[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret). LtCol George
P. Slade. commander, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines waits for the
signal to board the lead aircraft for Saigon. BUT 2/4 and
the other Marines of 9th MAB spent many hours waiting, but
knew after the morning rocket attack which had killed two
Marine Security Guards, that the day, 29 April, was "the day."]
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cules, barely avoiding getting hit themselves. With debris jettisoned from
scrambling VNAF aircraft scattered all over the airport's apron, taxiwav,
and runway, the rescheduled lift was temporarily suspended and eventually
cancelled after the Ambassador's mid-morning visit to General Smith's office.8
Thus in a matter of a few, short hours the fixed-wing airlift of Saigon evacuees ceased being even a remote possibility, and the helicopter became the only way out. It would be a few more hours until Ambassador Martin's painful decision translated into action.
By the morning of Tuesday, 29 April, everyone in the task force knew the status of the North Vietnamese offensive and the peril that Saigon faced, and wondered why the evacuation had not begun. Waiting for the word to "execute," the 9th MAB began the day just as it had the previous three days, very early, shortly after midnight. This day, however, was different.
In anticipation of a long day for his pilots, with a substantial part of it
spent strapped in the helicopter, General Carey directed his aviators to assume
a standby position on the flight deck; outside rather than inside their craft.
After waiting in the vicinity of their respective helicopters from 0200 to
almost 1100, the pilots stood down and went to lunch. Their break however
At approximately the time the pilots started heading for chow, General Carey received an update from Colonel Wylie W. Taylor, his deputy in the DAO Compound. His call included "the information that two Marines were KIA as a result of the rocket attack."* An earlier call from Major Livingsion to Colonel Gray also had informed the 9th MAB staff of the rocket attack and the death of Corporal McMahon and Lance Corporal Judge. Based on these two reports and recommendations from his deputy commander and his RLT 4 commander. General Carey decided that initially he would insert one battalion. Lieutenant Colonel George P. Slade's 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, into the DAO Compound and Annex. Then later, if necessary for crowd control and security, he would send a command group and a company from Lieutenant Colonel Royce L. Bond's 1st Battalion, 9th Marines into the Air America Compound.10
Finally, the waiting was over. Admiral Gayler directed USSAG/Scventh Air Force and Seventh Fleet to begin Frequent Wind Option IV at 1051 (Saigon time). With that announcement the evacuation of Saigon officially began." The DAO Compound
At 1215, the 9th MAB received General Burns' message directing them to "execute." For some unexplaina-ble reason, dissemination of this message to the participating units had been delayed from 1052 until 1215.**'2 Captain William R. Melton, a company com-
*Coloncl Taylor offered his opinion of chis tragic loss; "This cvcni had major influence ai all levels, and I believe, really was the triggering cvcni for Frcqucni Wind." Taylor Comments.
**0n ihc morning of 29 April confusion slill existed ai USSAG headquarters over which definition ofL-Hour the Navy-Marine Corps team was using, and attempts to clarify when crossdccking could begin and when the helicopters could depart delayed the execute message's official passage from Nakhon Phanom to the Seventh Fleet-and worse, clouded its intent. The misunderstanding between USSAG and the task force produced several postponements ofL-Hour and as a result of this perceived problem, the Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned a formal investigation team. headed by Major General John R. D. CIcland.Jr. USA, to determine exactly what took place during the execution of Operation Frequent Wind. The investigation team reached the conclusion that no abnormal delay occurred. CIcland Report.
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