Foreign Service and Civil Service Personnel of the U.S. Government Who Served in the Viet Nam Evacuation
Winner of the 2021 Walter and Leonore Annenberg Award for Excellence in Diplomacy.
On April 30, 1975, barely 46 years ago, the People’s Army of Viet Nam captured Saigon, bringing an end to the South Vietnamese government and terminating America’s two decade long involvement in the country. The fall of Saigon was preceded by weeks of heavy fighting, during which time the Administration of President Gerald Ford struggled with the responsibility of how to evacuate Americans and Vietnamese who had been closely associated with the United States.
The decision to evacuate was driven by circumstance. But thanks to the bravery and determination of a small group of Foreign Service Officers, including Lionel Rosenblatt, Craig Johnstone, and Parker Borg, who are here today, the first Vietnamese were rescued. Rosenblatt, Johnstone and Borg operated without official sanction and often in the face of opposition. Other Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel took the initiative to begin planning in Washington without official blessing or orders and putting their careers at risk. Over time, what these individuals began in Viet Nam and Washington developed into a massive undertaking. Thousands of others, employees of the United States government and their families and members of Viet Nam’s government and military establishments were evacuated. In Viet Nam, some Americans pushed the boundaries of instructions to insure the evacuation of their staff. Those who escaped Viet Nam came to the United States or reached other safe havens abroad. They were joined by Cambodians and Laotians whose governments had been associated with the United States but, like Viet Nam, had been overrun by Communist armies.
In the years which followed, nearly a million Indochinese came as refugees to this country, made new lives here, and became successful, contributing citizens.
Responsibility for planning the evacuation, the reception, and resettlement of Indochinese refugees was an all of government effort. It would not have been possible without the contributions from men and women in our armed forces and the contribution of private Americans, whom through voluntary agencies, opened their homes, schools and work places to those fleeing to our shores. The Department of State played a leading role in this extraordinary story. The first plans for evacuation were born here. In this Department, a task force of contributing agencies was assembled. Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel staffed its key functions; designed and lead the international resettlement effort; organized the transportation of refugees to military facilities in the United States; assembled and catalyzed the work of contributing agencies and private bodies; and obtained Congressional support and funding.
We remember today the end of America’s military involvement in Southeast Asia and we remember those in government and military service, who made it possible for the United States to discharge a debt of honor. As Americans, we stood by allies, friends and former employees and as Americans we gave those without hope a new future and a new life.
It is to honor them that we ask Ambassador Parker Borg, Ambassador Craig Johnstone, and Mr. Lionel Rosenblatt to receive, on behalf of all those who served in the Viet Nam evacuation, military and civilian, diplomat and Civil Service, the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Walter and Leonore Annenberg Excellence in Diplomacy Award.