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When is an Embassy not an Embassy? 37 years ago today

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When is an Embassy not an Embassy? 37 years ago today

Old 29th Apr 2012, 18:09
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When is an Embassy not an Embassy? 37 years ago today

This post is really a piece of thread drift concerning a post by Noyade on the What Aerodrome thread. He posted the famous "US Embassy Helicopter" picture on 12th March. I was not able to see the picture due to an issue with Imageshack not liking my Vietnamese IP address, but after an exchange of PMs, I confirmed that he had posted this picture, which was taken 37 years ago today, the day before the fall of Saigon:



The location of the picture is often described as the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon whereas it is in fact the lift/elevator shaft on the top of an apartment building, used by the CIA, at what was 22 Gia Long Street and is now 22 Ly Tu Trong Street (most streets in Saigon were renamed by the new management). The helicopter is an Air America Huey. The reason for the common mis-attribution of the location is told by the photographer here:

Thirty Years at 300 Millimeters
by Hubert Van Es
https://web.archive.org/web/20121208...6/300mill.html

There was a roof-top helipad at the US Embassy, but it looked completely different:





The street view above was taken in the aftermath of the Viet Cong sapper attack on the Embassy at the beginning of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

The old embassy building is long gone. It was demolished by the US government as soon as diplomatic relations were established in 1995. Here is what the site looks like today:




The new consulate is on the left of the compound. Some of the circular flower beds shown in the earlier picture can still be seen. They have been preserved as a monument to the guards who died during the attack:



Unlike the embassy, the apartment building is still standing. If you are visiting Saigon, the helipad can best be viewed from the corner of Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton streets. Here is a picture I took recently from this location:



Thread-drifting even further, while searching for information relevant to this post, I stumbled on a YouTube video of CBS colour news report, compiled shortly after the start of the Tet offensive. Fascinating viewing. Note the circular flower beds at the beginning:

Last edited by India Four Two; 25th Jun 2022 at 04:51. Reason: Added helicopter reference; grammar and spelling. 2019 Added memorial picture.
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Old 2nd May 2012, 08:06
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Thanks for posting this. Really interesting bit of history
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Old 2nd May 2012, 15:15
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Yes, thank you for sharing this. Nice bit of history lesson.
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Old 3rd May 2012, 09:41
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This mistake has been carried on in the form of incorrect captions for decades. My efforts to correct the misunderstanding were futile, and eventually I gave up. Thus one of the best-known images of the Vietnam War shows something other than what almost everyone thinks it does.
Looks like it will continue. Here's another...



From a 2007 book by Paul Ham.

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Old 3rd May 2012, 20:58
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Very interesting - strange how things can be taken as fact even for such an iconic picture.
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Old 3rd May 2012, 22:26
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Fascinating stuff, thanks for posting it (especially the modern shot of the helipad - complete with a Versace shop in the foreground.........wonder what the old style communists would think of that???)
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Old 4th May 2012, 05:09
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Very, very interesting. Thanks for posting that.

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Old 4th May 2012, 07:02
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I was sitting next to Hu van Es's widow, Annie, at dinner in Hong Kong yesterday evening. She was fascinated to hear of the interest in Hu's work on a website of which she was unaware. Hu was paid next to nothing for the photograph and took greater satisfaction in his other work on the Vietnam war, particularly at Hamburger Hill. It was especially poignant talking to Annie yesterday as in a week or so it will be the third anniversary of Hu's untimely death.
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Old 4th May 2012, 10:17
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BB,

What an amazing coincidence. If it was a movie script, you wouldn't believe it.

When I first looked into the history of this picture, I tracked down the location it was taken from with a view to taking a present-day picture. Unfortunately that particular line-of-sight has been obscured by new tall buildings for at least 12 years.

wiggy,

Yes, the irony of a Versace store in the shot (plus all the other usual suspects in that particular mall) had not escaped me.

It is a shame I didn't think to take a better located photo before the mall was built.

Last edited by India Four Two; 4th May 2012 at 11:10. Reason: speling
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Old 25th Jul 2012, 17:57
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Rooftop Update

I showed this thread to a friend of mine who works in the office tower above the shopping mall across the street from the apartment building. He told me that there is a good view of the roof from the 20th floor so I went along the other day to have a look and here's the picture:


I then went down a few floors and fortuitously, there is a view of the elevator shaft through a glass-walled office on the 9th floor:

The building in the background is Saigon Cathedral.

The ladder is not the one shown in Hubert Van Es' famous picture, but interestingly, the diagonal steel I-beam on the roof seems to have been present in the original photo, by the Huey's right skid.

Last edited by India Four Two; 25th Jul 2012 at 18:02.
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Old 3rd Aug 2013, 04:30
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A Saigon update

For the last week, the Saigon Fire Brigade has been conducting extensive, daily fire drills at Diamond Plaza, a shopping mall and office/apartment complex about 200 m down the road from the American Consulate.

This morning (Saturday) I was surprised to hear a helicopter and looked out to see a civil Mi-8 participating in the drill. It probably landed on (or hovered over) the roof of Diamond Plaza, but I couldn't see from my vantage point.

Why was I surprised? Well, all aircraft are/were banned from flying over the centre of Saigon, so this is probably the first time a helicopter has flown here since April 1975!
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 06:25
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Excuse me for resurrecting a three year old thread, but ...

I just stumbled on this documentary on Netflix:



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Days_in_Vietnam

An excellent documentary containing much information and video that I had never previously heard of or seen, including shots of the helicopters on the Gia Long building's elevator shaft.

Highly recommended if you are are interested in this piece of history and doubly so, if you have been to Saigon.


Trailer:

Last edited by India Four Two; 31st Jul 2019 at 21:33. Reason: Video deleted from YouTube. Trailer substituted.
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Old 3rd Aug 2019, 14:30
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In 2018 myself along with some Aussie friends managed to "bribe" a guard to let us venture up to the top of the Pittman Building lift shaft. This photo was taken April 30th 2018, 43 years after the event.

Last edited by David Layne; 12th Aug 2019 at 01:01.
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Old 3rd Aug 2019, 15:17
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Last edited by David Layne; 3rd Aug 2019 at 15:18. Reason: In 2018 myself along with some Aussie friends managed to "bribe" a guard to let us venture up to the top of the Pittman Build
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Old 3rd Aug 2019, 17:00
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Last edited by David Layne; 3rd Aug 2019 at 17:03. Reason: On top, needs a lot of work to make it safe underfoot. Notre Dame Cathedral in background me
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Old 3rd Aug 2019, 17:12
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The ladder up, not the original ladder but where the ladder was positioned.
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Old 3rd Aug 2019, 17:17
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A view from the top of a much-changed

Saigon
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Old 9th Aug 2019, 15:27
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This thread is pure gold. Thanks everybody. Most interesting piece of history.
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Old 11th Aug 2019, 17:24
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David,

Great pictures. I wish I had thought of trying to get to the roof.

I had never heard the name “Pittman Building”. Do you know the origin of the name?

A Vietnamese friend told me that the basement of the building next door was used by the Secret Police to torture suspects.

PS Looking up “Pittman Building” took me to this link that I hadn’t seen before:


https://www.rustycompass.com/vietnam...0#.XVBCAiTF2Ec

Was this your expedition to the top?

Last edited by India Four Two; 11th Aug 2019 at 17:35.
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Old 11th Aug 2019, 22:49
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Simon that was not our group, that was a different bunch of Aussies!

I have no idea how the Pittman Building was so named. My theory is that it was named in memory of a C.I.A. officer killed in the line of duty (Xin Loi). Many firebases were named after deceased individuals, but that is only a guess. Also for Americans Pittman would be easier to comprehend than a Vietnamese name or address, no matter how clever C.I.A. operatives were.

Next time you are in Saigon you must go up there.
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