• Mrs. Ngo Dinh Nhu firing .38 pistol. (Larry Burrows/Time Life Pictures via Getty)

    Wayback Machine

    Searching for Madame Nhu

    Lyndon Johnson flirted with her. JFK hated her. Historians blamed her for South Vietnam's downfall. And decades later, a writer found her hiding out in Paris. A new book uncovers the final days of Saigon’s infamous Dragon Lady.

    Saigon, 1963: The city slinks toward a feverish violence. On the streets, monks set themselves alight to protest the government’s anti-Buddhist bent. Dissenters plot in secret among the Army’s ranks. In squalid prisons, students and political enemies rot in soiled tiger cages. And ensconced in Independence Palace, the insular ruling family prepares for martial law and inflates reports of their success against the Viet Cong. But the Americans backing the fragile South Vietnamese regime are growing disillusioned with President Ngo Dinh Diem and his pampered relatives and want the lot of them gone: the stubborn, inexperienced Diem, his ruthless younger brother, and particularly Diem’s sister-in-law, the woman John F. Kennedy refers to as “that goddam bitch”—the vain, calculating first lady, otherwise known as the infamous Madame Nhu.

    At the peak of her powers, with her bewitching beauty and relentless ambition, Madame Nhu inflamed the imagination and provoked the hatred of the West and the Vietnamese alike. Time and Life featured her on their covers and called her a “devious” enchantress; The New York Times crowned her “the most powerful” woman in Asia and compared her to the Borgias. She was described as “proud and vain,” an “Ian Fleming character come to life,” “as innocent as a cobra,” an “Oriental Valkyrie.” Jackie Kennedy thought she had a “queer thing for power,” and the AP’s fellow in Saigon, Malcolm Browne, knew her to be “the most dangerous enemy a man could have.” Her penchant for tightly fitted sheaths and scarlet fingernails played into her image as a grande coquette, and her name became synonymous with feminine wickedness: Jackie used it as a slur for ladies she disliked, while Yoko Ono haters branded the Beatles interloper “Lennon’s Madame Nhu.”

  • Courtesy of the Noone Family
    Courtesy of the Noone family

    Living history

    Vietnam Babylift Orphans Reunite

    Participants in Gerald Ford’s famous 1975 evacuation have found each other on Facebook and are set to reunite this summer.

    It may have been 38 years ago, but Col. Dennis “Bud” Traynor says April 4, 1975, is seared into his memory. Despite the traumatic details, he talks of the day matter of factly. He was 31 years old at the time, an Air Force captain passing through the Philippines. The war in nearby Vietnam was growing more dire daily when President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of orphaned and surrendered babies from the besieged, divided country. And that morning when he was called to duty, Traynor was, as he says, “just the next pilot in the pinball machine.” His would be the first of 30 flights of Operation Babylift, as it came to be called, that were ordered between April 4 and April 16. Two weeks later, North Vietnamese forces conquered Saigon. But his Lockheed C-5A Galaxy didn’t have the smooth ride that Traynor had planned.

    In Saigon, he packed the plane, the world’s biggest model at the time, with evacuees. The littlest ones were belted in upstairs, a few to a seat, with a pillow and milk or juice. But shortly after takeoff, the rear doors blew out, two hydraulic systems went down, and the captain was forced to crash-land the aircraft in a nearby rice paddy. Traynor crawled to the ground from the pilot window to help pull the injured from the wreckage. Within four minutes, emergency rescuers had arrived at the scene to gather the 176 survivors, but another 138 children and adults died in the crash. The younger ones, as it would turn out, constituted most of the survivors, as the older kids had been assigned to the lower level, which was mostly destroyed.

  • KON TUM, VIETNAM - 2013/03/11: Pregnant patient, Tran Thi Dao, aged 27  is having an ultrasound checkup at the KonTum Center for Productive Health.  Over recent years Vietnam has made sustainable progress on family planning by integrating it into general health services.. (Photo by Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images)
    Chau Doan


    Ultrasound Checks Surge in Vietnam

    Pregnant women fear birth defects from 'Nam War toxin.

    More than thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, concern over birth defects in the country has sparked a surge in ultrasound checks. “I’m afraid of my child’s health, that’s why I come for regular visits,” a 30-year-old pregnant woman from Vietnam told The Guardian. For 10 years during the Vietnam War, U.S. troops sprayed more than 11 million tons of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange in the country’s central and southern regions, and experts say one toxin still persists in the environment and in the food chain. Vietnam has a disability rate of 6.3 percent—roughly 5.3 million people. “The ministry of health needs to issue guidelines on pregnancy to lessen the stress for pregnant mothers,” said anthropologist and Vietnam researcher Tine Gammeltoft.