The United States, North and South Vietnam and the Viet Cong signed the Vietnam peace settlement in a silent ceremony in Paris Saturday and the cease-fire ending the longest war in U.S. history formally took effect on the battle fields of Vietnam at 7 p.m. EST.
The fighting and dying lasted until the last minutes. A Vietnam civilian was killed in a Communist rocket attack on Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport just before peace time.
Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Saigon Foreign Minister Tran Van Lam and the Communist foreign ministers, Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh of the Viet Cong and Nguyen Duy Trinh of North Vietnam, penned their names in two sessions of 19 and 10 minutes 212 times on inch-thick leather-bound documents making up the "Agreement of Ending War and Restoring Peace."
The pact they signed without a murmur and with little more than diplomatic smiles called for the guns to fall silent in Vietnam and hopefully, for other cease-fires to follow in Laos and Cambodia.
The battle for control of South Vietnamese territory continued until the last. The Communists hit Tan Son Nhut Airport just outside Saigon with rockets barely two hours before the peace deadline. Earlier Saturday they had won - and lost - the town of Tay Ninh, 56 miles northeast of Saigon, where they apparently wanted to set up a Viet Cong capital.
Communist troops also infiltrated a number of villages and attacked other installations with rockets. One of the attacks, on the big air base at Da Nang, killed Air Force Sgt. John O'Neal Rucker, 21, Linden, Texas.
U.S. fighter-bombers and helicopters flew their final missions Saturday. U.S. advisers with Vietnamese units were ordered to avoid combat.
There are 23,700 U.S. troops still in Vietnam, where 45,933 Americans have been killed in action since 1961.
The streets of Saigon were as quiet as they ever are early on a Sunday morning. There has been no dancing in the streets of Vietnamese cities at this news of a cease-fire that few people entirely believe.
Within minutes of the signing the Communist world was hailing the "victory" of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese defense minister and architect of the victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu nearly 20 years earlier, called the settlement a "tremendous victory which lays a firm foundation for the advance of our revolutionary cause."
In all, more than two million soldiers and civilians were killed in Vietnam in a generation of war.
The peace treaties called for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam. They provided for return of American prisoners of war within 60 days and release of Vietnamese prisoners.
They also called for internationally supervised free elections in South Vietnam.
The Communists turned over their official list of POWs to the U.S. and the Pentagon started notifying hundreds of families throughout the country. U.S. officials said they hoped the list might contain more than 600 names, compared with the 591 previously confirmed.
For the first time the Viet Cong also turned over a list of American prisoners and they were flashed to Washington so families could be notified. For some it would mean confirmation their men were still alive. For many other relatives of the 1,925 American servicemen missing in Vietnam, it would be virtually the end of hope.
The prisoners are to be released to several groups over the next 60 days, but the first could arrive at Clark Air Base in the Philippines on planes from Hanoi as early as next week. From Clark they will be flown to military installations near their home towns.
President Nixon watched the televised signing ceremonies in seclusion at the Florida White House in Key Biscayne and designated the official hour of the cease-fire as a "national moment of prayer and thanksgiving."
The war cost the United States $137 billion in direct military expenditures, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield estimated its ultimate cost would be at least $400 billion and said the country would be paying for it through pensions, hospitals and support in widows through the next century.
The U.S., acting under one of the clauses covering the peace keeping machinery in the treaty, called for a foreign ministers conference beginning Feb. 26 and invited China, the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the other members of the International supervisory force. Poland, Hungary, Indonesia and Canada.
Hungary and Canada already had troops en route to Saigon and the first Indonesian soldiers were to leave this morning.
The first meeting of the supervisory force commission was scheduled in Saigon at 8 a.m. local time Monday.