Nguyen Van Thieu had constructed himself a worthy Presidential Palace set in the middle of a great park in the center of Saigon, with a vast ballroom, a swimming pool, game salons, a cinema, and a complex of halls for appropriate occasions. His furnishing it with plush and rich textiles, marble, and rare woods, with polished and heavily carpeted interiors, with lacquer panels and overstuffed couches, created a mood he thought essential. His own office was a vast chamber with a throne-like chair behind a huge desk. His private apartment was installed around a lush garden set deep into the interior of this massive edifice. For all practical purposes, on the morning of April 30 the palace was the symbol of all that was left of the American effort that had begun twenty years earlier and consumed the lives and commitments, emotions and existences, of millions of people. South of Saigon, in the Mekong Delta, the remnants of the Republic of Vietnam’s armies were surrendering and disintegrating to local National Liberation Front units, sometimes several guerillas capturing hundreds of superbly equipped soldiers. At 10:15 [Duong Van] Minh broadcast a cease-fire to his own forces, urging them also to remain in their positions and asking the Communists to do the same until there was a discussion of the orderly transfer of power. It was a surrender, but scarcely an unconditional one which acknowledged the reality of the battlefield. Minh and his cabinet then repaired to Thieu’s palace and waited.
Thieu was in Taiwan; the Americans were on aircraft carriers heading toward the Philippines. As the first units of the People’s Army of Vietnam entered the city, they confronted sporadic shooting and wiped out a few pockets of resistance, and a team of three tanks went straight to the palace Thieu had built. By this time the entire nation knew the end was imminent. The radios had ceased to operate, and for several hours the city was suspended between the old order and the new. The tanks reached the place, which was undefended, and, after smashing through the huge iron grill protecting it, sped up the vast lawn to the broad stairs. A soldier with a Provisional Revolutionary Government flag ran to a balcony, euphorically waving it back and forth, and then raised it up a flagpole at about 11:30 AM. He and a comrade next searched the rooms and quickly found Minh and his cabinet seated around a table, silent. No one moved. One soldier stood guard while the other ran to find his officers. When a political cadre arrived, Minh declared, “We have been waiting for you so that we could turn over the government.” “You have nothing left to turn over,” he retorted, “You can only surrender unconditionally.” Minh immediately went to the radio station and did so.
The Vietnam War had ended.
The Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience