Preparations for the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War wound up in a flurry of activity today in the former capital of South Vietnam, with red flags lining the broad boulevard where Communist tanks rolled into the city 30 years ago.
In Hanoi, leaders marked the war’s end with a ceremony reminding the country of the victory achieved and the sacrifices made in the decades-long struggle that ended with the fall of Saigon – later renamed Ho Chi Minh City – on April 30, 1975.
“Our people’s victory in the resistance against the Americans for national salvation is forever written in our nation’s history as one of the most glorious pages … and will enter the world’s history as a great victory of the 20th century,” said Prime Minister Phan Van Khai during a speech in Ba Dinh Hall, home of the National Assembly ahead of the anniversary on Saturday.
But Khai also spoke of the challenges that remain for Vietnam, and the need to “avoid self-satisfaction, and realise the weaknesses and challenges posed to us”.
“The economy has not developed to match up with potential, is weak in efficiency and competition,” he said. “Compared with countries in the region, we are still behind and have not been able to narrow the gap on economic development and technology. The danger of lagging further remains a major challenge.”
In attendance were Vietnam’s top leadership, including Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, President Tran Duc Luong, as well as the legendary Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. A giant golden bust of founding father Ho Chi Minh presided over the gathering.
Costumed dancers re-enacted the war across a giant stage, miming the shooting down of US warplanes and weeping over fallen comrades.
The ceremony in Hanoi served as a precursor to the celebration to come on Saturday.
All week long, Ho Chi Minh City has been swarming with workers busy hanging posters, stringing up national flags, and building stages for the celebrations.
On April 30, 1975, Communist tanks rolled through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the heart of the US-backed Saigon government. The fall of Saigon marked the official end to the Vietnam War, and the US’s decade-long involvement in Southeast Asia. The war claimed some 58,000 American lives and an estimated three million Vietnamese.
But the atmosphere in the country three decades later has been mostly festive, focusing on Vietnam's economic rejuvenation in recent years. Memories of the war and its aftermath are little more than anecdotes in history books for the majority of the country’s population who were born after it ended.
“I was born after the war so I only know it as part of history. But it was very important. It was the reunification of the country. It’s a moment we can be proud of,” said Ngo Thi Binh, 23, a young student whose streaked hair is a hallmark of the modern post-war generation.
Last-minute touches were being finished along Le Duan Boulevard, where the main parade will take place on Saturday before the former Presidential Palace.
“I was born the year the country was liberated,” said Tran Minh Thu Huong, 30, who was busy posting up fliers along the street. “I’m proud of the city, proud of Saigon.”