The takeover of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) on April 30, 1975, is also known as the Liberation of Saigon by North Vietnamese or the Liberation of the South by the Vietnamese government. But did you know about the iconic helicopter photo that was taken towards the war’s end?
The famous Saigon evacuation helicopter photo taken at the end of the Vietnam War was taken from the top of an apartment building housing senior CIA personnel, not from the US embassy.
The Iconic Helicopter Photo
Scores of desperate Vietnamese attempting to board an American UH-1 Huey helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Vietnam has become an iconic symbol of American involvement in the Vietnam war. In the spring of 1975, the US Embassy in Saigon was established.
Like so many things about the Vietnam War, it’s not exactly what it seems.Hubert Van Es, The Photographer
The men and women lining up to board the American planes were not on the roof of the US Embassy but on the roof of the Pittman Apartment Complex, which housed senior CIA employees near the end of the war.
The iconic snapshot was captured entirely by coincidence by the Dutch photographer, who had been deployed to Vietnam for The Associated Press and United Press International since 1969.
At around 2:30 PM on April 29, 1975, Van Es captured the shot that came to symbolize the frenetic Saigon evacuation mission.Lauren Coonz, Writer for Coffee or Die
The photographer had hidden up in a dark room four blocks away from the Pittman building when he heard a colleague exclaim that there was a chopper on the roof. Van Es didn’t hesitate to capture the iconic moment.
I grabbed my camera and the longest lens left in the office, it was only 300 millimeters, but it would have to do, and dashed to the balcony.Hubert Van Es, The Photographer
After taking roughly ten frames, Van Es returned to the darkroom to process his photographs. (Source: History Network)
What Building Did the Chopper Take Off From?
The classic photograph by Dutch journalist Hubert van Es vividly portrayed the desperate and humiliating evacuation from Saigon. However, the chopper wasn’t stationed atop the USS Abraham Lincoln, as most people believe. It was an apartment complex that housed CIA officers from the United States. Only around a dozen people from the throng on the rooftop could board the helicopter before it took off, never to be seen again.
In those days, pictures were transmitted via radio signals, which at the receiving end were translated back into an image. A 5-inch-by-7-inch black-and-white print with a short caption took 12 minutes to send. Apparently, editors didn’t read captions carefully in those days, and they just took it for granted that it was the embassy roof since that was the main evacuation site.”Hubert Van Es, The Photographer
For decades, the location of the classic photograph was misidentified. To refute the erroneous story, Van Es tried to clarify this information repeatedly, but to no avail.
Thus one of the best-known images of the Vietnam War shows something other than what almost everyone thinks it does,Hubert Van Es, The Photographer
(Source: History Network)