In 1963, on this day US President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order No. 11110 in the Oval Office. Accordingly the force of law was given to the planned withdrawal of all American personnel absolutely no later than the end of 1965. Because just four months after a Vietnamese Buddhist by the name of Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire in a Saigon street (pictured), the security situation in the country was rapidly deteriorating.
Bear any burden, pay any priceIn so doing, the Kennedy brothers were backtracking big-time on a key inauguration pledge to "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge - and more".
Yet two other Catholic brothers had even more reason to regret listening to those warm words, the Vietnamese Dictator Ngo Dinh Diem and his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. Because on the celebration of Buddha's 2,527 birthday on May 8th, the Diem Regime had ordered the Catholic deputy in Hue to prevent the Buddhists from flying their own flag. A wave of religious fervour swept the county. And just about the last thing South Vietnam needed right now was a religious feud, and so a group of generals led by Doung Van Minh and Tran Van Don acting unilaterally without US approval overthrew the Diem regime and executed the brothers and their sister-in-law, the anti-Buddhist "dragon lady" Madame Nhu. The US-financed Nationalist Chinese Armies who had sustained Diem in power since 1962 also evacuated the country. Those departing soldiers had been resettled by the French in 1950 in what was then Chochin China and expanded over time by local recruitment.
Commander R. Sargent Shriver was the last American out of Saigon. He told Embassy staff that it was a matter of deep regret that the Peace Corps had been unable to complete their mission in Vietnam.