ in her Oscar-nominated documentary

By Bianna Golodryga
Feb 12, 2015 – Yahoo News

In her latest documentary, “Last Days in Vietnam,” director and producer Rory Kennedy takes viewers on a 98-minute, riveting journey about the final hours of the evacuation of Saigon. From a war that spanned two decades and has been the subject of numerous films (both Hollywood blockbusters and documentaries), Kennedy has chosen to home in on a few precious hours that would shape the course of history and millions of lives.
In doing research for the Oscar-nominated film, Kennedy managed to bring together those who helped draft the war, such as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, those who implemented it on the ground and those who were caught in the middle. Without narration, the film interweaves narratives of personal plights with historical content from Washington, D.C., to Saigon.
The sequence of events, including President Gerald Ford’s unsuccessful attempt to get congressional approval for more military aid to the South Vietnamese and the story of the U.S. ambassador on the ground who, despite being warned of the north’s steadfast advances, waited until the last minute to order evacuations, plays out in rapid-fire ticktock fashion, punctuated by personal stories of heroism.
Once the evacuation order of all Americans is given from Washington, CIA operatives on the ground, U.S. Marines stationed at the embassy and military commanders recount emotional memories of last-minute attempts to rescue as many South Vietnamese as possible. The film details the dilemma so many Americans stationed there faced. Over the years they had developed relationships as colleagues, friends and family with locals, and they were determined to help them escape along with the remaining Americans. Kennedy interviews native South Vietnamese men who recall their harrowing experiences. Whether it is the tale of a military officer who has worked alongside the Americans or of a young student colleague who is trying to escape the fast-spreading communist doctrine of the north, each story has time to breathe and captivate viewers.
Each story makes its way to those last fateful hours at the U.S. Embassy, which was widely seen as the only safe haven left in the country. Hundreds were airlifted to nearby U.S. ships, but unfortunately many were left behind. One particularly emotional scene in the film shows U.S. Army Capt. Stuart Herrington tearfully recalling the promise he made to the final hundreds crowded on the embassy yard and rooftop that “nobody is going to be left behind. … When you are in the American Embassy, you are on American soil.”
Unfortunately, Herrington was not able to keep his promise. Kennedy interviews a young man who was in that final group of desperate South Vietnamese waiting to be rescued. His fate would become the fate of millions left behind — sent to re-education camp, otherwise known as labor camp.
Kennedy manages to take one of America’s darkest chapters and find wide-ranging bravery and heroism, including stories of those who chose to defy orders and, in doing so, restored a bit of humanity. She also believes that parallels and lessons can be drawn from the war in Vietnam to the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All three, she says, highlight the unintended consequences of war and the responsibility that we, as a country, have for those caught in the cross hairs or left behind. The history of the Vietnam War was one Kennedy grew up hearing all about. Her father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated before Rory was born, but she says she was drawn to the story of the ill-fated war because she knew it was something her father was campaigning to end before he was killed.

  1. David
    I was on a U.S. Navy warship and encountered several boats out at sea filled with refugees. They where all crowded on leaking, barely floating death traps and a few times we sent mechanics to try and start their engines. Gave them food and water. I do not know how it was reported. I have always wondered how many of them sank after we left them?
    Looking at their terrified faces down on those boats left me with images I still see today.
    Anthony, I must disagree. If you did not care, you would not have bothered to post. Yes, the war was bad but the servicemen and women deserve our respect. And you do not sound old enough to remember the Kennedys.
    Yesterday President Obama created the same sequence of events. He has put our soldiers in the middle east with the same restrictions and conditions regarding our role in the Middle East. We are not allowed to defend ourselves unless we are threatened first. This is exactly why we lost in Vietnam, for some reason the liberal mind does not wan to fight a war. With that said: I say as a veteran if we the United Sates currently led by the same liberal mindset as was in place during Vietnam that without delay WE NEED TO BRING THE US MILITARY HOME. If we are not going in with a full and total force of the United States Military than we are wasting time, and more importantly we are putting our service members at unnecessary risk. This is not rocket science. If we are not going in with full force than GET OUT NOW.
    We lost the war for several reasons, but the main one was media coverage that was out of control. Kronkites’ announcement that we could never win was the last straw and occurred when we were finally at a turning point and breaking the north. Worse, the US true intentions for the world are coming into transparent view only now. Our government is still upset that there is no open window in sight for us to exploit the resources of that country and eventually the entire far east.
    The people whom we “abandoned” in regard to Vietnam were the veterans whom we sent there to fight and whom returned home to an ungrateful nation.
    We’ve done more for the Vietnamese whom we brought here (or came here on their own), than we have for the combat veterans who actually slept on the ground.
    Whenever, I see or meet a Vietnam Veteran, my first words to him are “Welcome Home, Soldier. Thanks for your service; thanks for your sacrifice.”
    I say these words because I know no other American has said them to him before.
    Try it sometime.
    CombatVet has spoken.
    A history lesson. The war escalated in 1965 when LBJ was POTUS. Kissinger played a part of drafting war plans after Nixon was elected in 1968. LJB, McNarmara and other of the best and brightest were the brains behind the war strategy that put 500,00 troops in Nam with no plan to win the war.
    Honest people can debate the morality of the war however there is no doubt that the politicians lost the war the the soldiers were winning on the battlefield.
    The real tragedy of the Viet Nam war was the shameful treatment of the men who served their country and were treated badly when they returned home.
    This was/is the same type of war that Obama is trying to sell to the American Congress right now!!! Put our servicemen and women in harms way, tie one hand behind their back, have politicans (who know nothing about war) calling all the shots from the White House. Use the upper brass military leaders (who know about war) as consultants with no veto power. This is EXACTLY the way we fought the VIet Nam War. Those who choose to forget history, are condemned to repeat it!!
    No Name
    Perhaps, if the newspapers were not so irresponsible in their reporting[doesn’t this sound so redux], this “war” would have turned out differently. Thanks to Walter and all the rest of those “reporters”.
    Thanks to Rory Kennedy, for researching and preserving this history.
    Tom, you are home, allow yourself to stop blaming yourself. You are not the one to shoulder the blame. That blame lies at the feet of the closet communists and inept politicians who “made the stupid” decisions in this war. It was guided by newspapers and newsmen, not real soldiers. Yes, we must include the “hippies” for their scatology.

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