There were no combat units stationed in Saigon. Unlike the Germans in Paris, the Americans were not occupying Saigon or any part of Vietnam. We were there, not as imperialists, but to halt the invasion of the communists from North Vietnam. Thus, the defense of Saigon fell to the hands of Vietnamese police and American REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F***ers), supply clerks, typists, switchboard operators, and intelligence interpreters. They barricaded themselves in their offices and depots and fought off the enemy until the cavalry could arrive.
A small contingent of U.S. Marines and American MPs defended the American embassy against a large Viet Cong force. Logistics personnel fashioned a fortress out of food and beer in storage at the docks along the Saigon River. Clerical staff donned their flak vests and steel helmets and fought from sandbag embrasures outside the doors of their offices while their buddies sniped at Viet Cong from the windows above.
Unfortunately, the Vietnamese who couldn’t reach safe havens were gathered up by the Viet Cong and given the choice to take up arms against their government or face execution. Many were simply executed without the benefit of a choice. Few took up arms, and the Viet Cong political cadre were confused.
American war correspondents appear to have hunkered down in their hotel rooms and filed stories based on rumors and innuendo. Most proved to be false. The ones who ventured out with cameras and recorders to capture the action, weren't able to see much that made sense to them. They asked questions that no one could answer, so many resorted to fabricating their own. They didn’t realize that American and Vietnamese forces were fashioning a trap.
The First and 25th American Infantry Divisions formed a wall to the north and west of the city that began to close on the Viet Cong like a hammer. The 9th Infantry formed a barrier along the east and south. They formed the anvil. The Viet Cong were trapped between.
Urban warfare is vicious. Combatants have innumerable places of concealment and attackers must move slowly and methodically to insure that they don’t accidentally bypass any. Every building, every room, every closet, every cabinet must be cleared. Just entering a doorway is a supreme act of courage. An enemy may be waiting on the other side and you are already a target before you can bring your weapon to bear. Tossing in a grenade before entering may help, but not always. We didn’t have “atomic grenades” like those you’ve seen on television and in the movies. Ours couldn’t always be expected to kill or wound every soldier inside.
In time the Viet Cong were driven from the city towards the trap waiting at the Saigon River. There was no refuge awaiting them there. There was no Dunkirk-like fleet waiting to transport them to safety. Many took refuge in warehouses by the docks and died when tanks blew out the walls after they refused to surrender.
It took the better part of February to retake Saigon. It was a large city.