Veteran Latino U.S. soldier compares Vietnam withdrawal to Afghanistan

Latino U.S. Marine who was the last American serviceman to leave the embassy in Saigon compares tumultuous pullout almost 50 years ago to Afghanistan withdrawal

  • Juan José Valdez, a retired Marines Corps member, has compared the pullout from Afghanistan to the withdrawal from Vietnam
  • Valdez told Noticias Telemundo he was the last soldier to leave the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975
  • He criticized the U.S. role in the Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts, saying: ‘We spent so much money, so many weapons and many Marine and Army deaths. And for what, for what?’

Images of the deadly United States evacuation of Afghanistan brought back horrible memories clearly for a veteran Latino soldier – one of the last American servicemen to leave Vietnam almost five decades ago. 

Juan José Valdez and nine other Marines hid on the roof of the United States Embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975, wondering if they were going to make it out.

‘The North Vietnamese were already coming in the tanks, and we stayed down so they wouldn’t look at us,’ Valdez told Noticias Telemundo from his home in California.

His mission was to provide protection for the U.S. troops who were positioned at the embassy.

‘You have to take care of your people, your troops, first, and if you stay there, if you stay, they kill you, they will kill you, but you are going to be the last (to depart),’ the retired military veteran explained.

Juan José Valdez, who served in the Marines, was the last soldier to leave Saigon. Valdez was part of a group of 10 servicemen whose mission was to provide protection for U.S. troops at the embassy in Saigon and were pulled out April 30, 1975. In an interview with Noticias Telemundo, the California resident compared the Vietnam withdrawal to the chaotic scene that has unraveled in Afghanistan as the U.S. has led efforts since August 14 to remove more than 95,000 Afghans and foreign nationals, after the Taliban took over the country

Juan José Valdez, a Marine Corps veteran, told Noticias Telemundo that parents in Vietnam begged soldiers to take their children out of the country at the end of the Vietnam War

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at the perimeter of the i Kabul International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 16

Crowds of Vietnamese and Western evacuees wait around the swimming pool inside the American Embassy compound in Saigon hoping to escape Vietnam via helicopter before the arrival of North Vietnamese troops.  Nearly all were left behind as the evacuation stopped at nightfall and the following day, April 30, 1975, NVA tanks rolled into Saigon and the Vietnam War officially ended

A military helicopter eventually landed on the embassy roof, but Valdez was nearly left behind when he stumbled as he climbed onto the aircraft. One of the Marines  noticed him missing, then spotted Valdez barely holding on to a ramp before they helped him back up.

‘I was the last’ to set foot in Vietnam, he said. 

Juan José Valdez, a Marine Corps veteran, criticized the role of the United States in Vietnam and Afghanistan: ‘We spent so much money, so many weapons and many Marine and Army deaths. And for what, for what?’

U.S. Marines guard the evacuation of civilians at Tan Son Nhut airbase in Vietnam while under Viet Cong fire during the fall of Saigon on April 15, 1975

Pictures and video of Afghans with their children flooding the streets surrounding Kabul airport, desperately hoping to be evacuated from the country have taken Valdez back.

During his time in Vietnam, he remembers parents volunteering to stay behind as long as their children were removed from the country by Valdez and the U.S. troops.

‘Please, at least take my children out. I’ll stay, but take my little girl now,’ Valdez remembers Vietnamese parents pleading. 

About 7,000 people were transported out of Vietnam with the fall of the Saigon in 1975 as the Vietnam War came to an end. More than 100,000 refugees from Southeast Asia were taken out.

Juan José Valdez holds a photo of himself (pictured rear center) and former U.S. Marines troops assigned to guard the embassy in Saigon. The group was evacuated April 30, 1975

Crowds of people wait outside Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan on Wednesday

Valdez said the United States was wrong for overstaying in Vietnam for a war that left 58,220 soldiers dead. He also blasted the current and previous administrations for the conflict in Afghanistan that has claimed the lives of 2,420 American troop members.

‘We spent so much money, so many weapons and many Marine and Army deaths. And for what, for what?,’ he said.

So far, the United States has evacuated more than 95,000 Afghans and foreigners since the Taliban took over the country and President Ashraf Ghani fled on August 14

Wounded women arrive at a hospital for treatment after two blasts, which killed at least five and wounded a dozen, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021

Graphic images show an injured man being wheeled into hospital for treatment following the bomb blasts outside Kabul airport

On Thursday, at least 60 people, including 12 U.S. soldiers were killed and 120 wounded at the Kabul airport, when two bombs exploded outside its gates. The airport is being guarded by about 5,200 American troops. 

Efforts to fly more people from Kabul International Airport stalled Wednesday following intelligence reports of attacks being planned by Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State and fierce rival of the Taliban. 

ISIS-K had not claimed responsibility for the attack Thursday.

Former President Donald Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 to end what he called the ‘endless wars’ in the Middle East.

He agreed to a May 1 deadline to have all troops out of the country. President Biden has said evacuations will be complete by August 31,  but that troops may stay longer to make sure everyone gets out.

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