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the departure of the Marine Division from the northern provinces [caused] the civilian population ... to panic and evacuate en masse Quang Tri and Hue."5
Those ARVN soldiers who did not desert to assist their fleeing families, but instead chose to stand and fight, were overrun. The troops who somehow managed to escape capture then joined the crazed mob attempting to leave Da Nang on anything that floated. Chaos ruled the streets of Da Nang Easter weekend 1975 as military deserters armed with their combat weapons attempted to dictate the terms of their departure. Before the weekend ended some of the most disciplined members of the armed forces would use their weapons against their countrymen in order to gain passage from Da Nang. Eventually, many of these same weapons would be confiscated by American Marines.
Marine Security Guard Detachment, Da Nang
During the confusion and chaos caused by the collapse of the defensive perimeter
surrounding Da Nang, six Marine security guards stationed at the consulate
played a major part in the successful removal of Americans from the besieged
area. Staff Sergeant Walter W. Sparks, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge
of the detachment, and his five noncommissioned officers, although primarily
responstbtle for the safety and well-being of Consul General Francis, moved
quickly to provide the consulate staff its support. The five NCOs at the Da
Nang consulate who assisted Staff Sergeant Sparks in this task were: Sergeant
Venoy L. Rogers; Sergeant Lazaro Arriola; Sergeant William S. Spruce III;
and Corporals Leonard A. Forseth and Ronald W. Anderson.6
To accomplish the evacuation, the Da Nang Marines had to contend with the bedlam outside the consulate, while attending to the business at hand inside. One of the detachment's gravest concerns was the ever-present threat of uncontrolled crowds, mobs of deserters, and criminals prowling the streets. As a consequence, the Marine security guards spent their final days in Da Nang in the consulate rather than the Marine House. In the opinion of Staff Sergeant Sparks, they needed to protect the consul general and the consulate and not worry about the rest of the compound: "I moved the Marines .... The consulate was not getting attacked but there were crowds of people, trying to come in and get tickets."7 The tickets were for an air and sea evacuation the consulate had set up for past and present employees. This somewhat orderly affair rapidly deteriorated when the rioting, or what Sergeant Sparks called the "cowboys riding" began. He said, "all [the soldiers] were looting, robbing, and killing people."8 This problem intensified as more and more ARVN soldiers entered the city either as deserters or stragglers. The deserters had left their units in the heat of battle, many to search for their families. All were armed, desperate, and extremely dangerous.
Messages received by the Marine Corps Command Center in Washington during the last week of March 1975 graphically depicted the difficulties that Staff Sergeant Sparks faced in Da Nang. One on the 27th from the Navy's Pacific headquarters stated, "The [South Vietnamese] Marine Brigade remains the only viable combat force in MR l. The 1st Infantry Division and the Ranger groups have broken up and are moving more as mobs. Chu Lai fell on 26 March. Public order is breaking down, an atmosphere of panic has begun to spread."9 Another said in part, "City overflowing with refugees and soldiers. Absence of policemen. Immediate threat is internal, i.e., mob violence."10
Having moved the Marines into the consulate on Saturday, 22 March, Staff Sergeant Sparks immediately began destroying all classified records. Four days later, on Wednesday the 26th, Consul General Francis asked Ambassador Martin to consider a helicopter extraction of his 50 people, including the Marines, should the "streets of the city become impassable because of the refugee panic.""
The Marine detachment continued to do what Staff Sergeant Sparks saw as its primary duty: destruction of classified material and protection of the consulate and its staff. He assigned one Marine to shred classified documents, and a second to burn them. He posted two Marines as guards at the vehicle gate and permanently secured the pedestrian gate. The sixth Marine joined the staff in the consul general's office. His mission was twofold: security and administrative assistance.
Despite the efforts of the consulate staff and the Marines, considerable confusion and chaos existed at the consulate during the final days of March 1975. Sergeant Sparks placed a large part of the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of members of the American community who refused to leave Da Nang until the last possible moment: "They kept thinking maybe the tide would turn and everything would turn up rosy."12 The consul general could strongly encourage people to leave, but he could not force them to do so. Many waited, expecting to get on the last flight from the
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