The fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese, and the desperate evacuation of the U.S Embassy, did not occur until April 29, 1975. But the official completion of the American troop withdrawal in 1973 was a major event. Beilke's family back home watched it on television.
For many who boarded the last plane, it was a bitter experience. As agreed to in Paris, observers from the North Vietnamese army looked on, sometimes smiling and trying to shake hands with American officers. The gestures were largely ignored, or rebuffed with curses.
When Beilke started up the ramp, a North Vietnamese colonel stepped forward and presented him with a gift--a straw place mat decorated with the picture of a pagoda. Beilke, according to accounts at the time, looked down at the colonel, accepted the gift and went on up the ramp.
"March 29 always sticks with me," Beilke told an interviewer years later. "There are certain things--like your wedding anniversary, the day you came into the Army, the first time I left the country and shipped out for Korea in '53--you remember those dates."
His sister Lucille noted that it was after he came home from Vietnam that Beilke developed a passion for fishing. "It was the peacefulness of it," she said.
With 21 years' service completed, Beilke retired from the Army on Nov. 1, 1974.
Once more, he worked at various jobs before finding a niche lobbying for active and retired military personnel.
In 1984, he returned to the Army as a civilian employee, focusing on the problems of Vietnam War veterans.
"I've always felt that we brought these young men out of Vietnam and discharged them from the Army and they lost their support group," he said later. "When they went out into civilian life, and in some places a very hostile civilian life, it was tough for them to cope."
"That's what Max was there for. He traveled all across the country," urging veterans to get help, his sister said.
There were unopened bags of mulch stacked at the top of Max Beilke's driveway Saturday, but nobody was doing any yardwork.
"He was a very good neighbor and a very decent man," Nancy Minton said. "I wish it all will have a happy ending, but I don't think so."