The Reunification Palace is so significant to the Vietnamese because it was the storming of its gates by a tank belonging to the Northern Army, on April 30 1975, that became the defining moment of the fall of Saigon and the South. These days, two tanks stand in the grounds as a reminder of the incident.
Of the many Western journalists on hand to witness the spectacle, none was better placed than English journalist and poet James Fenton, who conspired to hitch a ride on the tank that first crashed through the gates: “The tank speeded up, and rammed the left side of the palace gate. Wrought iron flew into the air, but the whole structure refused to give. I nearly fell off. The tank backed again, and I observed a man with a nervous smile opening the centre portion of the gate. We drove into the grounds of the palace, and fired a salute. An NLF soldier took the flag and, waving it above his head, ran into the palace. A few moments later, he emerged on the terrace, waving the flag round and round. Later still, there he was on the roof. The red and yellow stripes of the Saigon regime were lowered at last.”
Inside the palace, Duong Van Minh (“Big Minh”), sworn in as president only two days before, readied to perform his last presidential duty. “I have been waiting since early this morning to transfer power to you,” he said to General Bui Tin, to which the general replied: “Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.”