South Vietnamese Marines Enter Gia Long Palace

Footage from a special CBS News broadcast shows South Vietnamese marines entering Gia Long Palace in Saigon. One was caught on camera walking out with a valuable possession, and didn't seem terribly worried about it.

It was Saturday, November 2, 1963, in Saigon. The battle for the city had gone on for 18 hours - most of it was centered on the presidential palace, where South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother and closest ally, Ngo Dinh Nhu, had tenaciously held out until its capture became a sure thing.

On Friday, three battalions from the Republic of Vietnam Marine Division had moved toward the Saigon city center in tanks and armored cars, to spearhead the revolt. Just after after 6:30 on Saturday morning, during a lull in the fighting, a white flag fluttered out a window of the presidential palace and the shooting ceased. Outside, the tanks were gathered. The marines went in, only to discover that they had been besieging an empty building!

Mindful of numerous earlier coup conspiracies, the NgĂ´ brothers had supervised the construction of three separate tunnels providing routes of escape from Gia Long Palace. On Friday evening they had taken refuge in a bunker beneath the presidential palace, then fled through one of the tunnels. They weren't apprehended until later on Saturday morning. After the coup, an internal investigation determined that following their capture, they were shot repeatedly with a semi-automatic firearm, after which their bodies were stabbed numerous times with a knife.

The CBS newsreel shows the South Vietnamese marines - the men who were in the forefront of the armed rebellion - moving through a door that was obviously built to create a strong obstacle against intruders. The white flag was being waved by a marine who wanted to signal that there were no defenders inside.

You can see these young men in camouflaged uniforms walk through the rooms of the palace like sightseers. An instinctive respect for their surroundings limits their actions to mere observation ... but then they begin to grab whatever they can get their hands on.