In the last days of the Vietnam War, more than 130,000 South Vietnamese were saved from their otherwise dire fate by the heroic acts of ordinary Americans. This groundbreaking account by New York Times-bestselling author Thurston Clarke uncovers a previously untold story of bravery and honour.
1973. US participation in the Vietnam War ends. As troops withdraw, President Nixon pledges to assist the South in the event of invasion by the North.
1975. North Vietnam begins a full-scale assault on the South. Congress does nothing. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese face execution or life in concentration camps. An iconic photograph is taken of the Fall of Saigon, depicting desperate Vietnamese people scrambling to board a helicopter evacuating the last of the American soldiers. It is an image of US failure and shame. Or is it?
In Honourable Exit, Clarke revisits the last days of the Vietnam War to uncover the previously untold story of a life-saving mass evacuation. During those final days, a number of Americans — diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, missionaries, contractors, and spies — risked their lives and disobeyed orders to help their translators, drivers, colleagues, neighbours, friends, and even perfect strangers to escape. By the time the last US helicopter left Vietnam on 30 April 1975, these heroic Americans had helped to spirit over 130,000 South Vietnamese to resettlement in the US and life as American citizens.
Groundbreaking, page-turning, and authoritative, Honourable Exit is a deeply moving history of Americans in one of their little-known finest hours.
‘In this moving account of the “Righteous Americans”, Clarke celebrates the forgotten men and women who, in the face of great opposition, managed to pull off an epic humanitarian and immigration success story. A powerful and inspiring lesson in courage that could not be more relevant today.’
Rory Kennedy, Academy Award-nominated director and producer of Last Days in Vietnam
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‘Filled with new information and riveting recreations of daring rescues, this book adds significantly to the history of a notable moment in U.S. military history.’
‘America's years in Vietnam were full of shame, but the last days of the war saw a remarkable effort at redemption. Breaking rules set by their higher-ups, ordinary Americans — servicemen, diplomats, spies, private citizens — moved heaven and earth to get their Vietnamese friends and allies to safety. Thurston Clarke's Honourable Exit brings this little-known story to light with the speed and power of a riveting thriller. It challenges us to remember a time when Americans refused to abandon desperate people in a far-off country. It's a kind of Schindler's List for America's lost war.’
George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq and The Unwinding: an inner history of the new America
‘Thurston Clarke has a genius for finding episodes in history that deserve re-examination. Just as the U.S. rescued its employees and allies from the embassy roof, this gifted story-teller has found gems of heroism, honour, and suspense in an agonising chapter of the American story.’
Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state and distinguished fellow in residence at Brookings
‘Thurston Clarke's Honourable Exit is the missing book on the Fall of Saigon we've been waiting for. Among other things, it is a brilliant recounting of President Gerald Ford's vital leadership during the last days of the Vietnam War. Over 130,000 South Vietnamese allies were saved because of Ford's moral certitude. An epic narrative history for the ages!’
Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite
‘In this intelligent study, [Thurston Clarke] shows how in those final days a motley group of soldiers, diplomats, missionaries and spies airlifted more than 130,000 refugees to America – all in defiance of superiors and public opinion. He creates a nuanced portrait of those days that popular misconceptions of the iconic photograph miss: a complex one of guilt, betrayal and honour.’
Steven Carrol, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Non-Fiction Pick of the Week’
‘[Thurston Clarke’s] story is a tribute to these brave people ... Honourable Exit shines a light on a time when Americans refused to abandon thousands of their desperate allies. It is perhaps the only good thing.’
Margaret Reilly, Daily Post
‘Despite its unfortunate subtitle, Honourable Exit is a serious, well-researched and engaging attempt to relate the story of the last days of South Vietnam, or the Republic of Vietnam ... declassified U.S. government documents that shed revealing light on the dismal failure of the Ford administration and the ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, in particular, to prepare for the repatriation of U.S. personnel and the extraction of Vietnamese whose lives would be in danger if they stayed behind ... Clarke excels at balancing captivating oral history and illuminating political history ... The author’s work as a novelist is evident in the way he delineates key players. The good are very good and the bad, well, very bad ... In its final chapters, Honourable Exit expertly captures the mayhem of South Vietnam’s dying days.’
Pierre Asselin, The Washington Post
‘Honourable Exit is another important, and very readable, history from...Thurston Clarke ... Clarke’s research is relentless—he has unearthed and read pertinent material, and interviewed the players in this extraordinary story. The rich bibliography has 141 citations. It’s an extraordinary effort, giving us the back-story for the fall of Saigon. Perhaps most importantly, Thurston Clarke reminds the reader of what America gained by rescuing the Vietnamese refugees.’
Jerry McGovern, Adirondack Daily Enterprise
‘Historian Clarke...offers a thrilling and fresh perspective of the Vietnam War based on new information and a showcase of American heroism ... Fans of military and U.S. history will revel in Clarke's expert storytelling, well-crafted re-creations, and research.’
David Miller, Library Journal
‘A detailed account ... [and] harrowing narrative ... Moving to a hair-raising climax, Clarke meticulously sifts through hasty evacuation measures and relates the sad stories of those who did not make it out. A welcome addition to the literature on the Vietnam War.’