Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Fall of Saigon

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When the North Vietnamese tank No. 843 broke down the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon on April 30 1975 — just hours after the last American helicopters had left — it signaled the end of an era, and that of a long and bitter war. Most Western journalists had been evacuated from South Vietnam at this point, but that defining moment was captured on video and on camera film by two who stayed behind.

The first was  made by Neil Davis, an unflappable Australian who waltzed back into his Saigon tailor’s to collect a Safari suit he had ordered before as the North Vietnamese were bearing down on the city.  His video of the tank breaking through the gates was first broadcast on an NBC News Special Report: Communist Saigon, only nearly a month later on 26 May 1975. Davis died covering a coup in Thailand, his still-running camera recording his own death.

The photographic record of the moment was made by an equally intrepid figure — Francoise Demulder, who would later become the first woman to win the World Press Photo Award. A student of philosophy (and a model), Ms. Demulder travelled to South Vietnam with her boyfriend in the early 1970s. To cover their travelling expenses, the couple quickly became embedded with the U.S. military, she who had no formal training in photography taking war photos and her boyfriend driving her around, covering the fighting, and dropping off their photos at the AP office. She stayed behind to take the now-famous photo above.

Thus ended the two-decade long conflict in Vietnam; five million tonnes of bombs and 1.7 million tonnes of Agent Orange were dropped over both Vietnams. Alas, peace did not return to the region. Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge took control in the neighboring Cambodia; by November, Laos too was in the hands of the communists. As for the long suffering Vietnamese (three million of whom perished during the war), there was little respite as their government would soon be involved in two other fratricidal conflicts with China and Cambodia.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

9 Responses

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  1. Thank you for your work. This blog is an invaluable resource.

    Ronald Goldwater

    March 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm

  2. And Like the 7th Cavalry to the rescue, the Viet’s were the ones that stopped the Khmer Rouge and made people like me wish I could bring back every one I killed and trade them for the real scumbags of the Red Planet. (Not only did they do the right thing, but after they were done, they left…..and quietly went home.)

    Col. Korn

    March 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm

  3. [...] covering a war. The golden age of war photography, which nurtured such figures as Larry Burrows or Francoise Demulder, ended as abruptly as it began. In  modern wars, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in [...]

  4. [...] The Fall of Saigon (iconicphotos.wordpress.com) [...]

  5. Good to see this material on Neil Davis. Currently in Hanoi. Interestingly didn’t see Neil’s name on photo/ film journalists’ honour board in Saigon museum.
    Note. Davis was killed in the Thai attempted coup in 1985- not 1975. He went on after ’75 to do a lot of work and was the centre of ‘frontline’- stock film for Australian War Museum- and lots of candid comment through Tim Bowden’s interviewing.

    Steve Auld

    May 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm

  6. […] The Fall of Saigon (iconicphotos.wordpress.com) […]

  7. This photograph does *not* depict what it purports to depict. Tank No 843 was a T 54 main battle tank, and there are plenty of places one can see photographs of it crashing the palace gates. This is a PT 76 light amphibious tank, clearly one of those which came later.

    A little scepticism and analysis never hurt anybody.

    • You are correct.

      The Tank in the Photo is a Johnny come lately and the photographer let us assume it was the first.

      How many careers have been built on the combination of deceit and assumption?

      The photo looks great, but as a “moment in History” or as we like to say in this blog, “An Iconic Photo”, it is tantamount to being a fake and may as well have been taken at Disney in the shadow of the jungle ride.

      Your Obt. Svt.
      Col Korn,
      Chief O’ Mayhem in the Great WW-2 (And the Cold War)
      Now Chief O’ Security, Sanitation (And the Complaint Dept.)
      OXOjamm Studios.

      Col. Korn

      June 30, 2013 at 2:23 am

  8. […] The book is first and foremost a coffee-table history of Long Twentieth Century™ (Paris Commune of 1870 to 2008 Financial Crisis), seen through a series of my blog posts, but with additional next content to link and contextualize them. Therefore, the chapter on pre-war Europe will be an essay on Hitler through these posts. Chapter 16, on Vietnam, will be a tour de force photojourney from Dien Bien Phu through immolations and executions all the way to America’s ignominious retreat from Saigon. […]


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