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size=5>CHAPTER 10

size=5>The Final Days

The AESF-Xuan

Loc Remembered Saigon and the Final Preparation Pieces-Consulate Marines

With the battle for Xuan Loc in Long

Khanh Province (40 miles east and north of Saigon) entering its second week.

General Van Tien Dung, commander of the NVA'S Spring Offensive, evaluated his

options. The 18th ARVN Division and other Vietnamese Armed Forces maintained a

tenuous hold on Xuan Loc. NVA forces already had intercepted an ARVN armor task

force attempting to reach the besieged 18th Division. The South Vietnamese,

however, still held and blocked the North Vietnamese advance to Bien Hoa and

Saigon. To avoid a stalemate, Dung decided to enlarge the battle area and

outflank the South Vietnamese while intensifying the bombardment of the

strategic RVN airbase at Bien Hoa. With a significant escalation in pressure.

General Dung hoped to turn the tide of battle and get his stalled offensive back

on schedule. He had to leave Xuan Loc behind and move on to Bien Hoa if he was

going to meet Hanoi's goal of capturing Saigon before the end of April.

As the fighting for the capital of Long

Khanh expanded, politicians in Saigon renewed their calls for President Thieu to

step aside and allow a candidate more acceptable to the Communists to take

power. This political maneuvering only served to make for further insecurity

among the people. Increasingly unruly crowds began to gather each day outside

the DAO Compound and watch their countrymen line up inside for processing, while

flight after flight of commercial and military aircraft departed Tan Son Nhut,

loaded with evacuees. This growing threat to security eventually forced the

Ambassador to authorize the transfer of a squad of Marines to the DAO Compound.

The 'Pentagon East' welcomed this addition to its undermanned security force, a

handful of retired South Vietnamese soldiers.

With the crowds outside the gate

growing larger and more menacing while the DAO began what Captain Anthony A.

Wood described as the 'mobile catch-a-baby drill,' the Special Planning Group

accelerated its efforts. The fortification of the compound had to keep pace with

the evacuation of South Vietnamese or the U.S. installation would be overrrun by

citizens seeking refuge. From this moment on, panicked refugees would represent

the gravest threat to security and to the evacuations. Marines would fill this

need for security.

The AESF On 17 April, the III MAF

Commander, Major General Carl W. Hoffman, activated a new security force to

replace the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines serving as members of the

Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support Group. The Amphibious Evacuation Support Force

(AESF) was comprised of Marines assigned from the 4th Marines, 9th Marines, 12th

Marines, 3d Engineer Battalion, 7th Communication Battalion, 3d Service

Battalion, Headquarters Battalion, 3d Tank Battalion, and the 1st Amphibian

Tractor Battalion. The specially selected Marines of these units initially were

formed into 10 72-man detachments, comprised of a 12-man headquarters

detachment, and three 20-man sections (two squads of nine men each plus a

two-man section headquarters).

To command these detachments, Major

General Kenneth J. Houghton, the commanding general of the 3d Marine Division,

chose Major David A. Quinlan, the 9th Marines operations officer. At the moment

General Houghton made that decision. Major Quinlan was, by coincidence,

conducting 9th Marines business at the combined headquarters of III MAF and 3d

Marine Division. In an office on the second floor of the Camp Courtney

headquarters building on Okinawa, Major Quinlan was completely unaware of the

activity on the first floor. Not until he returned to neighboring Camp Schwab

did he learn of the division's efforts to locate him.

As he entered Camp Schwab, he noticed a

flurry of activity around the regimental command post, including a CH-46 sitting

in the LZ with its blades idling. Stopping to observe, Major Quinlan spotted the

9th Marines executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wise, who greeted him

with very few but important words:

The [waiting] helicopter is for you.

Your gear is on the bird. Many [Major Martin J. Lenzini, 9th Marines air liaison

officer] has packed for you. You are the commander of the ships' guards. Get

going!'

After receiving his .45 automatic and a

box of ammunition from Lieutenant Colonel Wise, Major Quin-





Page 160(The Final Days )