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Ambassador Martin delayed until, on the morning of 29 April, with catastrophe looming, President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger ordered him point-blank to implement FREQUENT WIND. The result was chaos. The evacuation was planned to begin before dawn with a series of telephone calls to the evacuees, who were billeted throughout the city, telling them to report to predesignated collection points where they would be picked up by busses and taken to the DAO compound near Tan Son Nhut reaching their destination before the city was awake. In the event, the order was not given until 11:30 and the busses were mobbed as soon as they hit the streets. One of the few convoys that made it had to be diverted to the embassy compound, which was mobbed by terrified Vietnamese trying to get in. Several hours were required for the Marine H-53s to collect the ground security force and refuel, and it was mid-afternoon before the first evacuees began coining out.


Most of those who were evacuated would have been low on any rationally prioritized list of evacuees and many of those who were most at risk were left behind. Though the PAVN SA-2 batteries north and northeast of Tan Son Nhut did not fire, sporadic small arms and automatic weapons fire was directed at the evacuating helicopters through the day and into the night, and numbers of SA-7s were fired at them as well, though providentially without effect. The Marine and Air Force helicopters continued to fly back and forth to the ships standing offshore through out the night, bringing out over 7,000 evacuees. Having delayed the evacuation, Ambassador Martin refused to depart until all possible evacuees had been brought to safety. At 04:56 hours on the morning of 30 April, in response to a direct order from President Ford, he boarded a Marine CH-46 on the embassy rooftop pad. Though the final Marine guard in the embassy was not brought out until after daylight, America's presence in Vietnam had ended.


The drama had a final, bitter act. When Saigon fell, the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam had not fallen with it. As they watched the ARVN collapse, powerless to intervene, South Vietnamese naval commanders had resolved to salvage what they could. They had brought their vessels into port in the last days of the North Vietnamese offensive to embark their officers and men, and their families, ashore together with anyone else deserving they could cram aboard. As the Bo Doi and party cadres consolidated their hold on Saigon and on the towns and hamlets of the Mekong Delta, some twenty-three vessels of the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam with no less than 18,000 souls aboard stood out to sea under U.S. Navy escort and headed for the Philippines. By 7 May, they were standing off Subic Bay. The Marcos government refused them permission to enter Philippine territorial waters under their own flag, so the armada halted beyond the twelve-mile limit. At 10:00 hours, the command of each vessel was transferred to an American naval officer in a brief formal ceremony; on some vessels the crew sang the South Vietnamese national anthem. It was the end of South Vietnam.




Page 49 (America in Vietnam)