Page 171

Page 171(The Bitter End)




effort greatly enhanced the DAO's careful preparations and underscored the difficulty and the value of the 9th MAB's reorganization. As Major Livingston later recalled, "One of the key lessons that evolved from Operation Frequent Wind was the concept of com-positing. This process was accomplished while all units (three MAUs) were at sea. Numerous liaison trips by personnel aboard the Blue Ridge using Air America helicopters resolved issues" that arose between the reconfigured 9th MAB and the other commands. A force had been composed at sea to handle the impending emergency on land, and the ensuing liaison made everyone aware of its capabilities, its limitations, and the criticahty of good communications.22


With command arrangements in Saigon complicated and Ambassador Graham Martin attempting to maintain a professional facade at the Embassy of "business as usual," these visits took on added weight. The need to give the appearance that America was not quitting and running from South Vietnam meant that visitors to Saigon had to keep a low profile during the day. The night, however, belonged to the 9th MAB, its forward headquarters, and the DAO's evacuation planners.


There was one exception to this rule, the DAO. By 21 April evacuation flights were departing every half-hour fully loaded. Each evening as the National Police enforced the curfew and closed the city, the arrival of new evacuees ceased and with the normal lag effect, it usually did not resume until 1000 the next day. To ensure that there were always enough passengers to process and fill the precious spaces that left Tan Son Nhut, the evacuation processing center and Lieutenant Colonel McKinstry had to keep between 200 and 600 South Vietnamese in the compound every night. As the numbers increased, sanitation and security became problems. Even though the crowds were, as McKinstry said, "well-behaved and friendly," they roamed the installation essentially uncontrolled because, by this time, the DAO was seriously undermanned. On 21 April the DAO sent a message to Washington requesting permission to insert a platoon of Marines into the DAO. Four days later, Air America helicopters transported a platoon of Marines, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying their combat gear, from the Hancock to Tan Son Nhut* Just before noon that Friday, 25 April, First Lieutenant Bruce P. Thompson-Bowers and the 3d Platoon of Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines became the DAO's security force, joining Colonel Taylor and the Advance Command Element as augmenting members of the "Pentagon East."23


Arriving at the compound the day the DAO requested additional security, the Advance Command Element immediately recognized that a great deal of preparation had already been accomplished, but efforts to make the area suitable for helicopter operations had barely started. By late evening on 21 April, the 9th MAB forward headquarters had inspected all of the proposed landing zones. Engineering efforts to improve the zones began immediately and, within days, Colonel Taylor's group had clearly marked all of the LZs. These activities, including the placing of wind socks and luminescent markings on 13 preselected rooftops designated as American evacuee assembly points, were always conducted between sunset and sunrise to avoid panicking the citizens of Saigon. At the DAO compound, itself, the SPG and the 9th MAB Marines made the necessary improvements to enable an initial wave of 12 CH-53s to land. Throughout the slow and seemingly tedious landing zone repair period, the 9th MAB, RLT 4, and ProvMag staffs all visited the DAO compound. They inspected the progress and reported the results to their respective commanders.23


On Monday morning, 21 April, Lieutenant Colonel Donald J. "Duffy" Verdon, the Advance Command Element's communications officer, began his first full day at the DAO by obtaining a comprehensive briefing on the compound's communications facilities. After a physical inspection of the assets of the Evacuation Control Center, he decided that the existing equipment, with some minor additions - mainly one receiver-transmitter and the placement of an antenna on the compound's water tank, would suffice. The 9th MAB immediately transferred his additional requirements, including a contingent of support personnel and their equipment, to the DAO. The introduction of troops and equipment continued (final count, 18) until the DAO's communications facilities could simultaneously sustain three landing zone control parties. Specifically, each party could communicate from each zone on high, very high, and ultra-high frequency. Almost on a daily basis during the 9th MAB forward headquarter's stay in the "Alamo," the communications-electronics officer, the 9th MAB communications officer, and his counterpart in RLT 4, all visited the Compound and exchanged ideas and information in order to achieve the highest state of communications readiness.25


On 25 April, the Advance Command Element air




*0nce inside the confines of the DAO, these Marines donned their gear and assumed their security duties.








Page 171(The Bitter End)