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allow the last convoy of buses into the DAO Compound. As this was happening, a firefight between two ARVN units broke out and caught the rearmost buses in the crossfire, disabling two of the vehicles. Eventually, Lieutenant Colonel McKinstry convinced the ARVN commander controlling the gates to permit the remaining buses to enter the compound. General Carey's threat to use the armed Cobras flying overhead probably played a large role in the ARVN commander's decision* Shortly thereafter, the Air America helicopter pilots, who had been delayed by various problems of their own, completed the last pickups from the rooftop LZs. The "bluff had worked-over-the-road evacuation of Saigon ended as the 9th MAB deployed its ground security force in the "Pentagon East."3 9th MAB
After floating off the coast of South Vietnam for over a week, the 9th MAB was more than ready for action. Every day since its arrival the task force had expected orders to begin the evacuation, but the only directives it received changed the response time. The first change arrived only hours before the 18th ARVN Division abandoned Xuan Loc. On that afternoon, Admiral Steele notified the MAB ofCinCPac's desire to begin a six-hour alert Stance before day's end.4
As the situation in South Vietnam, and especially Saigon, deteriorated, the standby reaction times decreased. On the night of the 27th, Admiral Steele directed the 9th MAB to be in a one-hour alert status before sunrise the next morning. Accomplishing this, the brigade waited. When it became apparent later in the day that action was unlikely, Admiral Steele authorized the MAB to relax its readiness to a six-hour standby condition, Within hours of this decision, he received word that Tan Son Nhut Airport had been attacked by enemy aircraft. Early evening, 28 April, a few hours after the Tan Son Nhut incident. Admiral Gayler (CinCPac) reduced the reaction time to one hour. At 0130, 9th MAB reported to Admiral Whit-mire (CTF 76) and General Burns (US SAG/Seventh Air Force) that it was ready. Now, all awaited L-Hour.5
Despite prior arrangements, questions over L-Hour still created some confusion at this point in the operation. General Burns initially had defined L-Hour as the time that a helicopter would be launched for a given zone. To Marine pilots though, L-Hour meant the time a helicopter would land in a given zone. During the latter stages of planning. Admiral Whitmire requested a clarification of L-Hour. General Burns' staff responded that L-Hour was the time that the first helicopter touched down in the evacuation zone, a reversal of the original definition. Based on this change in L-Hour, it then became necessary for the planners to modify the helicopter flow schedule. Admiral Whitmire and General Carey, in a joint message to Admiral Steele and all the participants in the operation, issued a helicopter time schedule which reflected and complied with their understanding ofUSSAG's definition of L-Hour.8
Yet on the evening of 28 April in the USSAG (call sign "Blue Chip") command bunker. General Burns sent a messenger to the Marine Corps liaison desk manned by Lieutenant Colonel James L, Cunningham (III MAF plans officer) and Major Richard K. "Keith" Young (9th MAB operations officer), who were in Na-khon Phanom to assist the joint command in its coordination and control of the operation. The messenger informed Major Young that General Burns had a question about the definition of L-Hour and would like to see him, Major ^bung recalled his conversation with the USSAG commander: "He asked me how the 9th MAB defined L-Hour and I explained to him the Marine Corps used the time a helicopter landed in the zone as L-Hour and not the rime it took off. He seemed surprised by the difference and could not understand why four hours would pass before [he first elements of the security force landed in the zone."7
Adding to the confusion created by the difference between the Air Force and Marine Corps definitions of L-Hour** was the relationship between L-Hour and
^Captain Wood, in radio communication with the Ground Security Force, was asked by Colonel Gray if he could conrrol a close air support mission and he replied, "l can sec and I can control," An air strike was never delivered because ihe ARVN commander got what he was after-a way out of Saigon- Wood Commenrs.
**Years later. Admiral Steele proffered his assessment of the confusion over L-Hour. He said: "This deplorable mix-up over L-Hour never would have occurred, except for the subordination of the Seventh Fleet and the Seventh Fleet Marines to CG, USSAG. The Blue Ridge with Rear Admiral Whiimire and General Carey embarked was in close company with the Oklahoma City, my flagship. As [he evacuation preparations began after exeruiion, I had rhe Oklahoma Cy/yfall in ssiem of the B/ue Ri�/ge S.T l,000 yards and transferred my flag to the Blue Ridge, which had better communicarions than the Seventh Fleet flagship. Early on rhe morning of 29 April, Rear Admiral Whiimire had called me on a secure voice radio requesting instructions on the execution. CinCPacFlt was saying one thing, and CG, USSAG was saying another. I instructed Whitmire to follow General Bums' direction and so informed CinCPacFlt, My reason for going over to Blue Ridge was simply to keep higher aurhoriry offWhi'trnire and Carey's back, particularly now that confusion had developed regarding L-Hour, and in view of the complicated chain of command that had been sei up." Sieele Comments.
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