With the stroke of a pen 28 years ago today, the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was over and peace had come to the Southeast Asia region — at least on paper.
Dave Dellinger of Gainesville recalls that era well.
Working for Delta Airlines at the time, he had fought in Vietnam from 1964 to 1965, flying bombing and strafing missions in communist North Vietnam.
"I was really glad it was over, because I had two squadron mates who were shot down and were POWs for four years," said Dellinger, also part of the Northeast Georgia chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
A cease-fire agreement between the U.S. and North Vietnam was signed Jan. 23, 1973. A formal signing took place four days later in what is known as the Paris Peace Accords.
The peace agreement called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the release of American POWs. In return, democratic elections were to be held in South Vietnam.
The treaty didn't hold, however.
The North Vietnamese entered Saigon on April 30, 1975, and began reunification under communist rule.
U.S. diplomatic, military and civilian personnel fled the country by helicopters that took off from the embassy's roof.
Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State College, said the treaty only came about after President Richard Nixon "bombed the heck out of (North Vietnam capitol) Hanoi the previous month.
"That scared the communists into finally being serious about a peace deal," he said.
As for the North Vietnamese, they "never intended to honor it, following instead the lead of Vladimir Lenin, who said diplomatic agreements ‘are like pie crust, made to be broken,' " Young said.
As the North advanced, Nixon ended up following through on promises to the South Vietnamese that he would "bomb the communists if they broke the peace agreement," he said.
The Eagleton Amendment of 1973 stopped the bombing campaign effective Aug. 15, 1973.
The Democratic Congress "further abandoned our anti-communist South Vietnamese ally by refusing President (Gerald) Ford's request for emergency military aid to resupply (those forces)," Young said. "That sealed the South's fate."
Chris Jespersen, North Georgia College & State University's dean of the School of Arts & Letters, said the White House's hope at the time was for "a viable, stable South Vietnamese government to last long enough, so after it collapsed, they couldn't be blamed for it."
Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger "will tell you differently (on that point), but historians have really started to crack open the archives and get a look at some stuff," he said.
The 1973 agreement "was just a way to allow the United States to extricate itself militarily," Jespersen said.
Much has changed over the decades between the former enemies, mainly after Vietnam began to allow certain economic freedoms.
"American businesses have really wanted to get back into the Vietnam market after (President Bill) Clinton normalized relations in 1995," Jespersen said.
"My first trip there was in 1997 and I rode in from Hanoi with an executive from one of the Houston area gas firms. They were looking to develop Vietnam's resources."
Communist governments "know better than anyone how terribly failed Marxist economic theory is," Young said. "And so, Vietnam, like China, has gone capitalist to a great extent. We should have normalized relations much earlier to encourage that economic liberalization.
"That's a win-win for everyone."
Tourism is now a huge industry in Vietnam, with many of the visiting U.S. citizens having once served as soldiers in the Vietnam War.
"It's probably healing for a lot of veterans to go over there and retrace their steps where they fought and maybe even meet Vietnamese enemy soldiers," Young said.
Dellinger has mixed emotions about the growing closeness between the U.S. and Vietnam.
"I know some of our (VVA chapter) members have gone back over there and toured the area where they were stationed, which most of them thought would never happen," he said.
"But then, because of what happened (in war) and losing people, you still feel a little animosity toward the country - not the people so much as the country for what they did," Dellinger said. "Most of our chapter lost friends over there."
As for himself, he has no desire to return to the country.
"I never stepped foot in the country — I just flew over it," Dellinger said, speaking of his military service. "So (a trip there) doesn't have much meaning for me."