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[Image 1: Department
of Defense Photo
(USMC) 7712975.
Equipment of
the Alaska Barge
and Transport
Company was
used to evacuate
the consulate
at Da Nang. Marines
of the consulate
security guard
spent six hours
on 29 March unloading
a similar barge
tied to the Pioneer
Contender, underway
for Cam Ranh
Bay.]

Page 129(The Bitter End)


falling
off, and then the barge would come back and crush them."18


Despite the fact that South Vietnamese were shooting other South Vietnamese in boats in the harbor, that the barge was overloaded, and that the tug was straining and groaning to push it, the Americans made it to the harbor just as the Pioneer Contender arrived in port, at 0800 29 March. The Americans immediately boarded the ship and the Marines prepared to assist the crew in unloading the barge. That task would eventually consume almost 10 hours.


Staff Sergeant Sparks experienced a certain amount of surprise upon learning in his initial inquiry that, ". . . the captain of the Pioneer Contender did not know he was coming for refugees. He thought they were coming for vehicles, American vehicles." The Marines quickly agreed to the captain's request for assistance in disarming the refugees and in controlling the mass of humanity, a task that did not end until they reached Cam Ranh Bay. The situation on board the barge quickly spun out of control as other refugees in small boats approached the ship and disgorged their panicked cargo onto the barge, making loading of the ship extremely hazardous and very time consuming.19


To expedite the process, the barge was lashed to the side of the ship which allowed the Pioneer Contender to reach the open sea while continuing to board refugees. Sparks said: "We started loading these people on .... They would not behave themselves, they would not sit down, they would not relax. They wouldn't help themselves. I saw a Vietnamese major stomping on babies to get up the ladder instead of trying to help his people. Fathers pushing their own wives and children out of the way. The old people being crushed and small babies being crushed. [For the individual Marine] ... it became a question of risking your life."20


With the waves crashing the barge against the side of the ship and under fire from desperate South Vietnamese whose small boats could not catch the swiftly departing ship. Sergeant Spruce and Corporal Forseth passed babies up the ladder and assisted the elderly off the barge. When the barge was finally unloaded, Staff Sergeant Sparks, Sergeant Arriola, Sergeant Rogers, and Corporal Anderson inspected it for bodies. In addition to more than two dozen corpses, they found an elderly man with a broken leg and what later turned out to be his wife crumbled up in a heap. After assisting them on the ship, they cut loose the barge and the Pioneer Contender increased its speed and headed for Cam Ranh Bay. It arrived there at noon on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1975.2'


Despite numerous pleas from the ship's master and Staff Sergeant Sparks, and the word that some Americans were still on a barge in Da Nang Harbor, the American Embassy would not allow the Da Nang security guard detachment to accompany the Pioneer Con-








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